Who'll be watching district officials?

Posted: September 07, 2010

SUPERINTENDENT Arlene Ackerman and other school district officials should expect to have extra homework this school year.

Education advocates in the city say they plan to keep a close eye on the schools chief and her team this year as they embark on a new year full of challenges and expectations.

Certain key goals last year were realized - reduced class sizes and a more-intense focus on struggling schools - but the real work is keeping the momentum going, school observers say.

Many are calling for greater transparency by not only the district, but also in the state-created School Reform Commission that oversees it.

"They're dictators," said Gerald Wright, of Parents United for Public Education, referring to the SRC and a recent vote on a resolution approving a $1 million contract to install security turnstiles at district headquarters.

"They go behind closed doors and actually vote then. The public doesn't have the opportunity to talk about the resolution [before that]."

He also urged Ackerman and her staff to focus more on community participation in drafting school policies.

"It's not just about listening to my vision and having dinner," he said of Ackerman's numerous parent and community meetings at which attendees dine on meals provided on the district's dime.

"But it's about having a real exchange where we can disagree."

Safety and improved school justice are on top of the list for the Philadelphia Student Union, which will continue with its Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, said PSU's assistant director Erika Almiron.

A report by the African-American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce stated that district officials should amend its zero-tolerance policy, and also include students in the disciplinary process.

"What does it look like from a student's perspective?" Almiron asked of school discipline.

The Student Union, along with several other youth groups in the city, will host a summit on non-violence in November.

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