Dr. Sonya Somerville joined The School at Columbia University as Head of School in July 2023. She brings to the role the experience and passion of a full career in education and advocacy for students and teachers.
Dr. Somerville has spent thirty years as an educator within New York City and Philadelphia public schools, beginning as a Special Education Teacher, then serving as Assistant Principal, Principal, and Assistant Superintendent. Her background includes degrees from Spelman College (B.A.), Temple University (M.Ed.), and University of Pennsylvania (Ed.D.). Her experiences as a learner, teacher, and leader made clear the importance of connecting learning to life experience, of ensuring students understand deep connections across subjects, and of making student reflection and voice central to their learning. She brought these beliefs to bear in her school and district-level leadership roles, and they laid the groundwork for partnerships she forged with the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Teachers College, and others to support learning and instruction in her schools.
During her tenure as Assistant Superintendent, three of her schools were named National Blue Ribbon Schools for High Achievement and for Closing the Achievement Gap, an acknowledgment, in the words of the U.S. Department of Education, of “striving for and achieving exemplary achievement.” Sonya facilitated this remarkable distinction—accomplished via the close partnership and dedication of all stakeholders—through deliberate cultivation of an increasingly positive teaching and learning environment and a focus on working cooperatively with district leadership, university partners, businesses, and the community to close achievement and opportunity gaps.
She was recognized as the Assistant Superintendent with the highest consistent student gains in ELA, math, and science for six out of the past seven school years. These assessments look not just at academic content areas but also at aspects of the whole child and community such as the well-being of students, parents and caregivers, teachers, and administrators. Whether as a teacher, principal, or district-level leader, Sonya has been dedicated to considering the needs of each individual child.
Her dedication to the whole child and the cultivation of community are evidenced also in her commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the classroom. Dr. Somerville served as a lead and co-developer for a collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania to develop simulations of culturally relevant situations that leaders commonly face as a way to further develop these competencies in her principals. To address disparities across many aspects of school life, Sonya launched a project involving targeted readings to help leaders and teachers think about how to dismantle inequitable practices.
Please join The School and Columbia University’s Office of the Provost in warmly welcoming Dr. Sonya Somerville to the TSC community, as TSC celebrates its milestone 20th year.