8.24.2011

Ackerman Out, Challenges Ahead

So it happened. After weeks of speculation, Arlene Ackerman is officially out as Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.

When I heard the news, I was stunned. I expected it eventually but not this close to the beginning of school. The timing says to me that maybe it really wasn't about the children after all. But that's a whole other issue.

My husband, in contrast, wasn't the least bit shocked. He has expected the news for quite some time. He barely batted an eyelash in the midst of it all.

A mix of public and private funds were used to buy out Ackerman's contract. The total package was worth a whopping $905,000. Of that, $500,000 is said to be public funds and the rest is said to be private funds. The source of those private funds remains unclear. Rumors are that it was a mix of local businesses but I haven't heard anything further.

With Ackerman out, the Acting Superintendent is Dr. Leroy David Nunery II. I'm going to say early on that I feel pretty good about that decision.

First, Nunery is local. I'm not sure why Philly feels compelled to constantly chase foreign talent. Our City has lots of great folks, let's use them. Nunery went to undergrad at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and has his Ed.D. from UPenn. So he's familiar with the City, he knows the landscape. I think that's important.

Nunery is also an SDP insider. I know that we decry insiders as being too entrenched in the system but I don't think that's always a bad thing. Nunery has been through the latest budget crisis. He knows the scale of the problems we're facing. I think having experience in those areas counts for something. I think it counts big.

Finally, I've met Dr. Nunery and I have to say, I like him. No, I haven't ever sat down and had a beer with the guy, so I can't tell you what he's like outside of the walls of the SDP. And my interactions with him have been largely limited and restricted to one or two issues. But I like his attitude. I feel like he listens. I think he understands the concerns of parents and teachers. He feels approachable in the way that a lot of the community felt that Ackerman wasn't. That's hugely important.

I don't know what the future holds for Philadelphia schools. But I feel very differently about it today than I did even a few days ago. And that's a good thing.

8.21.2011

A Dispiriting Quiet

I've been quiet, I know.

It's not that I haven't been involved in the fight for public education in Philadelphia or that I haven't had anything to say. I've been plenty busy and I've had lots to say. I just haven't felt comfortable writing it all down.

And that's part of the problem in Philadelphia these days. As parents, we feel powerless. We feel silenced. We feel as though we are just accessories, not working parts, to the public education process.

I get the challenges we're facing as our kids enter school this fall. I've educated myself on the issues.

My response? I've written letters, made calls, marched at rallies and attended meetings. I did everything that our school asked us, as parents, to do. I did everything that our School District asked us, as parents, to do. And I did everything that our City Council and Mayor's Office asked us, as parents, to do.

And yet, with the first day of school less than three weeks away, I feel that we've taken a trillion steps backwards rather than a single step forward.

Let's forget test scores for a minute. Other than test scores, how are Philadelphia public schools better today than they were last year?

They are not safer. They are not less crowded. They do not have better teachers.

In fact, I would argue that with the budget cuts in place - and the drama orchestrated by the leadership at the SDP and the SRC - school are far less safe, they are far more crowded and the number of energetic, qualified teachers has dropped.

And I'm a cheerleader for Philadelphia public schools. I am that parent who has, for years, been advocating that things are getting better and that they will continue to get better. For the first time in a number of years, I question whether that's true.


Ackerman's Removal Seen As Imminent

From the Inquirer today: Ackerman's Removal Seen As Imminent (by Karen Heller)