James E. 'Jim' Nevels, Class of 1974, graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in both political science and philosophy. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa honorary society and was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity. After graduation he pursued a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, receiving both degrees in 1978.
The following years he spent practicing law as a counsel in bond transactions and working as an investment banker. He had discovered that he had a head for business and he found it more creative and "fun." In 1991 he co-founded The Swarthmore Group, Inc., an independent investment advisory and financial advisory firm. Through his success in the securities industry, he built a solid record of performance and a reputation for being adept at building consensus among those with differing viewpoints.
His passion for education, along with his experience and negotiating skills, led him to serve as a member of the three-person Board of Control for the Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He and his colleagues were responsible for overseeing the $61 million budget and improving the quality of education for the troubled school district.
In late 2001, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Education Secretary signed a Declaration of Distress for the Philadelphia School District, triggering the formation of a School Reform Commission to oversee the troubled public school system. Less than six hours later, the Commonwealth turned over operations of the school district to the Commission and Jim was appointed interim chairperson. By the third week of January, the Reform Commission was in place with two members appointed by then-mayor John Street and three members appointed by then-governor Mark Schweiker. Jim was its volunteer chairman.
Jim and the School Reform Committee (SRC) took on what seemed to be the impossible task of reviving a school system of 200,000 students and 15,000 teachers that was in trouble on nearly all fronts. Jim led the search for a CEO of the school district. Then the SRC and the new CEO worked tirelessly to re-invent the realities and perceptions of life in the Philadelphia public schools. An early major, and somewhat controversial, decision was to hire an outside, for-profit, educational company to help revamp 20 of the city's worst elementary and middle schools, essentially privatizing them. They formed partnerships with political, business, and community leaders, purchased books and supplies, and re-vamped the curricula. The SRC under Jim's leadership had to negotiate with parents, teachers, administrators, unions and School District officials to convince all of them that the SRC-recommended changes would benefit the school district's "clients," the children of Philadelphia.
Jim resigned as chair of the School Reform Commission in 2007. He had led the SRC for more than five years. During that time, math and reading scores improved each year. District-wide math scores were up more than 25 percent and reading scores were up by nearly 17 percent. The district was even showing marked improvement with all students at the high school level. Of course, the Philadelphia schools still had a long way to go, but Jim felt it was time for new leadership at the head of the SRC. For the benefit to the children of Philadelphia, it was time for fresh ideas. Upon his resignation, Governor Ed Rendell commended Jim saying, "...due to Jim's leadership, a firm foundation has been built that will enable district and governance leaders to take the district to the next level. The hard part was building the foundation and I thank Jim Nevels for getting the heavy lifting done."
Recently Jim Nevels became the non-executive Chairman of the Board of the Hershey Company. Jim has served on the Hershey Company board since November 2007. He is also a director of the Tasty Baking Co., the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Hershey Trust.
He is married to Lourene (Dellinger) Nevels, MA in education '74, PhD University of Pennsylvania.
It is with great pleasure that the Bucknell Alumni Association honors James E. Nevels with its Service to Humanity Award.
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