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Igniting STEM Learning:  Inspired Efforts of Teachers

October 22, 2012—


Ms. Connie Goochee


Connie Goochee is a middle school science teacher passionate about making science exciting and relevant for her students.  Constantly on the look out for ways to engage her students, she has collaborated with the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania to bring “BioEyes”, a weeklong genetic and embryonic study using live zebra fish, to her seventh grade students. Her students have built solar powered racecars, created websites on alternative energy, competed with their homemade catapults, and designed, built and launched straw rockets for title of “Top Physicist”. Ms. Goochee trains students on the scientific process by mentoring them for the Carver and Delaware Valley Science Fairs.

Connie has a Master’s Degree in Science Education from the University of Pennsylvania and an undergraduate degree in biology. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in Science and is currently mentoring four National Board candidates. Trained in the International Baccalaureate program, she teaches at one of the two IB approved middle schools in Philadelphia. She is an active member of the National Science Teacher Association and recently presented a session on STEM career awareness at the first annual NSTA STEM conference.

Prior to her teaching career, Connie worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for eleven years in their Washington DC, Houston and San Francisco offices. She also served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Central America, working as a soil conservationist. She has raised three wonderful children, two of whom are pursuing careers in teaching.

Mr. Jerry T. Jordan


Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Educated in Philadelphia public schools, Jordan came from a family of public school teachers, with his grandparents, an uncle, aunts and cousins teaching in the South and in Philadelphia.

He received his degree in education from Temple University and began teaching high school Spanish and English as a Second Language in the School District of Philadelphia.

As a youth, he remembered the pre-collective bargaining, pre-Civil Rights teaching profession in which his family members had worked, where teachers were not treated like professionals and African American teachers were barred from teaching in white schools, in high schools or becoming principals. As a result, Jordan became active in the PFT and was elected the PFT building representative at University City High School.

In 1987, he was elected Legislative Representative on the PFT’s Executive Board.  He served as a district staff representative, representing teachers and support staff in 50 schools and school-district offices.  In 1989, he was appointed special assistant to the PFT president.  He was elected general vice president by the members.

A year later, he was appointed director of the PFT staff, a position he held until June 2007, when he was elected to serve the unexpired term of the previous PFT president. He was elected to a four-year term as PFT president in February 2008.  Jordan has been a member of the PFT’s negotiating team since 1992 and has been chief negotiator since 2000.

Jordan also is a vice president on the AFT Executive Council, vice chair of the AFT Civil and Human Rights Committee and a member of the AFT Constitutional Amendments and Convention Committee. He has served on the AFT K-12 Policy and Program Committee, the AFT Urban Schools Initiative and the AFT’s No Child Left Behind Task Force.  He is assistant treasurer of the AFT Pennsylvania and a vice president of the Philadelphia Council and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. He was appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to the board of the Mayor’s Office of Community Services and serves as a board member for The Leadership Center of Delaware Valley, Inc..

As PFT president, Jordan is fighting to provide Philadelphia’s children with a world-class education that prepares them to compete in the world. He believes that schools can, and should, provide children with well-rounded educations that include art and music, rigorous academics and provides support for students who are struggling. Jordan has built effective coalitions with parents, education advocates and civic leaders to transform Philadelphia’s high schools, improve graduation rates and expand educational opportunities for all of Philadelphia’s children.

Mr. Gamal Sherif


Gamal Sherif first began working with children in 1980, when he served as a summer camp director in New York’s Bear Mountain State Park. He is presently teaching and co-writing curriculum at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy.  Gamal’s pedagogy emphasizes student-centered, project-based learning. Over the years, Gamal has facilitated school planning, professional development, and program enrichment for charter, independent and traditional public schools in Philadelphia, across the U.S. and in Morocco.  In 2008, he was recognized as a finalist for the Lindback Foundation’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 2011 Gamal received the NSTA’s National Award for Inquiry-based Science Education.  Over the last year, Gamal served as a Teacher Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.  In 2012, Gamal co-founded “Teachers Lead Philly,” a local non-profit that supports teacher engagement.

