About Philly’s 7th Ward

My name is Sharif El-Mekki and Philly’s 7th Ward is a blog where I share my thoughts about how we educate and support our Black youth.

I am the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, I was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

I believe that a child’s zip code should not be an obstacle to receiving a strong and robust education that paves the way for success in a forever changing world. I also believe that it takes educated youth to make a positive impact on society, and schools should be direct and trustworthy partners for their surrounding communities. The role of educators is to ensure that their partnerships with families and community members are supportive of students in developing the academic and personal skills necessary to successfully serve and lead in their communities. I am a strong proponent of the “Excellence, No Excuses” mindset, and I believe that school-based teams must continue to leverage their strengths on behalf of students in order to ensure the promise delivered to families is fulfilled.

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After attending an elementary Freedom School as a child, middle school in Iran, and Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, I attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a criminal justice major. After a brief stint as a social worker and counselor at the Youth Study Center, I became eager to make a community-focused impact. As the son of an educator and activists, I had a strong desire to dive into a cause that would address issues relating to social justice, equity and educational opportunities. Through a friend, I learned of an opportunity to become a teacher through an alternative certification program for African-American men.

After teaching for almost nine years, I became an administrator at Turner and Shaw middle schools—both traditional public schools located in Southwest Philadelphia—before becoming a principal in 2007.

My team at the Shoemaker Campus have been recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey for having created a school that partners with communities to turnaround failing schools. New Leaders awarded the Shoemaker Campus the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. Shoemaker Campus was also recently recognized as one of the top 10 middle school and top 10 high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students.

I was lucky enough to be a finalist for the prestigious Ryan Fellowship, and was able to serve on Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males. I’m a fellow with America Achieves and a founding board member and secretary of the David P. Richardson Jr. Institute for Leadership and Civic Participation.

In addition to obtaining my bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I received a master’s degree and principal certification from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s first historically Black colleges and universities.