Head of School Search
On. Oct. 19, the Board of Trustees announced Penn Charter's next head of school.
With excitement and anticipation for the future, we are pleased to announce that Trustees have reached consensus on the selection of Karen Warren Coleman as our next Head of School — the eighth head in the modern era and the first woman to lead William Penn Charter School.
Karen is a distinguished educator and education leader with 25 years of experience in elementary, secondary and higher education, and in both independent and public institutions. Trustees and members of our community who interacted with her during the search process were impressed with her accomplishments as well as her enthusiasm for working with young people, which she described as “an exceptional responsibility and extraordinary privilege.” We agree.
“Karen has devoted her career to the care and growth of students,” Jeffrey Reinhold, clerk of Penn Charter Trustees, said of her selection. “Karen’s passion for students has been in evidence in all of her interactions with the Penn Charter community throughout this process. She is smart and serious, and she can talk on any topic. She also is warm, friendly and skilled at building relationships. I am thrilled that Karen will join the Penn Charter community.”
Karen will visit Penn Charter this week for this announcement and to be introduced to the faculty and staff. She will assume the headship on July 1, 2023.
In accepting the headship, Karen wrote: “It is an honor to be offered the opportunity to join Penn Charter at this moment in the school’s storied history, when Penn Charter has been transformed along every dimension under Darryl Ford’s leadership. In the coming years, I will embrace both leading and learning as I work with Penn Charter’s extraordinary faculty and staff to center students in everything we do. I am especially excited to engage directly with students, and to learn from parents and caregivers, and the incredible OPC community, about the special qualities that make Penn Charter such a powerful contributor to students’ lifelong journey. It will be enormously rewarding to learn about and immerse myself in Quaker values and practices as we support students in ﬁnding their purpose by drawing on the strength of Penn Charter’s Quaker identity.”
Head of School Darryl J. Ford will welcome Karen to campus this week and looks forward to an ongoing dialogue to facilitate the transition and help prepare his successor for leadership of our Friends school and far-reaching community of OPCs.
“Karen comes to Penn Charter with a demonstrated record of building and nurturing teams to support education and students,” Ford said. “She is an extraordinary and inspirational leader for this moment at Penn Charter. I look forward to working with her through the head transition and supporting her success.”
Trustees are gratified that our national and comprehensive search for a new Head of School led us to an educator with experience and values that align with Penn Charter. In our interviews with Karen, we were struck by her love of students and abiding belief in their capacity for growth; her strategic focus and understanding of what it takes to lead a complex organization; and her humility in recognizing that diverse and consultative input makes for smarter decisions. Karen’s joyful and enthusiastic embrace of our school and everything it stands for gives us confidence that she is the right leader to take Penn Charter into the future.
Most recently, Karen was head of the Hockaday School, a college preparatory day and boarding school for girls in Dallas, Texas. Prior to that, she served as vice president for campus and student life at the University of Chicago and previously held leadership positions at three other universities, including serving as associate dean of students at the University of California, Berkeley. Recognized for her expertise and published work, Karen is frequently sought as a presenter and panelist.
At Hockaday, Karen strengthened the school’s profile across every significant measure. She led Hockaday’s strategic planning process, which focused on curricular innovation, inclusion, the quality of the student experience, and financial sustainability. She also led a comprehensive research effort to identify the school’s market strength, vulnerabilities and strategic opportunities. During her tenure, Hockaday achieved key enrollment metrics — an increase in admissions applications and increased selectivity — and record fundraising for the annual fund. Under her leadership, Hockaday launched the Institute for Social Impact, a program focused on PK-12 hands-on learning that addresses real-world issues and includes coursework focused on community impact.
Karen has a deep commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice that is reflected in both her professional career and research. Under her leadership, Hockaday’s enrollment of students of color increased by nearly a third, while diversity on the school’s board increased fourfold. As a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, Karen conducted her dissertation research on Stories Seldom Told: Low Income, First-Generation African-American Male Students at Highly Selective Research Universities. Her master’s thesis at the University of Vermont was titled Education as the Means to Freedom: A Critical Analysis of Oppression.
Karen graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a BA in psychology. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and attended Stuyvesant High School in NYC. Karen and her husband, Andrew Coleman, are passionate travelers and love the outdoors. Andy, after a career as an attorney and an e-commerce executive, has worked for almost 10 years as a professional photographer, traveling the globe, camera in hand, in search of amazing wildlife and landscapes; his images and stories have been featured with National Geographic and in other books and media. They will relocate to Philadelphia along with their yellow Lab, Wrigley.
We look forward to welcoming Karen as Head of School in July and, in the meantime, please join us in thanking all those who worked to make this search process successful. The engagement of our faculty and staff has been exceptional, and the feedback from them and from parents and OPCs invaluable. With Storbeck Search, our search consultants, the process identified a diverse pool that yielded more than 200 substantive interviews with prospective applicants. Our PC Search Committee initially reviewed a pool of almost 40 candidates and narrowed its focus to 22 candidates. Through a focused set of interviews, we chose four candidates to visit Penn Charter to meet with faculty and staff, students and members of the PC community. Our process was designed to be inclusive and we succeeded on that level as well: throughout the different phases of the search we heard from 1,400 members of the PC community.
Change, especially leadership change, is impactful and hard work. On behalf of Trustees, the Head of School Search Committee and our Search Advisory Groups, we can say that it has been an honor to perform this service for the school we love. We look forward to celebrating, with Darryl, the conclusion of the momentous $130 million How Far! campaign and breaking ground for the new Richard A. Balderston OPC ’69 Lower School, the final project in our campus transformation. With similar enthusiasm and optimism for this 334-year-old Quaker school, we look forward to the leadership of Karen Warren Coleman.
Amy E. Gadsden
P '23, '23, '27
Trustee, Search Co-Clerk
Paul H. Hough
Trustee, Search Co-Clerk
Benjamin E. Robinson III
Trustee, Search Co-Clerk