Carol A. Wacker, 84, a longtime Philadelphia School District teacher and administrator, died Saturday, May 5, from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at her home in Carlsbad, Calif.
Dr. Wacker spent 35 years working in the city's public schools, rising from teacher to member of the superintendent's cabinet. She retired as assistant superintendent responsible for high schools.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Dr. Wacker graduated from Olney High School and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Temple University and a doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. Wacker excelled as an athlete from a young age — she swam, and played softball and basketball through college. She also played softball in the Philadelphia Amateur Athletic League, which traveled throughout the United States and Europe to compete.
Her career in Philadelphia's public schools began in 1955, when Dr. Wacker began working as a physical education teacher at Lincoln High School. Dr. Wacker worked her way up in the district, serving as department chair, vice principal and principal — for many years she led George Washington High School. Before Dr. Wacker's retirement from education in 1989, then-Superintendent Constance E. Clayton tapped her as the first assistant superintendent for high schools.
Nancy McGinley was intimidated when she first met Dr. Wacker, who as Lincoln's basketball coach required athletes to earn good grades, keep their Chuck Taylor high tops spotless, and iron their own uniforms before every game. Dr. Wacker was not warm and fuzzy, but she inspired her students and athletes to work hard for her, said McGinley, who went on to work as a teacher and administrator in Philadelphia and beyond, recently retiring as superintendent of the Charleston, S.C., schools.
"She was amazingly successful and bright," said McGinley. "She was the first woman I'd ever met who earned a doctorate in education. I aspired to be like her."
Ann Gillis-Waiters, a colleague who also worked in Philadelphia schools administration, called Dr. Wacker "a trailblazer" who was "a real whiz at school management." Long before it came into vogue, Dr. Wacker believed in using historical data to plan for school and student improvement.
Dr. Wacker valued technology and mentoring new administrators, but her core mission was serving students.
"She urged all the school principals to 'follow the student' to see how students experience school," said Gillis-Waiters.
Dr. Wacker also had a keen business sense. She sat on the board of a mutual funds company and started multiple companies — a printing firm, and a graphic design agency she launched in the 1990s after she moved west to San Diego.
Joanne Fortunato knew Dr. Wacker first in college, when Dr. Wacker was a well-known scholar-athlete on Temple's campus. Then, the two opened a hot dog stand in Seaside Heights, N.J., in the summer of 1956, along with Dr. Wacker's sister and Fortunato's cousin.
"It was the most fun summer," said Fortunato, a lifelong friend. "She could be very serious, but she had another side. She had a great sense of humor; she was very bright, interested in politics and medicine."