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Exploring Systems-Level Leadership: Brett Shiel

Brett Shiel was a part of the 2000 Houston corps. After completing his two years in the corps, Brett held a number of roles with organizations including Freire Charter School and the School District of Philadelphia.

Brett Shiel

By The TFA Editorial Team

April 8, 2015

Brett is one of two alumni now working in Camden’s schools through the School Systems Leadership Fellowship.

What interested you in school systems-level leadership and led you to apply for the Fellowship?

I was led to apply to School Systems Leaders Fellowship because I want to be as prepared as possible to enter the wild and crazy world of school systems leadership. Many fellows are clearly on the path to the superintendency. For me, that is not the right future role, but I do foresee myself in a cabinet-level position as well as supporting superintendents and systems in various ways.

You worked in the School District of Philadelphia, and are now just across the river in Camden. Do you see differences and similarities between the two cities’ education system, challenges, and opportunities?

Although just a mile apart, there is a world of policy difference between Camden and Philly. Each state takeover is fashioned quite differently and the strategy for success is approached from a different policy and funding landscape. Camden gets roughly three times the yearly per-student funding as Philadelphia, yet there is no evidence of increased achievement. This, to me, is a reminder that money is only one part of the formula for success – and I wonder: when a system has a history of being flush with cash, if it may stifle urgency and creative thinking needed to solve the crisis.

What are your hopes for education in this region over the next five or ten years?

I’m hoping we can crack the nut on culture and political alignment in support of education. I’m tired of hearing “we’re here for the kids.” I think our region needs a moratorium on such a statement because it just ends the conversation and further polarizes our fractured community. I am hoping for a “third way” – both in Camden and Philly – so that communities of parents, students, teachers, politicians, funders, and administrators can align on the issues most core to the lives of students and the adults who support them.