Ms. Sylvia Simms


Ms. Sylvia P. Simms is the founder and president of “PARENT POWER” What Will You Do With Yours?” – a parent organization that helps parents/caregivers fight for quality education for their children.  Ms. Simms supports local schools in her area with effective and sustainable parental involvement.  She delivers parent empowerment workshops across Philadelphia to inform parents of their rights and demonstrate how to effectively advocate on behalf of their children.  She also conducts “train the trainer” sessions at national conferences for parent organizers and school administrators.

Her commitment to the parents, students and school staff is driven by a passion for equity in education and community development.  In addition to working directly with parents and families, Ms. Simms actively participates in local and state-wide committees.  She was a member of the PA Parent Leadership Academy.  She represented the School District of Philadelphia on the Region 3 National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents Steering Committee and PA State Parent Advisory Council.  Most recently, Ms. Simms represented parents and families on the School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Search Committee.   As a servant of the community, Ms. Simms acts as a committee person for the 11th ward, 19th division block captain, and sits on the City of Philadelphia’s Mayor Office of Community Services Advisory Board.

Ms. Simms has been a bus attendant for the School District of Philadelphia for over fifteen years, working very closely with disabled children. She was named the 2007 Beacon of Light Paraprofessional of the Year.  She is the proud mother of two adult daughters and one beautiful granddaughter, who all reside in Philadelphia.

Mr. Derrick Houck

HouckDerrick Houck is a third-year high school math teacher at Olney Charter High School, an ASPIRA school. He earned a B.S. in Mathematics from Bucknell University and a M. S. Ed. in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania through the Teach for America program.  He is a member of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

In addition to traditional Algebra 1 courses, Derrick teaches four sections of Math Recitation, a course that was developed this past summer by a committee of Olney teachers and Dr. Ellen Clay of Drexel University. His instruction is driven by a desire to build students’ conceptual understanding of algebra through student-to-student interaction. Derrick and his colleagues in Olney’s Math Department also collaborate daily to look at and reflect on students’ work, which informs the differentiated activities they co-plan together.

Derrick is also a co-facilitator of Olney Charter’s Music Club, where he tutors students learning piano.

Ms. Kimberly Ellerbee

Kimberly Ellerbee is the principal of Samuel Powel Elementary School.   Her leadership is informed by more than 20 years of experience as an urban educator and instructional leader.   During her two-year tenure, Powel has experienced a 19% increase in both literacy and math scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and a decrease in discipline referrals and suspensions.   Her strategic partnerships with Drexel University other community partners have provided resources for both teachers and students aimed at strengthening the instructional program and increasing student achievement.  These community partnerships have resulted in the implementation of the Playworks Program to support socialized recess, grant funding to renovate the library and support STEM programs for students, and job-embedded professional development for teachers and staff.

Ellerbee believes in the power of teachers to make a difference in the lives of students.  After becoming a master teacher, she assumed leadership positions dedicated to the professional development of teachers.  As a consultant with ATLAS Communities, she provided training and technical support to schools around the implementation of whole faculty study groups, authentic assessment, and instructional best practices.  She later joined the School District of Philadelphia as a Lead Academic Coach.  In this role, she worked with a team of academic coaches to monitor the implementation of curriculum using instructional protocols and evidence tools.  Ellerbee was subsequently promoted to Director of Instruction for the Western Regional Office.   In concert with the Regional Superintendent, she set the direction and tone for the instructional operation of the Region, and provided leadership for the implementation and monitoring of the Core Curriculum in 27 schools.  She served as an Assistant Principal at Stephen Girard Elementary School before becoming principal at Powel.

Ellerbee trained to become a teacher at Millersville University, where she was also awarded Student Teacher of the Year.  She later completed the Reading Specialist Program at Old Dominion University.    She received her Principal Certification from Cheyney University and Superintendent’s Letter of Eligibility from St. Joseph’s University.  Ellerbee is a wife and mother of 3.