Arlene Ackerman Profile: Queen Arlene

Philadelphia schools head Arlene Ackerman arrived a year and a half ago with a strong résumé on education but an unwillingness to play politics. So just how long do you think she’ll last in this town?

To be fair, Ackerman does count her bodyguard, Williams, and State Representative Dwight Evans and the Mayor among her supporters. But her political network may not range far beyond that, and in the aftermath, Williams told me he was “disappointed” in her performance. He thought Green had behaved poorly, but that by coming in with a 14-page statement and not truly engaging City Council, Ackerman had sent the wrong message. He had come to the hearing to offer his symbolic support, as a Democrat who got behind charters long before most liberals were open to them. “I have never sat beside another superintendent on the issue of charters,” says Williams. “But I sat beside Dr. Ackerman because I would never put my reputation on the line if I did not believe she would treat charter schools fairly. But I intend to work on her, and let her know the importance of working through the local politicians to get support.”

Ackerman — at Williams’s urging — scheduled lunch with Quiñones-Sanchez. And she also called everyone on Council. Everyone, that is, except Bill Green. “I wasn’t ready yet,” she said, by way of explanation. “And besides, I thought maybe he should call me.”

For such a smart, accomplished lady, Arlene Ackerman is simply too easily offended. The hearing was never about Bill Green, or Arlene Ackerman. The hearing was about charter schools, maybe the most important issue in education today. Some charter-school proponents, like Green and Councilwoman Quiñones-Sanchez, worry that Ackerman has been slow to embrace successful charters — and say she could have used this platform to make her case as a charter-school supporter. In this sense, the hearing was a missed opportunity. And in the ensuing weeks, Ackerman’s public image took a hit from which it might never recover.
The blow, predictably, was self–inflicted, and it came in early December, when Ackerman sat down for a public hearing in a room filled with Asian students and parents. Painstakingly, these families detailed 18 months of abuse. The students revealed bruises and black eyes inflicted upon them by African-American peers. The parents spoke of racial slurs uttered by school staff. One speaker asked for some kind of apology — seemingly, the least Ackerman could do — but she  responded only with a defensive silence. When she did speak, she compounded the problem — linking the violence to a pervasive racism that exists throughout society. It was a dismal performance, suggesting that Ackerman is less interested in protecting her students than herself.

She will likely have a hard time doing that, because she seems so ill-suited, by temperament, to the task, and because her sudden rivalry with Green may have created for her the kind of high-profile enemy she simply can’t afford.

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  • karen

    wait, the “problem” with ackerman is that she listens to parents but not to grandstanding morons with no oversight of the schools like Bill Green? Can we clone her and get some more?

  • j

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Try working for her. Half the parents you speak of don’t even care about the education their children are receiving. If they did, test scores wouldn’t be so low and they schools wouldn’t be so out of control. She is totally arrogant and completely out of touch.

  • June

    How do you pat yourself on the back for accomplishments never accomplished? My grandson attends a kindergarten in Philly with 29 other students in a classroom that has an assistant 1 hour a day? Lower class size ? Where?

  • Michelle

    In the time that Ackerman has been in charge of our schools, there is very little change. Things have gotten worse for us as teachers. She tears us apart. Many teachers would love for Ackerman to come into a school and teach a class with no preparation, and see how she does. Once she has done that, then maybe she could get teachers’ support. We can give her a contract, give her a high salary, and giver her benefits, but she refuses that for us. Numerous PFT members would love to see Ackerman removed from position.

  • Rebecca

    Let me just say that her NO TOLERANCE POLICY is a bunch of crap. I work at a school that teachers have been assaulted, aides have been assaulted and the kids are still there. There is NO discipline at our school since she took over and the children are running the school and they know it. I think one of her precious children need to slam her against a wall or punch her in the face and see how she likes it. SHE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF PHILLY!

  • Bridget

    My daughter is in a kindergarten class in the Far Northeast and there are 29 kids and her aide is there only 2 hours a day. I was told the principal knows but can’t do anything about it all the Kindergarten classes are that way at the school. So where are these smaller class sizes? Not up here in the Northeast!!! Also, I have a child in 2nd grade in a class with IEP children and I’m told no specialist comes in to offer additional help with reading and math. I was told my child would get extra help. I hope to get my kids into a charter school next year. Someone should check up on Ackerman and not the SRC someone from Washington or the Governor of PA

  • Steve

    Volk is wrong about Corrective Reading/Math being after school programs just for the kids who have fallen behind. In Empowerment schools they are forced upon the entire student population during school hours. As a result teachers are losing 1 1/2 hours of instructional time from the regular core curriculum that the PSSA tests them on. Is it anyone wonder teachers and principals think this is deliberate sabotage on Arlene’s part. BTW, Ackerman was fired, not retired, from the San Francisco. She was also fired as a principal from the Brittany Woods School she ran when she declared her “black agenda” for the school, to a newspaper.

  • Steve

    Where are these exercise rooms with computers for parents? There is none in my Empowerment School. Where did Steve Volk get this information? Did he actually visit all 85 Empowerment Schools or take the word of the school district PR minister?

  • nadine

    I have nephew in south Philly . high ,they are the worth ,he has been there since 2006 and no I.E.P. report you and your staff kept pushing the buck to some one else ,i just cannot understand why ,your school gets paid to teach him ,but you and your staff treated his and his pear as a no body ,he has dreams ,he wants to learn like other student .This school put him in the most dirty class room ,the teacher was Miss Griffin and a dam good teacher ,i am seriously thinking about going to the news about how your school treated these young adults who i know wants to be some body ,your school don;t have life skills and the nothing to prepare a young adult for life . South Philly is nothing .