Get2Know: Jamira Burley – Philadelphia’s Youngest Executive Director of A Public Agency

A new generation of leaders has emerged to produce tangible impact across Philadelphia. This new energy is expanding economic, health, education and cultural opportunity, positioning Philadelphia as a must-visit destination and a place residents are proud to call home. Fairmount met with Jamira Burley, the 25-year-old Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission (@PhillyYC) in the first installment of Get2Know. This new segment reveals the personal side of young change agents impacting Greater Philadelphia and beyond. 

Jamira and Fairmount Ventures grab a coffee for Get2Know at Philadelphia's La Colombe.

Jamira and Fairmount Ventures grab a coffee for Get2Know at Philadelphia’s La Colombe. (Delicious by the way).

Fairmount: How was your role evolved since being named the youngest executive director of any Philadelphia agency almost two years ago?

Jamira: The last two years I’ve helped take the Youth Commission back to its initial purpose which is policy and prevention, looking at city policy and how it effects people 23 and under, researching how the city treats the youth population, and establishing initiatives to keep young people in Philadelphia. 

As my position has evolved I have been able to take some of our Youth Commission work on a national and international scale. We’ve been working with nonprofit organizations in New York City and Washington, D.C. Actually, I just got back to Philly from an unconference in D.C sponsored by Generation Progress. They brought about 120 young people together to identify how we change federal policy as relates to young people.

Fairmount: What Philadelphia Youth Commission initiative are you most proud to have worked on or plan to work on?

Jamira: Gun prevention is one. We are in the process of being engaged in Philadelphia education. We advocate a better funding system from the state. We are also working on changing the health of young people and tackling issues like obesity. We want more opportunities for young people to get engaged in programs that can help improve their life and the lives of people around them.

Fairmount: How have you personally and as a group handled issues with the Philadelphia school system and the impact that has left on Philadelphia’s youth?

Jamira: Our commissioners are from all over the city and many of them are entrenched in the advocacy for the school system. They are on committees, they are in direct service, they have written letters to leaders and created blog content on the state of the current school district. Three specific areas are engagement, advocacy, and informing. We all recognize that there are many flaws in the current school system but we realize that until the school system is fully funded we cant expect the school district to run fully.

Commissioners from the Philadelphia Youth Commission give testimony about challenges facing Philadelphia’s young demographic .

Fairmount: What barriers are preventing Philadelphia’s youth from maximizing their potential? 

Jamira: I would say one of the biggest barriers is education. Education is a huge equalizer. Some people are coming from areas that are extremely improvised and go to a class with 40 students and a teacher unable to engage them. We need a better education system to create the tools and skills needed to be successful.

Fairmount: Clearly you have a strong desire to create impact and have done so already at a young age. What advice do you have for people and organizations looking to create impact?

Jamira: I would say knowing your constituency. A lot of times people assume what young people want without really consulting them. I continue to try to engage young people and go where they are.  I meet with them by going to their school or meeting with them in my office – anywhere we can connect.

If you want to make an impact, know your consistency. I would say that it’s not just me but our commissioners who do this. We engage people with wide backgrounds, in addition to being smart, so they can go back and serve neighborhoods and people who can identify with them.

Fairmount: What’s your greatest struggle as a Gen Y leader to align people to your initiatives?

Jamira: Many people look at young people and think ‘they don’t have experience.’ I try not to let people’s prejudices effect me. Instead I try to let people judge me on my work. I think if you do good work it adds legitimacy when you raise concerns or voice your thoughts. I think some young people have better ideas when it comes to youth-oriented isses than older adults.

Jamira (center) takes a break at the United Way Day of Action, an annual call-to-action for organizations and individuals to create building blocks for health, education, and and income for all.

Fairmount: What do you many people not understand or know about Philadelphia’s youth?

Jamira: I think people like to place them in one box. ‘They’re all flashmobbers. They all don’t want to get an education.’ One thing I learned is Philadelphia’s youth are resilient. We embrace challenges and we fight back to create solutions. I don’t know many youth in Philadelphia not engaged in one way or somewhere. More youth in Philadelphia want a better city and I am trying to create more active ways to do that.

Fairmount: Is there anything you’d like to say that we haven’t touched on?

Jamira: I hope people don’t lose faith in Philadelphia’s youth because there is so much potential. They’re brilliant people.


Jamira is too modest to brag, so we’ll do it for her. Jamira has been ranked as one of the top-10 up-and-coming Philadelphians by the Philadelphia Daily News. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Huffington Post, BET, and Philadelphia Tribune. Jamira is poised to create impact for a long time.

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Why the End of Third Grade May Predict Your Child’s Success

Philadelphia is challenged to equip schools and parents with the best resources and strategies to ensure children read proficiently by the end of third grade. Research highlights the end of third grade as a critical moment in children’s educational development.

At this stage kids transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Achieving this milestone is the most important indicator of high school and career success. 4th graders unable to read at grade-level are four times more likely to drop out of high school compared to peers who read proficiently. In Philadelphia, only 13% rising 4th graders read at grade-level according to national standards.

