Ed Voters’ Gobreski named to head mayor’s push for community schools
Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA, will join the Mayor’s Office of Education as community schools director.
Mayor Kenney will make the announcement today.
Gobreski is a longtime public education advocate who, at Education Voters PA, has advocated for fair and adequate state education funding.
Kenney has said that he wants to create 25 community schools in Philadelphia — schools that serve as neighborhood hubs, offering health, social, recreational, civic, and cultural services to families and children. Community schools rely heavily on establishing partnerships with organizations and service providers to operate within school buildings.
The concept has shown some success in other cities, including Cincinnati, and has been enthusiastically embraced by Kenney, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and the teachers’ union as a counter-strategy to closing traditional neighborhood schools and expanding charters.
But there is no single blueprint. Part of Gobreski’s task will be to define exactly what a community school in Philadelphia looks like and how to make each one responsive to its particular neighborhood.
Paying for them will also be a challenge – most of the cost in other cities has generally come out of the city budget, rather than the school budget. Making them effective will require a high level of cooperation among city agencies – and between the city and the District – that historically has been hard to achieve in Philadelphia.
At Education Voters, Gobreski did policy development, community outreach, partnership development, stakeholder engagement, and communications.
“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. “Her insightful policy ideas and ability to bring diverse stakeholders together around common goals is exactly what we need to make community schools successful.”
In an interview, Gobreski said that there is now a consensus in the city on the strategy.
"Multiple people from multiple sectors have agreed this is the way forward," said Gobreski. "This strategy allows us to look at big issues like poverty, to look more comprehensively on how we deliver services. It’s about meeting children where they are and focusing on what specific people need. This is what we have to do."
She said that this represents a concerted effort by the Kenney administration to look at "how to align resources to support city schools. That is going to require participation from multiple agencies and parts of city government, but it’s all one city, and all of our kids are all of our kids. That’s the job."
To critiques that the community schools strategy does not focus on academics, Gobreski said that it is about creating conditions that make it easier for the District to do the work of improving teaching and learning.
"It is really about how the city and community supports children and supports educators," she said. "The educators focus on the academics."
On the issue of the potential cost, she said, "The question has always been, ‘What do kids need and what does it take to give them what they need?’ We’re going to have to figure out costs and where there are opportunities and synergies as well. We are at the beginning of looking at a new way to meet our needs and obligations."
Gobreski has previously served as president of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania Advocates, Pennsylvania state director and then national campaign director for the League of Conservation Voters, and organizer and regional director for Clean Water Action. She currently serves on the Temple University Political Science Advisory Board and was a Education Policy and Leadership Center/Institute for Educational Leadership Fellow.
She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Temple University and is completing her master’s degree in urban education policy there. She and her husband, a Philadelphia public school teacher, have three children. One is in college, and two attend Philadelphia public schools.
Gobreski will start her new job in mid-February. Susan Spicka, who has been advocacy coordinator for Education Voters Pennsylvania, will serve as interim leader.