New principals named for the Henry C. Lea and Penn Alexander Schools

June 11, 2020
Aaron Gerwer, left, will be the next principal at the Henry C. Lea Elementary School. Lauren Overton, right, will lead Penn Alexander.

Aaron Gerwer, left, will be the next principal at the Henry C. Lea Elementary School. Lauren Overton, right, will lead Penn Alexander.

The Henry C. Lea Elementary School and the Penn Alexander School, both partners of Penn GSE in West Philadelphia, will have new principals for fall 2020.

Recently Aaron Gerwer, currently serving as Head of School at Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, was named the next leader at Lea. Lauren Overton, currently the Principal of the William Meredith School in Philadelphia, where she has served as principal since 2016, has been announced as the Penn Alexander principal.

“I’m excited to welcome these two outstanding leaders to our community,” said Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman. “Aaron brings experience with project-based learning that will create wonderful opportunities for Lea’s students. Lauren has found numerous ways to support students, including in her role as a founding board member of GLSEN Philly. Their careers demonstrate a shared commitment to equitable learning for all students.”

In addition Penn GSE’s formal partnerships with both schools, Gerwer and Overton are moving to schools where many members of the faculty are Penn GSE graduates.

The Lea School

Gerwer began his career in education while he was still in college, serving as a classroom aide and a bus attendant at a community day school in California. Prior to becoming a principal, he also worked as a special education liaison, an English Language Arts teacher and special education case manager, and an after-school program director. Gerwer previously co-led the Science Leadership Academy. Recently named a Neubauer Fellow, Gerwer received his master’s in special education and teaching from Arcadia University.

Gerwer said he was drawn to the Lea School by its diverse community that brings together students from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. Meeting with the school’s teachers this spring, he said he felt like the school’s values were very much in line with his own. 

“The educators at the Lea school have done amazing work, and I’m excited to join my experiences and perspectives with their expertise,” Gerwer said. “I’m especially interested in using project-based and experiential learning centered on equity and engagement with the community to evolve the day-to-day learning of our students, in part with the help of our Penn and Penn GSE partners.”

Penn began collaborating with West Philadelphia’s Henry C. Lea School in the 1960s. Although Penn GSE has a presence in every catchment in the School District of Philadelphia, it maintains a special relationship with both the Lea and Penn Alexander Schools in West Philadelphia. In 2013, Penn GSE deepened its commitment to Lea with an expanded partnership. The Lea partnership model is focused upon integrating University resources along with community and parent-centered efforts to support excellence for all. Located at 47th and Locust Street, the Lea School serves approximately 550 students, and reflects its international neighborhood, with families from 22 countries speaking 14 languages represented in the student body. With a Penn GSE-based liaison on site serving as a partnership coordinator, 16 Penn-connected organizations facilitate 37 distinct partner programs. These Penn organizations, including Penn GSE, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Penn Libraries and the Perelman School of Medicine, operate a wide variety of different school day and after-school programs at Lea. 

The Penn Alexander School

Overton, an undergraduate theater major, first worked with students in a theater arts program. The experience taught her that education was her passion.

Under Overton’s leadership, Meredith School was named a national Blue Ribbon School in 2018. She is a graduate of Temple University (B.A.) who earned an M.S.Ed. from Drexel University. She is also an alumna of the School Leadership Program at Penn GSE where she earned a second M.S.Ed. Her work has been recognized through a number of awards and recognitions, including her selection as a Neubauer Fellow and CASA’s Diversity and Safe Space Award for working towards educational equity.

“I’m so excited for the opportunity to partner with the University of Pennsylvania and engage in equity work with another community,” Overton said. “As a school leader, I think I have a chance to change the systems and policies that affect students every day. More than that, I can help create a climate of joy, where children genuinely love learning.”

Penn Alexander, formally known as the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School, is the result of a historic partnership among the University of Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to build a model university-assisted, K-8 public school for West Philadelphia children. Founded in 2001 at 43rd and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, the school is dedicated to providing high-quality public education to neighborhood children through a child-centered, research-based program. Located in a diverse West Philadelphia community, the Penn Alexander School serves approximately 550 neighborhood students. Penn GSE has shepherded the partnership since the school’s inception and offers a range of ongoing resources to the school – ranging from an after-school math club to student teachers to professional development.