Penny Nixon, the Philadelphia School District's chief academic officer, is taking an educational sabbatical, effective Nov. 1.

The sabbatical was announced to principals Friday in an e-mail from Nixon, and to other staffers in an e-mail from William R. Hite Jr., the new superintendent.

Nixon, who has overseen academics during a tumultuous time in the district, will finish her doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the sabbatical was solely for Nixon's studies and was not related to investigations of state exam cheating. Nixon was formerly principal of Wagner Middle School, one of the 53 district schools still being probed for possible improprieties.

Hite said he made the announcement with "mixed feelings."

"I support her commitment to continue her education to further pursue her goals and career, but she will be sorely missed," Hite wrote. "Her leadership and commitment to our students, families, teachers, principals, and schools have allowed the district to overcome a tumultuous period and move forward. I am grateful for the tremendous work she has done on behalf of the children of Philadelphia."

Nixon, a Philadelphia native, worked her way up through the ranks of district leadership, serving as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and finally chief academic officer. She was promoted to that job in January, when the School Reform Commission installed Thomas Knudsen as chief recovery officer.

"I am pleased that we had a successful school opening, and the new superintendent is transitioning well into the district," Nixon wrote to principals. "As always, I wish you a school year filled with great success."

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at