Ackerman makes rock-star entrance to meeting

Posted: August 19, 2011

 YOU MAY WRITE me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Embattled Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman began a speech to Philadelphia School District principals and administrators yesterday by reading the poem "Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou, at a leadership conference at Lincoln High School.

For weeks, rumors have swirled of behind-the-scenes negotiations to buy out Ackerman's contract and force her from her job.

In dramatic style yesterday, the superintendent, dressed in black slacks and a black blouse, and wearing a gold necklace and shimmering gold flats, walked slowly down the aisle of the school auditorium to the music of Sade's "Is It a Crime?"

Upon reaching the stage, without a word of greeting, Ackerman launched into Angelou's poem. It continued:

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

After the poem, Ackerman welcomed the administrators back to the start of the new school year.

She told them she'd chosen the song and poem because she had been wondering if she had committed a crime in trying to bring achievement to the city's children.

She said she asked herself:

"Is it a crime to spend the district's resources to try to level the playing field?

"Is it a crime to believe all children can achieve?"

Finally, she said she realized that she was "guilty" of putting children and not politicians first.

She said that she was guilty of not stepping down into the "political sandbox" to make deals on behalf of someone's campaign.

"So sentence me, I dare you," she said. "Or set me free."

After the session, in which principals of schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment in 2011 were honored, Ackerman met with reporters, but wouldn't discuss any negotiations about her job.

"Well, I'm superintendent today and hope to be tomorrow," she said. "We just have to see what happens.

"I feel like I have not committed any crime and that I deserve to be superintendent, but this is something that is not just my decision. It's the decision of the people who brought me here and who are my bosses at the SRC [School Reform Commission] and other citizen stakeholders and politicians.

"If I leave tomorrow, I know that I left thousands of young people better off than I found them."

At the same time, Ackerman appeared to concede that the furor over her position needs to end.

"I think it's important for the school system to move on," she told reporters.

"People have to focus. These principals have to go back to schools, and it's only fair for children's sake that if there are going to be changes . . . for families of children and the community at large to know exactly what they can expect."

Mayor Nutter, who returned to the city yesterday after a working trip to Brazil, made no public comment on Ackerman.

Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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