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Ax falls on two District PR staffers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

At the end of a difficult news week for Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, two veteran media relations specialists in the District’s communications office were abruptly terminated Friday, effective immediately.

Vincent Thompson and Felecia Ward, the District’s two media managers, "were laid off due to a reorganization of the department based on the needs and the strategic plan of the School District of Philadelphia," said Evelyn Sample-Oates, chief communications officer, in a one-sentence email to the Notebook commenting on the terminations.

Both Thompson and Ward had joined the communications office during the Paul Vallas administration, when it was headed by Cecilia Cummings. Thompson served two separate stints beginning in 2002, while Ward joined the office in 2005. Along with Fernando Gallard, who continues as director of media relations, Thompson and Ward had handled most media inquiries to the District.

Ackerman has also been drawing on outside public relations firms for her media strategy, including Cárdenas-Grant Communications and Ross Associates.

The terminations come days after a critical story about the superintendent in Philadelphia Magazine, titled "Queen Arlene" and after controversial comments and actions by Ackerman at a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission meeting were reported by the Inquirer, where Sample-Oates relayed Ackerman’s frustration that the issue of violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School "is taking up a lot of my time." A Thursday blog post about Ackerman by Daily News writer Will Bunch was titled "For God’s sake, could somebody please fire this woman!!!"

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