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District confirms: Ackerman out today

Photo: Benjamin Herold

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

UPDATE 5 p.m.: Reporter Benjamin Herold will be on NewsWorks Tonight 6-6:30 p.m. this evening and Radio Times Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.

UPDATE 2:45 p.m.: Mayor Nutter holds a press conference, live streamed by Fox 29.

UPDATE 1 p.m.: Reactions to news, Ackerman’s legacy

The District released statements from SRC Chair Robert Archie, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, and Mayor Michael Nutter confirming that Superintendent Ackerman will step down "effective immediately. " Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery will serve as acting superintendent.

The District also released a statement detailing Ackerman’s $905,000 financial settlement. $500,000 will come from District funds, and $405,000 from "anonymous private contributions."

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued a release that said, "a change in leadership is a step in the right direction and is welcome news to the teachers and support staff who have been disregarded and disrespected repeatedly by this administration."

Kristen Graham of the Inquirer reported that Ackerman’s attorney, Robert Nix, said Ackerman is "just giving back that last year [of funds from her contract] and saying, ‘earmark it for the Promise Academies.’"

In the District’s release, Archie described "the substantial debt we owe Dr. Ackerman for her hard work and dedicated service to the District." He listed several achievements during her tenure as superintendent. Nutter said, "I thank Dr. Ackerman for her service, her deep commitment to the city’s students and her educational expertise." And Ackerman said, "I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity and honor to serve the children and parents of Philadelphia."

Also, as of noon, the District website has a pop-up with a letter and retrospective video from Ackerman. As of 1 p.m. the pop-up no longer happens and the video link is broken. A cached version of the letter is available. @Sunny_Bavaro found the video on YouTube.

Kristen Graham of the Inquirer broke the news of Ackerman’s departure this morning. According to Graham’s post, a national search will be conducted for a permanent replacement. You can follow Graham’s updates via @newskag on Twitter.

There were reports of an 11 a.m. press conference that did not happen. We’ll continue updating this post as additional information becomes available.

This is a developing story.

Here are some initial reactions to the news of Ackerman’s departure and her legacy:

