Elmer Smith: Supe stains: Ackerman's gone, but problems - and SRC - remain

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: August 23, 2011

ARLENE ACKERMAN may be the first public official in Philadelphia history to get kicked to the curb and canonized in the same news release.

To hear School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie tell it in an SRC statement yesterday, Ackerman was the best thing to happen to schools since the advent of the No. 2 pencil.

"All of us wish to acknowledge the substantial debt we owe Dr. Ackerman," Archie wrote.

"Dr Ackerman demonstrated real results: three years of gains in test scores; a 29% decline in violent incidents; 7% gains in the six-year graduation rates and Parents University where 40,000 parents took courses throughout the past three years."

So, you might ask, if she was that good, why was it such an urgent matter to get rid of her just before the start of a new school year?

We might have asked that of Chairman Archie or the other four members of the SRC if they had appeared in public. Instead, they washed their hands of the matter by issuing a news release.

So, it fell to the mayor to play Pontius Pilate in a news briefing that raised more questions than he was willing or able to answer. "I'm tremendously reluctant to get into a lot of post-tenure analysis," he said.

There wasn't a lot of analysis during her tenure, either. The SRC risked mass whiplash from looking the other way. They lauded the fact that test scores and graduation rates improved on her watch just as they had for five years before she got here.

But they seemed to get blindsided by a budget shortfall of nearly $700 million.

They credited her for working to improve parental involvement. But they shrugged when groups of parents complained that she overruled their decisions about which organizations should be running the reform programs at their reconstituted schools.

In the most egregious example, she not only overruled the School Advisory Council at West Philadelphia High School, she implied that they had sold their children out to choose an educational management organization that had paid parents a pittance a year earlier to knock on their neighbors' doors and invite parents to school council meetings.

And they got played in a backroom maneuver after approving a vote by the Martin Luther King High School's parent-led SAC to turn over the reform of King to Mosaica Turnaround Partners.

Archie, who had recused himself from the public vote because of a prior conflict of interest, later met with John Porter of Mosaica, State Rep. Dwight Evans and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Leroy Nunery to discuss a matter that he said he couldn't vote on.

A day later, Mosaica suddenly turned down a contract at King that could have netted the company $12 million a year, clearing the way for Foundations Inc., a firm that has been a regular and generous contributor to Evans' campaign coffers.

Foundations later walked away when the tricky dealing became public. Both the SRC and Ackerman claimed to be completely in the dark about the meeting.

This is the same SRC that found itself outside the loop two months ago when the district took a $7.5 million contract for security installations from Security & Data Technologies to give the work to IBS, a minority firm Ackerman favored.

Ackerman distanced herself from that decision. Nunery later claimed he'd made the decision without consulting anyone. Somehow, a $7.5 million deal got switched without an SRC vote.

So, why would we expect them to know why an educator with such a commendable record for improving academic achievement would get ushered to the exit just before the start of a school year?

Let me suggest a reason. The SRC couldn't dismiss her for cause without implicating themselves. So, they maintained the status quo by moving Nunery up one slot to interim CEO.

Now that they've changed the name on the CEO's door, they can return to their naps.


Send email to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: www.philly.com/ElmerSmith

 

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