This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A series of nine speakers at Wednesday’s School Reform Commission came to the defense of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, praising her Imagine 2014 agenda, while members of a group of parents raised signs saying, "We support our superintendent," and "Dr. Ackerman’s way or no way!"
The speakers directly and indirectly alluded to the fact that the superintendent has come under criticism recently, particularly for her handling of the recent violence at South Philadelphia High School.
Four of the speakers and a half dozen sign-holders in the small crowd at the meeting were from one of the District’s newer advocacy groups – Parent Power, a group organized in 2009 and led by President Sylvia Simms.
"Dr. Ackerman made parents feel welcome," said parent Anna Figueroa of FitzSimons Home and School Association, the first of the Parent Power speakers. "She lets parents go into the classroom to visit and get more education." Figueroa had high praise for the District’s Parent University initiative.
Another Parent Power speaker, Lea School parent Hydiya Brown, said afterward that she came out to support the superintendent because "she has built a bridge between parents and the school – she’s making it a lot more accessible." In her testimony to the SRC, Brown said that now "parent contact is up close and personal…. Parents are equal partners."
One elected official, State Rep. Tony Payton, was also there to back up Ackerman and Imagine 2014. "I am in full support of what you’re trying to do and I’ll continue to be a voice in support of additional resources for the District," he said in his testimony.
Others in the group of speakers praising the superintendent and urging her to persist included Dorothy Gaines of Mothers in Charge, Dwayne Ming of P.O.W.E.R., Kenneth Salaam of Freedom Fighters, and Venard Johnson of the Southeast Pennsylvania Network for Family Health, Education and Welfare.