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Photo: Benjamin Herold

Benjamin Herold / The Notebook

Legislators vow support for Ackerman

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

UPDATED 4:00 p.m.

Several Philadelphia members of the Legislative Black Caucus and a small group of activists huddled with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman Wednesday morning, emerging strong in their support of her and with harsh words for the School Reform Commission and Mayor Nutter.

"We had broad grassroots support of people who love the direction that the Philadelphia School District is headed towards," said state Sen. Ron Waters, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, whose district includes parts of Southwest Philadelphia. "We will stand to protect the right for Dr. Ackerman to perform the duties she has been assigned to do."

State Sen. Anthony Williams questioned the role of the SRC in the District’s budget woes and in allowing the leadership situation to fester.

"The SRC was created to make sure the books are balanced," he said. "In that regard, they have failed. In terms of leadership, there are a thousand different versions of who’s going to be in charge, so they have failed in that." He called its performance "embarrassing."

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, head of the Philadelphia delegation, called for SRC chairman Robert Archie to resign.

She cited his handling of the District’s leadership situation, budget, and Promise Academies – Ackerman’s signature school turnaround initiative.

Kitchen was also critical of Archie’s behind-the-scenes involvement at Martin Luther King High during the Renaissance Schools selection process.

Waters said the group would demand meetings with Archie and with Mayor Nutter. Both have declined to articulate their positions on Ackerman amid rumors that her days are numbered, and her departure awaiting only a buyout settlement.

Nutter’s press secretary, Mark McDonald, did not respond to a call for comment. Archie’s secretary said he was out of town and he did not respond to an email.

"We want to have a meeting with Chairman Archie because we want to hear it from him about his position he has with her," Waters said.

After being absent from events earlier in the week, Ackerman appeared at District headquarters Wednesday morning. She emerged from the building about 11 a.m. to meet with the band of supporters, then went back inside to meet with the legislators.

Besides Kitchen, Williams, and Waters, others present included state Sen. LeAnna Washington, state Rep. Tony Payton, and state Rep. Curtis Thomas.

"I’m convinced that she will stay on the job," said Washington after the two-hour session. She said the meeting was about Ackerman, her future, and how the legislators should deal with the SRC.

"We’re going to bring them in and let them know what their responsibilities are and what should be happening," Washington said.

Asked if the School Reform Commission still supports her, Ackerman said, "As far as I know they still support me."

"I am superintendent of schools. I’m going to be here as long as I can," Ackerman added. "I’m going to focus on getting schools open."

She said that the Inquirer‘s report that a deal is being worked out for a buyout is not accurate.

"We have no negotiations going on right now," said Ackerman.

In response to the scaled-back Promise Academies effort, District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser said Superintendent Ackerman is committed to working within the constraints of the cutbacks, but feels the original model is the best way to support students.

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