Connections in Education

9:00–10:30am @ Science Leadership Academy

Join a panel of world-class educators discuss how the idea of connections informs and transforms their practice.


  • Melinda Anderson (@mdawriter) - Education Writer, Activist, Author - Ghostwritings
  • Elyse Eidman-Aadahl (@ElyseEA) - Executive Director, National Writing Project
  • Vanessa Gennarelli (@mozzadrella) - Learning Lead, P2PU
  • Otis Hackney (@odhackney3) - Principal, South Philadelphia High School

Moderated by Christine Weiser, Tech & Learning Magazine


Melinda Anderson - Melinda D. Anderson is an education writer and activist in Washington, D.C. with special interest in race, class, educational equity and educational justice. She is a founding member of EduColor, an inclusive collective of educators, parents, students, writers and activists that cultivates and promotes diverse voices in the public education conversation and policymaking process. Melinda has served in a variety of high-level communications positions throughout her career, including assistant director of PR and development for PRIME, Inc., a School District of Philadelphia school-corporate partnership expanding minority participation in STEM. She began her professional career as a freelance reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, covering suburban regions of Greater Philadelphia and producing feature and news articles for the Lifestyle and Metro sections. Most recently, she served as vice president of the Capital Press Club, the nation's oldest association addressing the recruitment and retention of qualified minority communications professionals. Melinda graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl - Elyse is Executive Director of the National Writing Project (NWP), where she draws upon 15 years of experience designing and leading national programs, partnerships, and action-learning efforts for the NWP and other educational organizations.

Vanessa Gennarelli - Vanessa builds learning communities on the web with Peer 2 Peer University. She holds a Master's in Educational Technology from Harvard and is a former Research Intern at the MIT Media Lab. You can usually find her on a yoga mat, making Wonder Woman terrariums or coworking at Indy Hall in Philadelphia, PA.

Otis Hackney

Otis D. Hackney III is a graduate of West Philadelphia High School, Temple University (B.A. Secondary Mathematics Education, 1998) and Lehigh University (M.Ed. Educational Leadership, 2006). He is a dedicated educator who began his career while still a student at Temple University, working with underprivileged youths in various family support programs in South Philadelphia as well as Philadelphia's Freedom Schools program. Upon completing his undergraduate studies he became a certified secondary mathematics teacher in the School District of Philadelphia at Germantown High School, where he also served as Varsity Basketball Coach, Team Leader of the Ninth Grade Academy and in various leadership capacities during his eight years in the Philadelphia School District. Mr. Hackney developed a reputation as a gifted educator able to balance the needs of the students, as well as the concerns of parents and teachers at urban comprehensive high schools.

While completing his graduate studies at Lehigh, Mr. Hackney also completed his Principal's Internship at Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. He was appointed Assistant Principal of South Philadelphia High School, responsible for climate and safety, during the 2006-2007 academic year. While at South Philadelphia High School he sharpened his leadership skills by guiding parents, students and community members through conflict resolution and leading community meetings. His stellar reputation led to his recruitment by Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania where he began as Assistant Principal during the 2007-2008 school year.

In June 2008, at the age of 35, Mr. Hackney was appointed Principal of Springfield Township High School. He was the first African-American to serve in this capacity in the Springfield Township School District. During his tenure, the school became the first in Pennsylvania to make Computer Science a required course for graduation. Mr. Hackney has been quoted by Lehigh University's College of Education News as stating that "leadership is not a noun, it's a verb. You are constantly doing something, thinking about what you've done or planning what you're going to do next". This is the kind of active involvement and engagement with students, teachers and parents, for which Mr. Hackney has become known.

In July 2010, Mr. Hackney returned to South Philadelphia High School as Principal, taking on the biggest challenge of his career. He has helped heal racial divisions and fostered a collaborative, welcoming environment, successfully guiding the school through three years of compliance with a US Department of Justice consent decree. The Philadelphia Inquirer has chronicled the transformation of the school under Mr. Hackney’s leadership throughout 2010 and 2011 and ultimately published a Pulitzer Prize winning series. He is determined to bolster academic achievement and transform the school into a model for other diverse urban high schools.

Mr. Hackney's talent and compassion as an educator has not gone unnoticed. In 2010 the Cheltenham Chapter of the NAACP recognized him with its Trailblazer Award for his work at Springfield Township High School. In March 2011 he spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill about the importance of computer science education and also received a Barrymore Award for excellence in theater education and community service. In 2012 his work was featured as the cover story in Lehigh University’s alumni magazine in an article entitled “The Good Principal”. Most recently he led the largest high school merger in the city by absorbing Bok Technical High School into South Philadelphia High School. Additionally, Mr. Hackney current serves on the board of Research for Action, a “non-profit organization working in educational research and reform to insure opportunities and outcomes for all students.”

Mr. Hackney’s goal is to lead a safe, dynamic and vivacious teaching and learning environment that promotes risk-taking, progressive methods of instruction and assessment by way of relevant professional development to foster 21st century skills and critical thinking with high expectations and high support for all students. A loving husband and devoted father, Mr. Hackney lives in the West Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia with his wife of 13 years, La-Toya, a corporate attorney, and their 11 year old daughter Grace who attends school in the School District of Philadelphia.