Heights is hiring for Summer 2024! Learn more about opportunities to join our team. 

Heights Philadelphia Co-President & CEO Sara L. Woods to Transition from Leadership Following Seven Years of Service to Community

 Economic mobility catalyst’s co-president paves way for next generation of organizational leaders, setting foundation and vision for a better Philadelphia through love of students.

PHILADELPHIA (April 24, 2024) – Heights Philadelphia (“Heights”) Co-President & CEO Sara L. Woods today announced her decision to transition from leadership following more than seven years of service to the Heights and Philadelphia Futures community. To support Co-President Sean E. Vereen, Ed.D., who will become President & CEO of Heights, the economic mobility catalyst will elevate Chanell A. Bates to Chief of Staff and restructure its Executive Leadership Team to continue the organization’s collaborative leadership approach to best serve more than 3,000 students in Philadelphia. Woods will continue in her role through the transition until her departure in September 2024 to further the organization’s vision that all students achieve economic mobility by creating pathways to educational and workforce success, especially for Black and Latino, first-generation-to-college students and students from low-income communities.

“Heights Philadelphia is the result of collaborative leadership and collective ownership. We made a big bet in Philadelphia that things will be different if we put students at the center,” said Sara L. Woods, Esq., Co-President, Heights Philadelphia. “When I met Sean and the Steppingstone Scholars team through my role with Philadelphia Futures, we both knew it was a serendipitous moment. Together, we are showing students that they matter, and that we are all better when we prioritize real opportunities for young people. Today, Heights’ team is strong and ready to realize that vision of accelerating economic mobility for young people and reach even more Philadelphia students. It has been a privilege to serve Heights and the youth of Philadelphia, and I will continue to cheer on Heights and its good work. I am confident in Sean’s leadership and that of the team to keep the momentum going and push for real change in our educational and workforce systems.”

“Sara’s love and care for our students has been the foundation for our Heights community,” said Sean E. Vereen, Ed.D., Co-President, Heights Philadelphia. “The spirit of collaboration at the heart of the merger, our Co-Presidency, and our staff have made Heights the organization that others want to work and collaborate with, recognizing that this work is challenging and cannot be done alone. Sara’s deep focus on relationships has empowered our team, students, communities and her peers. Her commitment to think bigger and better for our city’s young people has created the blueprint to help Heights enter its next chapter – aiming to serve more than 5,000 students by 2029 – and we are so grateful to her vision for Heights to become the driving impactful change for students of Philadelphia.”

“Without Sara, Heights Philadelphia would not be possible,” said Greg Anderson, Chair of Heights Philadelphia Board of Directors. “Heights was born out of Sara and Sean’s collaborative belief that Philadelphia can be a better city for us all by putting students first. Always leading by example, Sara has shown our community what it means to work together and prove to our students that they matter. This work is complicated and cannot be done alone, so this fundamental, collaborative approach in which Heights was founded will continue into our next chapter with Sean Vereen as the lead, and a strong team around him that will continue to think bigger and dream higher to take students to new heights.”

In December 2022, former education nonprofits Philadelphia Futures and Steppingstone Scholars merged to create Heights Philadelphia to better support more than 3,000 students – especially Black, Brown and first-generation-to-college scholars – in Philadelphia working to achieve their goals of college and career success. In almost two years since the merger, Heights has proven to be inspiring, exhilarating, and essential to the city of Philadelphia, recently announcing its new strategic plan, guiding its efforts through 2029, Accelerating Economic Mobility & Educational Opportunity. Woods has led Heights’ operations and innovation, steering the organization towards achieving remarkable results. Since its inception, Heights now serves more than 3,000 students, including those pursuing degrees and those in middle school and high school in 23 schools within the School District of Philadelphia. It has also announced official partnerships with 13 colleges and universities. Its new Community Access Pathway now equips all Philadelphians with the tools they need to achieve educational and workforce success and is currently embedded on two campuses, Drexel University and Temple University, to support those students and families who are unable to access Heights’ pathways in the schools.

Under Woods’ leadership, Heights has also received significant philanthropic gifts and support from organizations, including: Comcast NBCUniversal; Hamilton Family Charitable Trust; Hirtle, Callaghan & Co.; Lenfest Foundation; Neubauer Family Foundation; Pew Fund for Health and Human Services’  and William Penn Foundation. These gifts have helped to significantly scale services, support, and impact for Philadelphia students working with Heights to reach their dream career paths and college endeavors. 

Prior to her role at Heights, Woods was the President and CEO of Philadelphia Futures where she began in March 2017, driving growth and impact. Specifically, Woods led a 50 percent increase in fundraising, the vital resource to further the organization’s mission to empower low-income, first-generation-to-college students. She doubled college partnerships, providing opportunities for youth to access higher education and transformed the organization’s position as a leading advocate for equity and justice for the region. In addition to her role with Philadelphia Futures, she also served as an adjunct professor at Villanova University School of Law. Through the development and implementation of the Public Interest Lawyering course, she played a pivotal role in nurturing the next generation of legal professionals driven by a passion for social justice. Her dedication to equipping aspiring lawyers with the skills and knowledge necessary to effect meaningful change has underscored her commitment to fostering a more just and equitable society.

Before concluding her tenure as Heights Co-President and CEO in September 2024, Woods will move to part-time status beginning July 2024 ensuring a seamless transition.  Following Woods’ transition from the organization, Vereen will become President and CEO of Heights.  Vereen has been working with Woods since Heights founding in 2022, serving alongside Woods as Co-President and CEO, and specifically overseeing student outcomes and experiences at Heights. Prior, Vereen was president of Steppingstone Scholars, leading the launch of several programs and strategic partnerships increasing the organization’s impact and scope. A noted thought leader in educational pedagogy, college enrollment, and racial, social, and economic inequities within the educational system, Vereen is a member of Johns Hopkins Access Advisory Board, which works with Hopkins’ undergraduate admissions office to realize the goals of Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift for increasing the low-income and first-generation student population. 

Prior to joining Steppingstone, Vereen spent ten years at the University of Pennsylvania in a variety of roles, including the Associate Dean for Opportunity and Access and Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Sean previously served as vice chair of the mayor’s education nominating board for the School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education. He is a board member of Elevate 215 and The Philadelphia School, and he is also a lecturer in the higher education division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rochester and an Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.