Otis Hackney, Philadelphia’s new Chief Education Officer, is reimagining ways to forge connections in the city’s education community.
On March 1, Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman hosted a welcome reception for Hackney as a way for educators, researchers, and officials to shake hands, swap cards, and think about ways they could work together. Among those in attendance were School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, faculty from Penn GSE and across the university, and foundation leaders.
Hosted at Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Philadelphia principals joined Penn GSE researchers; non-profit leaders mingled with city officials; data experts began sharing information with other data experts.
“This is all about collaboration,” Grossman said in introducing Hackney. “I am thrilled to see the cross-section of people in the room.”
Hackney said he believes that schools need both high standards and high levels of support. As Philadelphia struggles with questions of funding and academic performance, getting that support means bringing together bright minds from across the city with the goal of putting children first.
Hackney knows the power of collaboration. He became principal of South Philadelphia High School in 2010 after a serious of violent racial incidents fractured the school community. He invited neighborhood organizations, nonprofits and social services into the school, and helped reshape the culture.
Grossman praised Hackney for “creating long-lasting partnerships that improve the lives of children and their families.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney selected Hackney as his Chief Education Officer tasked with advancing two priorities — working with the School District of Philadelphia to create more community schools and expanding access to pre-kindergarten.
“How do we replicate some of the programs and services we were able to do at South Philadelphia High School in schools across the city?” Hackney said. “How do we get to universal pre-k, or expanded pre-k, because we want to get kids off to the right start?”
Collaborations are a big part of the answer, Hackney said.
Penn GSE is active in 247 Philadelphia schools, and is engaged in Shared Solutions, a deep partnership between the university and school district to better understand the district’s turnaround efforts in order to make changes that can work across systems. Penn GSE recently announced that it is collaborating with the School of Social Policy and Practice and the School of Nursing for the Penn Futures Project, which supports initiatives aimed at improving the lives of children and families in Philadelphia.
During her tenure, Grossman said she wants Penn GSE to become more involved in Philadelphia and its schools.
“We can figure these things out,” Hackney said. “The time is now. The time is right.”