  • Paul Vallas, former CEO of the Philly Schools
    Comments posted at 8:40 p.m. on Philly School Files.
  • Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
    "Her legacy is the deficit she’s left the District with. I’m glad about the announcement made today so we can focus on opening schools for children. All summer the focus has been on Arlene Ackerman. Dr. Nunery is going to have quite a job ahead of him, he’s got to deal with opening schools, getting staff in place, and a lot of healing as well as strengthening relationships strained with employees in the School District as well as with elected officials and people in communities that have lost faith in the District because of some of the superintendent’s shenanigans. [Those shenanigans are] "the way in which she operated politically and that was pretty much in isolation…. the way in which she dealt with problem in South Philadelphia with Asian students. The attitude she exhibited over and over, that she knew what was best and did not avail herself of any advice or opinions or others…The lack of people being able to voice their concerns. The Hope Moffett debacle."
  • Hope Moffett, the teacher whom Ackerman wanted to fire after some of her students protested the conversion of Audenried High School to a charter
    "I don’t think it solves any of the District’s problems. Leroy Nunery is now the superintendent and he said all sorts of false things about Audenried so why would I be more satisfied with him? I don’t think Dr. Ackerman is evil, I think maybe the system doesn’t allow for good leadership."
  • Parents United for Public Education, parent activist group
    Statement on Ackerman’s departure.
  • LeRoi Simmons, community activist in Germantown
    "I am very disappointed because the children will suffer with a change in administration two weeks before school starts. I think she was run out of here because she started messing with people’s money, wouldn’t kiss their rings, she wouldn’t kow tow. Maybe she should have been more politically astute. She should have made some more moves to be more pleasant, she should have used more tact. I don’t agree with everything she did, but we can overcome some of the flaws in her personality and style if she get results in these troubled schools…there needed to be something done to put more resources, more effort, and more attention to the schools performing below basic."
  • Sandra Dungee Glenn, former chair of the School Reform Commission
    "It’s very important that we not lose sight of the fact that Philadelphia is one of the few large urban districts that has been able to have a sustained period of progress academically for nine years, and Arlene’s been a part of that. She’s tackled some of the more difficult parts of education reform and I don’t think she’s received due credit for [it]. The teachers’ contract is one of the more progressive contracts, taking a significant step away from being totally seniority-based. It improved teacher evaluation and teacher development as well…She also took on the challenge of rightsizing the District….I am sorry to see her go under these circumstances."
  • State Sen Anthony H. Williams, D-8th
    Statement on Ackerman’s departure.
  • Pam Williams, school police officer, chair of the School Advisory Council at Daroff, and ardent Ackerman supporter
    "It’s a travesty. I believe she had all intentions of improving our failing schools. When we lose a superintendent of her magnitude, it’s devastating. I’m calling for the immediate abolition of the SRC and the removal of Chairman Archie. I’m sorely disappointed that Mayor Nutter and Chairman Archie felt forced to remove Dr. Ackerman."
  • Venard Johnson, community activist and Ackerman supporter
    "Her main legacy was standing up for Black children so that they have the opportunity to get educated like all other children. That has been different [about her administration]. Also, her willingness to take on the high schools as part of the reforms by turning University City and Vaux into Promise Academies. And her outreach to parents, her willingness to have conversations with parents. Those three things separate her from other superintendents. I don’t think standing up for Black children is divisive. I don’t see her as being divisive at all."
  • Phil Goldsmith, former interim District CEO
    "I think on the positive side her emphasis on parents was very good. Schools can’t succeed unless parents get more involved. She had a good approach to engaging parents on educational issues. Unfortunately I think the rest of her legacy was one of divisiveness, enormous instability, and fiscal chaos. And her tenure has exposed the SRC, either the individuals serving on it or the governance structure itself, as very ineffective and weak.
  • Before we go out looking for someone, [we] have to do a cathartic examination of what is it as a community we want from our schools, what are the principles and values we want to have? And then, go out and find someone to implement them as opposed to hiring someone with the next bag of tricks.
  • Some of the questions: How to provide schools with greater needs more resources without taking from other schools? How much should race factor in who gets hired, who gets contracts, and how we balance inclusion and have an open and fair process? How do we really feel about charter schools, do we embrace them as opposed to the passive aggressive relationship we now have? These are issues we never talk about. We should decide that these are our values, and then hire someone to implement them."
  • Debra Kahn, former school board member, executive director of Delaware Valley Grantmakers
    "I think [her legacy has] been continued academic progress, but with a fair amount of tumult. I think what’s important now is that we look ahead and we have some stability. We’ve got a serious financial problem. Again, the question and challenge for the School District continues to be to figure out the best system we can deliver with the resources we have."
  • Shelly Yanoff, executive director of PCCY:
    "I do think she raised the issues very clearly of the need to do something extra for the most downtrodden among us, but she also was very divisive. She made a lot of very educationally good decisions, but her control needs undermined some of her educational ideas. In the end, the stirring up of the divisiveness was very regrettable. There’s got to be a lot of healing time now, hard to know how that will play out given the economic tsunami. While she advanced some of the things that needed to be advanced, a lot of people who worked in education did not feel valued, I think we lost a lot of valuable people."
  • Sylvia Simms, founder of the grassroots group Parent Power:
    "She really tried to get the parents engaged. The Parents are Equal Partners program came out of the Family Engagement Office. The parent roundtables were great. She came in implementing good stuff for parents, but I think because everybody’s hands were in the pot a lot of stuff could not be continued. That is the chaos of all this, nobody’s really thinking about the children. I may not agree with every thing Dr. Ackerman did, but if everyone took her five core beliefs seriously, she could have done a good job. The core belief of holding all adults accountable was a good gesture, but a lot of adults are not held accountable. It doesn’t matter who the superintendent is, we still have kids in failing schools. We’ve got to continue making sure that we as parents hold the District and the schools accountable to make sure our children are learning."

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