Assignment Update – Philadelphia Education Fund

Each week, as part of my K-12 STEM Plan consulting work, I come here to the Philadelphia School District Administration building.

Hi Everyone,

This 5th blog post is an update on how my Pulse assignment is going at the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF).  It’s been over a month since I have last posted. I am pleased to report that good progress is being made!

You may recall, one of the primary asks of my assignment was for me to identify and implement a new business model for the Philadelphia Math and Science Coalition.  After taking several weeks to study the value of each program or service the Coalition currently offers, we confirmed they each provide a unique value, depending on their cost and impact.  For example, one program may be high value because it includes quality professional development for hundreds of teachers across the city at a moderate cost.  That development will impact those teachers’ abilities to enable thousands of students learn math and science for years. Another program may provide relatively less value because, for the same cost and many more Coalition-hours, it provides a monthly service to ten students over a year.  To those ten students, indeed, the program may be invaluable. But the Coalition must decide – is it worth all of our resources to help those ten students?

Through this value diagnosis, it became clear that for the Coalition to design its future business model, it had to get clear not only on its finances (it is funded 100% via grants at this point… many of which are getting renewed) but also its intended impact.  As in all things in life, it is only with clear intention that one knows not only what they need to do, but how well they need to do it.  So, I sat down with the Coalition Coordinator and the CEO of the Education Fund. We reviewed a copy of the Coalition’s “Strategic Intent”, which had been assembled last year. This document provided clarity for three specific stakeholders the Coalition was going to target over the next several years (e.g. community, teachers, and students). However, it was not yet a complete strategic plan with ASMART goals or specific strategies or tactics identified.  Before doing anything else, we needed to go back and re-design the strategic plan so that it was clear, actionable, and attainable by the Coalition.  Although I may not have been the most popular Pulse volunteer the day I shared this guidance with my colleagues, it is work that had to get done.

Therefore, for the past month or so, we’ve been working on firming up the Coalition’s strategic plan. We’ve identified their mission, revised their vision, and now have incredibly clear capacity and impact goals that can be attained within the next 5 years.  During this process, while researching what makes Coalitions effective, I’ve also been reminded how important it is for Coalition members to be a part of the decision making process (they can’t just come to meetings for the free coffee).  So, we’re also setting up a governance model, wherein an appropriate representation of Coalition members from throughout Philadelphia will be responsible for  1) approving the mission, vision, goals, and strategic plan 2) designing and implementing the Coalition’s annual tactics  and also 3) deciding how and by whom the Coalition should be funded.  In other words, with some consultative guidance from me (and the Pulse volunteer that follows), this Governance Board will also have ultimately have responsibility for the Coalition’s business model.

Reflection: It’s interesting – this assignment has been a classic example of a client having a decent idea of what they need from a Pulse volunteer (“design and implement a new business model”). However, it is only after pausing and making sure I, the consultant, assessed the situation holistically that we learned we actually needed to address other work (the strategic plan) first.  And it was through this work that we learned in fact I shouldn’t be the main decision maker for the original work request, the business model, after all.  Ultimately, I can consult the Governance Board on design options, but they need to decide the final design and implement it.

The other key piece of work I was offered once beginning my assignment at PEF was to consult the Philadelphia School District in its efforts to write a K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Plan.  This is an outstanding opportunity because this plan, when effectively funded and implemented, will impact all 140,000+ public school students, thousands of teachers, principals, and community members. Long-term, this plan will also enable the Philadelphia community to feel confident its young workforce is competent and capable of contributing to our STEM economy.  As well – – this is the first time STEM is being targeted K-12. This is important because, currently, only about half of Philadelphia students have some form of exposure to science in elementary school.  Research shows that, if students don’t have any awareness or curiosity about science by the 6th grade, it is too late. They will not aspire for or be prepared for a science-focused career or college.

For my GSK colleagues reading this, we know how privileged we are to work for such an outstanding company that’s improving people’s ability to do more, feel better, and live longer.  It is my wish that every child, regardless of where they live, could be educated well enough that indeed it is their choice whether or not they someday work at a STEM-based company like GSK. Today, the majority of our young Philly neighbors don’t have a choice. It’s an honor to be a strong contributor of work that could help give them that choice.  And, FYI, if the project plan for this work proceeds accordingly, I will have an opportunity to co-present the District’s STEM Goals to Dr. William Hite, the Superintendent, by December.

Finally, for those of you who have memories of elephants, you may recall I was also asked by the PEF to support them on their overall strategic planning process (significantly larger scope than strategic planning for the Math and Science Coalition). This work did get pushed back by nearly 3 months. So, in November I’ll be a bit more engaged in that work. More to come!

I hope you enjoyed this update! On the next post, I will share my key takeaways from various Philadelphia public education forums I’ve participated in over the past several weeks, supplemental to my Pulse assignment.  Take care and please feel free to share your feedback or comments. Thank you for your support!


  1. Sara:
    You are obviously making a difference in your PULSE role, bringing your extensive knowledge to the team that you are supporting. I fully empathize with you regarding “not being the most popular PULSE volunteer” at any particular time. What we bring with our experience is structure and sometimes the NGOs are so focused on the “doing” that they don’t concentrate on the “planning”. That is not always their intention, but they may feel that they must work this way in order to serve their audience best with the limited resources they often have. Congratulations on making such a difference for future students of Philadelphia.

  2. hi Sarah,

    very interesting read and reflections. it’s really wonderful to see the change you are helping put in place.
    you’re absolutely spot on that to embed these changes it has to be owned by the principals and their stakeholders.

    I look forward to hearing more and seeing the sustainable change slowly but surely be put in place for such a worthy and impactful cause.

    cheers, giri

  3. Great post, Sarah! I am looking forward to learning what transpires for PEF after thier strat plan is in place. While you may not have been the most popular girl at PEF when you redesigned the strat plan, I bet you would be the most popular girl at Philly elementary, middle, and highschools alike. Standing up to bureauocracy and standing for Philly kids! Your stand is awesome.

  4. Sarah. It is impressive to see how much you’ve done in such a short time and the value you are bringing to the PEF. Keep up the fight and good luck over the coming weeks.

  5. Such a terrific and comprehensive update, Sarah. You’re doing such impactful work. Hope to see you on Nov 22!

  6. Sarah,
    While I have no doubt that working through the bureaucracy of the school systems is tough work, I also have no doubt there is no one better suited to do it. I personally believe there is no better cause than education and, while we obviously have a long way to go, it is because of people like you that revolutions are made!

  7. Hello Ms. Sarah,

    Always refreshing and inspiring to read your blog posts. Also very interesting to see how decisions are made in the school district. Keep up the great work and cant wait to read the next post.

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