College of Education Alumnus working to make the city bolder, brighter and wiser

When Jim Kenney became Philadelphia's 99th mayor, he turned to Owls to help him do the job. Photo by Ryan S. Brandenber, CLA '14.

There is no question that the city of Philadelphia is having a long and deserved moment. Otis Hackney, EDU '98,  knows firsthand how transformative education can be.

The Philadelphia native struggled in high school before eking out a diploma from West Philadelphia High School. He then began his college career at Hampton University in Virginia but quickly called it quits. He wasn’t challenging himself academically, he now admits, and might have lost opportunities in the process.
After returning home from Hampton, Hackney worked in the heating and air conditioning field for several years before eventually recommitting to his education—first at community college and then at Temple. In the process, he worked for an afterschool program in South Philadelphia and saw the impact he could have on younger generations.
So it was with conviction and a personal tale that he approached the students he later taught and guided as a teacher and administrator in the Philadelphia area following his 1998 graduation. It’s an experience that also helps inform his role as chief education officer.
“It’s hard for folks who live in really rough conditions to focus on education sometimes, because the rewards are so far down the road,” he says. “Given the right amount of mentoring, support and patience, you can turn some kids around.”
Hackney knows that to be true: As the principal of South Philadelphia High, he helped unite a school rife with racial and cultural division and violence, and transformed it into a “community school” by offering programming and support services to the community. Now he’s helping bring that strategy to another two dozen schools in the city and expanding access to quality pre-K.
“If I can look back and say, ‘OK, we put these initiatives in place and we can see results improving the lives of children and family around the city,’” Hackney says, “that would be something I would be very proud of.”


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