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Fox Leadership lunch with Lisa Nutter Credit: Danielle Marryshow , Danielle Marryshow

Shortly after the re-election of Mayor and 1979 Wharton graduate Michael Nutter, his wife Lisa sat at a table with 27 students and faculty to discuss education policy and leadership skills.

The seminar, held Nov. 11 at Leadership Hall on Friday, was sponsored by Fox Leadership and led by Associate Director Chuck Brutsche.

After graduating, Nutter became astonished at the amount of things she wanted to change, “but first I had to get past just being angry about them.”

So she attended Penn’s School of Design for two years and proceeded to work on community development for 14 years, tackling human development issues.

Philadelphia’s third African-American first lady has been the president of Philadelphia Academies Inc. for six years now. The nonprofit organization combines career-directed learning with personalized classroom environments to increase student success rates.

“When teachers go into work, they’re not organized around a change agenda. They go in their classrooms and they’ve gotta teach whatever they teach. Schools don’t do outcome-based thinking.”

Nutter acknowledged that being a teacher can burn you out. “Many people come out of Teach for America excited, get put in a school and get the life sucked out of them. Then they email me: ‘I don’t want to teach, I want to do policy.’ You don’t want to do policy, you want to be where you can implement your work and do the innovation you were taught.”

Nutter hasn’t been involved with PennDesign since she was a student in 1992, but she recalls some policies that she felt needed improvement. “People were doing a lot of theory, not hands-on stuff. There was a lot of navel-gazing. My understanding is that some of that’s changed.”

Graduate School of Education Coordinator of Teacher Education Maureen Cotterill agreed. “I can speak to that,” she said. “Now our teachers and students have the opportunity to stay connected while teaching for the first three to five years.” Nutter nodded: “You can’t figure it out on your own.”

An undergraduate student asked Nutter to share her strategies for maintaining a social network. “I’m smart enough to know when someone cares about me. I stay in touch with those people,” Nutter said.

Social networking was one of the reasons why she had applied to PennDesign. “Grad school can be about a certificate. I needed something that looked healthy on my resume. Nobody even asked me my GPA. They were just like, ‘You went to Penn?’ And I had this immediate network.”

When asked what being the mayor’s wife is like, Nutter chuckled, “Like somebody gave me 40 more jobs with no pay.”

But she’s grateful. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t the mayor’s wife. Now I wake up every day trying to figure out what the best way is to use my influence. Sometimes it’s an adviser to [Mayor Michael Nutter], sometimes it’s speaking at things like this.”

Flexibility has been crucial. “[Michael’s] mission became mine. You don’t get to decide when you get to be a leader. You don’t get to decide the form that opportunity comes to you. You just have to be smart enough to figure out how to use it.”

But fame comes with a price. “It’s not like I don’t want to kick somebody’s butt every now and then. Let’s be for real, just because somebody’s in a public space doesn’t mean you can hurt their feelings.”

And since Mayor Nutter was just re-elected last week, the first lady will have to deal with the public for a few more years.

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