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South Philadelphia principal Hackney to be chief education officer, Kenney says

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Updated, 3:20 pm with Hite statement

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has named Otis Hackney, the principal at South Philadelphia High School since 2010, to be his chief education officer.

Hackney is widely acclaimed for turning around the high school, which had been plagued by racial tension and by violent attacks on Asian students.

In a release, the Kenney campaign credits him with "transforming the culture of ‘Southern’ into a model for other urban education systems."

Under Hackney’s leadership, the high school has also put together one of the most advanced efforts in the city to implement the "community school" approach, which involves re-envisioning schools as accessible, full-service community centers for students and their families.

Kenney has touted community schools as a way to revitalize the city’s struggling neighborhood schools. He says he wants to create 25 community schools citywide.

"I have high concentrations of students with high needs," Hackney said earlier this year in explaining his approach at Southern. "I need to make sure I have high levels of support." The school has a robust set of partnerships with outside organizations, and the facility is used by the community outside of school hours.

Hackney will succeed Lori Shorr, who has served as the city’s chief education officer throughout the eight years of the Nutter administration.

Hackney, a resident of West Mount Airy, started his career as a math teacher at Germantown High School. After a principal’s internship at Overbrook High School, he became assistant principal of South Philadelphia High School. He left the school in 2007 to become the first African American principal of Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County.

A graduate of West Philadelphia High School and Temple University, Hackney earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University.

Hackney is married to attorney La-Toya Hackney, and they have a daughter at Masterman who has attended District schools.

District Superintendent William Hite issued a brief statement on the appointment and plans for South Philadelphia High School:

I’m excited about Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney’s selection of Otis Hackney as his new Chief Education Officer. Otis was instrumental in our efforts to maintain stability at South Philadelphia High School.

Otis has led Southern since 2010, when he made it his personal goal to revamp school spirit following the violent incidents in 2009. He often said his hope was to change and heal South Philadelphia.

In early 2013, Otis began managing the transition for Bok Technical High School students who would be enrolling at South Philadelphia in the fall. He acted as a great leader and developer of strong family and community relations.

He has a genuine wealth of education experience and will serve all Philadelphians extremely well at this crucial juncture. I am excited about being able to continue to work with Otis on important initiatives.

When searching for a replacement, it was important to find someone who truly connected with Southern and the surrounding community. For that reason, we are placing an Acting Principal in the school who previously worked there as an assistant principal and understands the South Philadelphia High School culture and community.

In a statement, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan cheered the appointment. "There is much work to be done, and many voices we need to hear, and I am delighted that Mayor-elect Kenney has recognized that a Philadelphia educator, Otis Hackney, is the right person to lead the charge." The union was a key supporter of the Kenney campaign.

Hackney’s appointment was formally announced at a City Hall press conference Friday at 1:30 pm. Other appointees announced Friday include Mike DiBerardinis as city managing director, Jane Slusser as Kenney’s chief of staff, and Deborah Mahler as deputy mayor of intergovernmental affairs.

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