How can we better understand such a daunting and complicated issue?

Start with income disparity. 92% of students in low-income communities attend schools where fewer than 75% of kids enter fourth grade with required basic literacy skills. The achievement gap widens at a faster rate between low-income students compared to middle-income students at the end of the third grade.

Springboard Collaborative ©

(Springboard Collaborative ©)

To alleviate this education crisis, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) is championing a multi-organization effort steering key public and nonprofit sector stakeholders to ensure by 2020 all Philadelphia students achieve grade-level reading at the end of the third grade.

Collective impact efforts are proven powerful approaches to effect change. But identifying how to best incorporate the unique strengths, resources and institutional work habits among varying organizations can be difficult. Donna Cooper, Executive Director of PCCY, and Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) are co-leading a Steering Committee to provide clarity for stakeholders about their roles and how their work fits within the larger collective strategy.

Child ReadingEnsuring 100% of Philadelphia’s public and charter students can read at grade-level by the end of third grade is an ambitious goal. But research offers legitimate reason for optimism. Studies highlighting the five greatest contributing factors to successful grade-level achievement among children provides PCCY and participating organizations with a head-start to increase the number of children who achieve grade-level reading.

1. High-quality Early Learning Programs: A child from a low-income family typically hears 30 million fewer words than a middle or higher-income peer by kindergarten. Most low-income children face a disadvantage almost immediately upon entering formal education.

2. Reducing School Absenteeism: 10% of kindergarten and first grade students miss nearly a month of school each year. Greater access to quality healthcare and family reduces school absences which decreases the likelihood of falling behind grade-level.

3. Summer Reading Efforts, Out of School Time, and Reading Infusion: Children who do not have access to summer learning opportunities lose up to three months of reading comprehension during summer months. Organizations like Springboard Collaborative offer programs to reduce the summer slide.

4. Instructional Strategy Development & Alignment: Required teaching material and effective grade-level reading strategies must be aligned. Identifying learners with special needs like Dyslexia is vital to providing those children beneficial strategies to overcome their disability.

5. Parent Engagement & Mobilization: Parents set the foundation for the child to achieve grade-level reading. This occurs from providing kids with their earliest vocabulary learning, ensuring their child is healthy enough to go to school, and infusing daily reading in their child’s home life.

PCCY and participants across target Subcommittees will design and implement strategies driven by the key contributing factors of successful child reading. They anticipate a rollout to coincide with summer programs and the 2014-15 school year. Fairmount Ventures is proud to help facilitate a complex process to create a Community Solutions Action Plan and develop a six year strategy and operational plan.

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Fairmount’s Favorite Tweets: 2/10 – 2/14 Edition

The Twitterverse is alive with stimulating conversation. Weekly we’ll share some of our favorite tweets. We view it as a quick way to stay informed on the facts, news, and quotes that introduced something we think is neat, interesting, or even funny.

If you’d like to be considered for Fairmount Favorite Tweets, share your content with us at @FairmountV!

1Favorite Tweets Feb 10 - Feb 142Favorite Tweets Feb 10 - Feb 14Favorite Tweets Feb 10 - Feb 14

Help Wanted: 1.2 Million Good Paying Jobs Available

Philadelphia’s success in the global economy will be influenced by our ability to compete in STEM-based industries in the global economy.This is not just what we think of has “high tech” jobs since technology and math are in practically everything we do. STEM is in everything from accounting to advanced manufacturing to banking to pharma’s to healthcare. Nationwide, by 2018 there will be 1.2 million STEM jobs available without qualified applicants to fill them. This creates an opportunity for Philadelphia if we can build a pipeline of people who can fill these positions. Currently, minorities, people from low income households and women are a significant part of our population yet are particularly under-represented in these careers. How can we change this? The American Journal of Community Psychology recently published research that indicates that many of minority and low income youth and girls do not know that a career in a STEM position is possible for them because they do not know anyone in these fields. It goes on to report that hands-on mentoring from STEM professionals leads to youth knowing about these options but also significantly increasing their grades and school attendance and self-worth. STEM mentorship helps show adolescents they can have fulfilling, loving relationships with adults and themselves, something that isn’t always evident. In response, a new national nonprofit developed by the Clinton Global Initiative project called US2020 has established  a competition to award winning cities grants and resources aimed to match mentors with students at youth-serving nonprofits.  Philadelphia is now a finalist in this first-ever competition. We made the first cut from 52 entrants down to around 12, so our chances are good. Selected cities will receive grant funds, staffing and technical support to build a mentoring program that can complement other STEM initiatives.

Fairmount Ventures is proud to have helped facilitate a complex process in designing and preparing Philadelphia’s application.  Led by the Mayor’s Office of Education and the Office of Grants, participating organizations included Philadelphia Youth Network, the School District of Philadelphia the Philadelphia Education Fund, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Center for Schools & Communities, Drexel University, Dow Chemical Company, The Franklin Institute, the Free Library of Philadelphia, GSK, iPraxis, the Out of School Time Resource Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Out-of-School Time Systems of Systems, Penn State Abington,and Spark Philadelphia.

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