Philly teacher has Arne Duncan's ear

Gamal Sherif, a history and biochemistry teacher at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, was named as one of 16 Teaching Ambassador Fellows on Monday by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Gamal Sherif is spending part of his summer break in Washington D.C.

The purpose of the Philadelphia public schoolteacher’s trip is not sightseeing, though. It’s sitting in meetings with leaders at the U.S. Department of Education, learning about how policies get made and shaping them at the highest level.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the selection of Sherif and 15 others as Teaching Ambassador Fellows on Monday. Sherif will remain in the classroom and participate in the program part-time; five of the fellows will work in Washington full-time.

“I am committed to listening to teachers’ voices as we work to develop policies that will support reform and strengthen the teaching profession,” Duncan said in a news release. “I look forward to working closely with this year’s Teaching Ambassadors, particularly as we work to fix the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Sherif is currently a history and biochemistry teacher at Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a Center City magnet high school that emphasizes project-based learning. He was recently given the Award for Excellence in Inquiry-based Science Teaching from the National Science Teachers Association, and has also done consulting on curriculum and professional development issues across the country.

He said Monday that the most recent honor was “really exciting.”

“It’s part of getting teacher voice elevated,” Sherif said. “Teachers need to be involved in policy formation and reflection.”

Policy formation will be particularly crucial this year, as Congress could reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That piece of legislation, now more commonly known as No Child Left Behind, is the main federal law governing public education and has been widely criticized as relying too heavily on standardized tests to measure student achievement.

The Philadelphia School District has agreed to give Sherif up to 10 days of unpaid personal time to use for the fellowship.

SLA Principal Chris Lehmann hailed Sherif as “an outstanding teacher and an outstanding thinker” who has much to contribute to discussions about public education in this country.

“It’s a great thing for Philadelphia to see that one of their teachers is an important part of the national debate,” Lehmann said.  “I think that’s an incredible victory for the school district.”