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Former SRC commissioner to head academics in Milwaukee

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

Heidi Ramirez, the former School Reform Commissioner who was highly regarded for her commitment to accountability and public engagement during her tenure, is leaving Philadelphia to serve as Chief Academic Officer for the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Ramirez was praised by Governor Edward Rendell as “the most qualified” person on the SRC when he appointed her to the position in 2008. During her tenure she focused heavily on teaching and learning goals for classrooms, fiscal and academic accountability, and public engagement. Her efforts at accountability, in particular asking questions during SRC meetings, resulted in frequent backlashes from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Ramirez resigned in August 2009.

Ramirez said Milwaukee was a “huge” and “appealing” opportunity. She cited the District’s racial and ethnic diversity and its multiple experiments in school reform as an important opportunity for her to focus on classroom learning and supports for teachers, parents, and students.

Ramirez said she cherished her five years in Philadelphia, in particular her work at Temple University where she headed the Urban Education Collaborative and her service to the School District.

“I’ve learned a lot more about the management of a system as well as the need to be very, very focused on performance and outcomes – how we measure and align our resources toward them, how to behave more strategically about the development of our goals, and about resources and accountability,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said she particularly appreciated the opportunity to engage with the broader public.

“For a big system to improve – for it to leverage the resources it needs – it needs to include multiple perspectives and that includes perspectives that are critical and make us more accountable,” Ramirez said. “I want folks to raise questions. A District’s capacity is only as great as its ability to hear from the public.”

Ramirez is a “winning champion for kids,” according to incoming Milwaukee Superintendent Gregory Thornton, who served as former Chief Academic Officer of the Philadelphia public schools under Paul Vallas. He cited her “depth of knowledge around how kids learn” and her “desire to make a difference.”

Thornton said it was Ramirez’ spirited engagement and ability to facilitate “important and challenging conversations” that made her an ideal fit for his incoming administration.

“Heidi is a courageous educator who asks the tough questions and pushes for strong solutions to benefit young people,” Thornton said. “She was the first individual to come to mind to lead the educational reform out [in Milwaukee] and we were delighted that she accepted.”

He added that she would be missed by the city.

“They didn’t know what they had in Heidi,” Thornton said. “She leaves a good legacy in Philadelphia between the work she did at Temple and at the District. There was never a doubt that she had the best interests of the city and kids at heart.”

Ramirez said she is looking forward to the work in Milwaukee and a more hands-on role with improving students’ academic lives.

“There is more work that we can all be doing, more courageous work to be done, and we can’t sit still,” Ramirez said. “There’s no time for that.”