Ackerman Out, Challenges Ahead

So it happened. After weeks of speculation, Arlene Ackerman is officially out as Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.

When I heard the news, I was stunned. I expected it eventually but not this close to the beginning of school. The timing says to me that maybe it really wasn't about the children after all. But that's a whole other issue.

My husband, in contrast, wasn't the least bit shocked. He has expected the news for quite some time. He barely batted an eyelash in the midst of it all.

A mix of public and private funds were used to buy out Ackerman's contract. The total package was worth a whopping $905,000. Of that, $500,000 is said to be public funds and the rest is said to be private funds. The source of those private funds remains unclear. Rumors are that it was a mix of local businesses but I haven't heard anything further.

With Ackerman out, the Acting Superintendent is Dr. Leroy David Nunery II. I'm going to say early on that I feel pretty good about that decision.

First, Nunery is local. I'm not sure why Philly feels compelled to constantly chase foreign talent. Our City has lots of great folks, let's use them. Nunery went to undergrad at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and has his Ed.D. from UPenn. So he's familiar with the City, he knows the landscape. I think that's important.

Nunery is also an SDP insider. I know that we decry insiders as being too entrenched in the system but I don't think that's always a bad thing. Nunery has been through the latest budget crisis. He knows the scale of the problems we're facing. I think having experience in those areas counts for something. I think it counts big.

Finally, I've met Dr. Nunery and I have to say, I like him. No, I haven't ever sat down and had a beer with the guy, so I can't tell you what he's like outside of the walls of the SDP. And my interactions with him have been largely limited and restricted to one or two issues. But I like his attitude. I feel like he listens. I think he understands the concerns of parents and teachers. He feels approachable in the way that a lot of the community felt that Ackerman wasn't. That's hugely important.

I don't know what the future holds for Philadelphia schools. But I feel very differently about it today than I did even a few days ago. And that's a good thing.


A Dispiriting Quiet

I've been quiet, I know.

It's not that I haven't been involved in the fight for public education in Philadelphia or that I haven't had anything to say. I've been plenty busy and I've had lots to say. I just haven't felt comfortable writing it all down.

And that's part of the problem in Philadelphia these days. As parents, we feel powerless. We feel silenced. We feel as though we are just accessories, not working parts, to the public education process.

I get the challenges we're facing as our kids enter school this fall. I've educated myself on the issues.

My response? I've written letters, made calls, marched at rallies and attended meetings. I did everything that our school asked us, as parents, to do. I did everything that our School District asked us, as parents, to do. And I did everything that our City Council and Mayor's Office asked us, as parents, to do.

And yet, with the first day of school less than three weeks away, I feel that we've taken a trillion steps backwards rather than a single step forward.

Let's forget test scores for a minute. Other than test scores, how are Philadelphia public schools better today than they were last year?

They are not safer. They are not less crowded. They do not have better teachers.

In fact, I would argue that with the budget cuts in place - and the drama orchestrated by the leadership at the SDP and the SRC - school are far less safe, they are far more crowded and the number of energetic, qualified teachers has dropped.

And I'm a cheerleader for Philadelphia public schools. I am that parent who has, for years, been advocating that things are getting better and that they will continue to get better. For the first time in a number of years, I question whether that's true.

Ackerman's Removal Seen As Imminent

From the Inquirer today: Ackerman's Removal Seen As Imminent (by Karen Heller)


Bomb Threat at SDP

An email from H&S earlier today:

Late Saturday evening, The School District of Philadelphia's webmaster received a highly unusual threatening email that targeted the life and safety of schools Superintendent Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman and staff at 440 N. Broad Street on Monday at midday. The email addressed to Dr. Ackerman was immediately provided to the District's head of safety, Chief Myron Patterson, and the Philadelphia Police Department, where a full investigation is being conducted.

PPD officers and detectives, including a bomb dog, conducted a perimeter and internal search of 440 N. Broad early Sunday morning and found no evidence of an explosive device. Officers will resume the search prior to the building opening tomorrow. Additional safety measures were also put in place for Superintendent Ackerman.

District personnel are reminded to remain vigilant at work at all times, but especially tomorrow. If employees see anything that may seem unusual, they should notify law enforcement immediately. Employees who have additional concerns should contact their supervisor for more information. A safety support team will be
provided on Monday.


NJ School Cuts Found to Be Unconstitutional

Interesting article on Philly.com this week about Gov. Christie's budget cuts... A Superior Court judge has ruled that the cuts were unconstitutional due to the magnitude and distribution of the cuts. Most of the cuts, under the formula, affected children in poorer districts.

There's no word yet on the "fix" in the budget. NJ, like PA, doesn't have a lot of wiggle room.

However, it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on Gov. Corbett's planned cuts for Pennsylvania.

Standardized Tests Challenged by PA Mom

My kids have been ridiculously stressed out about the PSSAs. My oldest child had nightmares about failing and told me that she was scared that she was going to be "held back" if she didn't do well.

For the record, both of my kids made honor roll last reporting period. They are at or near the top of their respective classes. And, as I've mentioned, one of them receives special services for gifted kids. My point? They're bright kids.

But the pressure to well on these darn tests is enormous. It's not only the students who are graded: the schools, the teachers and the principals are graded. And the tension is palpable.

That's why, when I saw this article about a mom opting out of the tests in State College, PA, I was intrigued.

I actually believe that standardized tests serve a purpose. Progress (or lack thereof) needs to be measured in some way.

I just don't know that relying on a mere two weeks out of the year is the best way to do it. And I'm not sure how indicative it is of their progress, even under the best of circumstances. The enormous amount of stress it puts on our children is certainly not conducive to best measuring how much they've learned.

I'm not sure what the answer is, really. I know that, at some schools in other states, they test as a measure of progress but do not use the results as the primary determination of whether a school is successful. Rather, they look to a numbers of indicators. Maybe that's the direction we should be headed?


Finally, it's closing time | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

In case you haven't been following along, the SDP is considering closing a number of schools. Here's one article about the closings, Finally, it's closing time | Philadelphia Public School Notebook and another, this one looking at the scale of empty schools.