Kenney taps education activist to lead development of community schools in Philly

 As Philadelphia's new community schools director, Susan Gobreski will oversee the development of  school buildings as neighborhood hubs for education, as well as health care, social services and cultural programs.(Samantha Weiss for the Notebook)

As Philadelphia's new community schools director, Susan Gobreski will oversee the development of school buildings as neighborhood hubs for education, as well as health care, social services and cultural programs.(Samantha Weiss for the Notebook)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has appointed a second education activist to help implement his schools agenda.

On Tuesday, Susan Gobreski was named community schools director. It’ll be her job to oversee the expansion of the concept, which aims to make school buildings neighborhood hubs for education, but also things such as medical care, social services and cultural programs.

Kenney wants to create 25 community schools by the end of his first term.

“Susan’s longstanding commitment to improving our city’s schools coupled with her expertise in community engagement made her an obvious choice for this role,” said Kenney in a statement.

Before joining Kenney’s team, Gobreski was executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit created, in part, to push politicians to improve public schools.

She was responsible for policy and partnership development, stakeholder engagement and communications.

For Gobreski, her new role represents a move away from a “cookie cutter” model of public education.

“This presents a huge opportunity to give control of schools back to communities, get people working together and protecting a public investment that means so much,” said Gobreski.

The work will be challenging. There are community schools in other big cities such as Cincinnati. In Philadelphia, Gobreski will be starting from scratch.

“We’re going to be developing the Philadelphia model together,” she said.

The effort may also require a considerable amount of money. Exactly how much remains a question mark for now.

In December, community activist Anne Gemmell became the administration’s pre-kindergarten director. The post was created to fulfill Kenney’s promise to provide citywide free pre-K by the end of his first term, an initiative estimated to cost roughly $60 million for each of the next three years.

Gemmell, a former teacher, most recently worked as a lead organizer with Pre-K for PA, a campaign organized by the Public Citizens for Children and Youth. The effort is aimed at making preschool programs available to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state.

Hiring activists for city government posts is not a new concept. In this case, Phil Goldsmith, former managing director and CEO of the Philadelphia School District, thinks it’s a good move.

“They’ll bring energy. They’ll bring new ideas. You need people to fight. You don’t want people who have been there for so many years who are sort of worn down and don’t think anything will happen,” he said.

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