Southern to raise funds for rooftop garden


Ever since his 2010 appointment as the principal of South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., Otis D. Hackney III has expected his site to become not only a neighborhood beacon but also a School District of Philadelphia pacesetter.

Already experiencing a newsworthy year, the Lower Moyamensing facility took another step toward joining the upper crust Tuesday, as the administrator and community allies united on its roof to launch a 60-day online fundraising campaign for a campus master plan they hope will position the institution as a sustainability giant.

“I can already see the ribbon-cutting,” the third-year leader said to his guests, including Lower Moyamensing Civic Association president Kim Massare, of the ordinary top’s intended transformation into a farm, classroom space and solar panel haven. “I really see this opportunity as our latest aid in becoming a flagship spot.”

As Southern has interacted with the civic entity for four years, establishing a thriving garden and horticultural curriculum, among other boons, Hackney leapt at the chance to have Massare connect him to Roofmeadow, a design and engineering firm based in Mount Airy. With a concrete-heavy 5.5-acre campus for a canvas, the company will hope to continue the greening of Southern through the aforementioned means and ground-level improvements, such as rain gardens and tree plantings, and stormwater management.

“We’re thrilled to commence this ambitious and worthwhile plan,” Massare, of the 1000 block of Wolf Street, said. “South Philadelphia High School is a pillar of our community, so any chance to better the student body is one we’ll seek and back.”

In addition to Roofmeadow, which has collected awards for its work in five states, including a Green Roof for Healthy Cities commendation for Luzerne County’s Life Expression Wellness Center, the Lower Moyamensing resident has teamed with to attempt to raise $26,300 for her secondary education location. That tally would fund the master plan and an accompanying garden coordinator position, with Hackney’s staffers, community point people and her association to offer design input.

“This project will really reflect a shared vision of the community,” Lauren Mandel, project manager and rooftop agriculture specialist for Roofmeadow, said of calls for empowering Southern’s pupils and establishing the surrounding environs as a realm teeming with promise.

Through June 8, she, Massare, Hackney and other hopeful parties will be courting contributions, with the acquisition of them constituting the first phase of a multi-layered endeavor.

“I have no doubt everything will come to fruition,” Hackney said. “I’m always looking to improve upon and make new partnerships to create accessibility of resources within the community. I’m already thinking of the educational and social benefits that should arise from this. Imagine summer nights spent fraternizing on this roof, which offers the best view of the city. Plus, I would love to say that solar panels are powering rooms or a computer lab. It’s all invigorating.”

When the ecstatic educator arrived at Southern, he possessed the same verve yet with the cloud of persistently lackluster standardized test scores and lingering racial confusion because of December 2009 attacks against dozens of Asian-American students over their collective heads, he knew change would not come instantaneously yet figured preaching positivity would work wonders.

“Academically, we’re getting there,” he said. “We’re hopeful about making even more gains the rest of this year and welcome the challenges that next year will bring.”

He and the Southern community reveled Sept. 6 when the Pennsylvania Department of Education removed their destination from its persistently dangerous schools list after five years. The 917-member student body then learned March 7 that it will grow come September, as the School Reform Commission, in conjunction with suggestions from Superintendent William R. Hite, voted to close Edward Bok Technical High School, 1901 S. Ninth St., and send the East Passyunk Crossing site’s pupils to study under Hackney.

“Of course it’s a shame to see Bok go,” he said from the roof, with the neighboring school within sight, “but we look forward to even more community growth by accepting its population and continuing its emphasis on career and technical education programs.”

Hackney sees the master plan as a perfect complement to his interest in having his young minds understand their community roles and noted that its various elements could yield vocations for his charges, especially for those with culinary pursuits.

“With the rooftop farm and our garden, I could envision us growing vegetables for some of the many local restaurants,” he said. “It will be great to have a space that is literally and figuratively alive and vibrant. We’ve had some ups and downs in my time here, but we’re looking to stay up and how fitting that we plan to use a roof to do it.”

His institution also recently extended its relationship with Recyclebank, which through its Green Schools Program will aid the establishment of an arboretum that will be completely student-designed and will include native plants from Southwest Philly’s Bartram’s Garden, America’s first botanical confines. That space will open for April 22’s Earth Day celebration, by which time Massare hopes the master plan project will have begun to receive ample economic support.

“We think this could establish a precedent for Philadelphia’s public schools,” she said as her peers surveyed the expanse. “It’s innovative, inspirational and communal, so we’re excited about the next two months.”

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Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.