Philadelphia’s director of education will step down from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office at the end of this month to become the new head of the I Have A Dream Foundation, Kenney’s office confirmed Wednesday.
Otis Hackney, who has led the mayor’s office of education since 2015, helped launch the city’s PHLpreK program in 2017 for three- and four-year-olds, and also helped get it started PHLConnectedwhich offers free Internet services to families of students.
The former principal of South Philadelphia High School is expected to take up his new post Nov. 7 as head of the foundation in New York. It provides mentorship and support to students whose families struggle with poverty and helps them get to college.
One of Hackney’s most important tasks came five years ago, when he helped the mayor return public schools to local control under the control of the Philadelphia Board of Education. Hackney backed the school board’s strategic plan unveiled at the end of 2020 and backs appointing board members for mayoralty rather than having them elected.
“I think this group has weathered and weathered many storms. They’re a very independent band, we don’t go overboard with them,” Hackney said in an interview with Chalkbeat, referring to members of the city’s school board. “But we make sure that in terms of the choices that the mayor is able to make, that these people are individuals willing to serve and work with the other members of council.”
Meanwhile, the PHLpre-K program now serves 4,500 students, falling short of Kenney’s original commitment that it would serve 6,500 students a year when the mayor first proposed a drink tax. gas to help pay for the program (Philadelphia approved the tax in 2016).
“At the initial launch, our numbers were very good, but we had a pandemic that probably impacted two years of growth for this program,” Hackney said.
Since its inception, the PHLConnectEd initiative has made more than 21,000 connections, according to Hackney. A connection, he said, could be a household receiving the Internet, or a student receiving an Internet hotspot. “We’re so thrilled to be able to serve so many families in the city,” he said.
Kenney said in a statement noting Hackney’s departure that he “risen to the challenge of delivering on our ambitious educational platform.”
Hackney was once considered a possible successor to former Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite; the job finally went to Tony Watlington earlier this year. Hackney, who noted he was on the search committee looking for Hite’s replacement, said he has no plans to become superintendent.
Office Manager Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees the educational coverage of Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Johann at [email protected].