Apr 24, 2019

The Hometown Tour: Philadelphia

Roundtable participants sit at a breakfast table and Axios Editor in Chief Nick Johnston starts the conversation.

Local leaders and Axios' Nick Johnston at the Hometown Tour. Photo: Beatrice Moritz for Axios

On Tuesday, Axios editor in chief Nick Johnston continued the Hometown Tour with an Expert Voices Live discussion in Philadelphia, digging into the state of education and skills training across the city.

Why it matters: 24 leaders from Philly's top schools, universities, non-profits and businesses discussed how to best educate and prepare their city for the future of work.

Skills Training

Johnston opened the conversation, asking our table of thought leaders how they're preparing Philadelphians for jobs of the future.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, a roundtable participant, shares her perspective.
Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, shares her perspective. Photo: Beatrice Moritz for Axios
  • Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, highlighted the importance of funding summer employment programs for young people: "Summer employment gives them productive ways to use what they're learning in school and introduces them to adults in different circumstances and exposure to different career paths."
  • Marisa Porges, Head of School at the Baldwin School, discussed the work her school is doing to prepare students for the future of work: "We work to give students basic skills of reading and writing and literacy, overlay it with new technology, but also the real world overlay of what comes next."

Others spoke to the pressing need of cultivating both work and skilled workers within the city.

  • Patrick Clancy, President and CEO of Philadelphia Works, the city's workforce development board, stressed the need for career ladders and apprenticeship programs: "It's not just getting individuals back to work, but on a career pathway."
  • Jeff Hornstein, Executive Director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, touched on the demand side of the workforce: "All the anchor institutions in the city are working with us to develop a localization strategy" to ensure jobs stay in Philadelphia.

Education Funding

The need for education funding, at both the state and federal level, was reiterated throughout the morning's conversation.

  • Numa St. Louis, District Representative for Congressman Dwight Evans, mentioned how Rep. Evans fought to be a part of the House Ways and Means Committee and introduced the 2017 School Rehabilitation Bill as a vehicle to secure more funding for Philadelphia.
  • Andrea Custis, CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, spoke to the racial and geographical elements of education funding, arguing that "zip code absolutely determines the quality of your education."
Abby Thaker of the Free Library of Philadelphia shares her opinion.
Abby Thaker, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Free Library of Philadelphia, talks about the Read by 4th Campaign. Photo: Beatrice Moritz for Axios

Early-childhood Education

As the conversation evolved, participants homed in on the critical role early-childhood education plays in the broader education system.

  • AJ Jordan, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo, spoke about his work with the Read by 4th Campaign: "We ensure that all kids in all neighborhoods in all schools can read by the fourth grade."
  • Abby Thaker, a director at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which started the Read by 4th Campaign, piggybacked on Jordan to stress the importance of parent buy-in and providing those parents with adequate resources.


Roundtable members called for collaboration multiple times throughout the conversation — both within and across sectors — to counteract the intense competition limited funding creates among education leaders.

  • Nancy Peter, Director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education, emphasized the need for incentives that cultivate collaboration, rather than competition.
  • Chris Lehmann, Founding Principal at the Science Leadership Academy, mentioned one solution — the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative — which brings schools together to discuss new and progressive forms of education.
Participants sit around the table at the Hometown Tour: Philadelphia.
F. Joseph Merlino, President of the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education, shares his thoughts about Philly's school district. Photo: Beatrice Moritz for Axios
"Everything that everybody is doing here is part of a larger ecosystem. There doesn't need to be conflict. It needs to be that we are moving all in the same direction to try and solve problems for students."
— Farah Jimenez, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Education Fund

Thank you to everyone who joined us, and thank you Wells Fargo for sponsoring this event.

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