During a tumultuous three-year tenure marred by controversy and her eventual ouster, Ackerman nevertheless made praiseworthy attempts to turn around failing schools. Her passion and unwavering commitment to children were commendable.
Like her predecessor Paul Vallas, Ackerman styled herself as a bold and visionary educator. Her "Imagine 2014" plan sought to radically restructure the worst schools and help the neediest students. The graduation rate and test scores climbed on her watch, though cheating allegations have left some of the latter in question. And her reform agenda won acclaim from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and her fellow administrators, whose Council of Great City Schools named her the nation's top urban school leader in 2010.
The gains Ackerman made, however, were often overshadowed by miscues. She mishandled racial tensions at South Philadelphia High School, which ultimately led to a U.S. Department of Justice settlement. And she was accused of inappropriately interfering with the awarding of a security-camera contract.
Ackerman frequently bumped heads with parents, union leaders, and politicians. She never seemed to develop the political and diplomatic skills the job demands, exhibiting an autocratic demeanor that earned her the nickname "Queen Arlene."
Her approach hampered and ultimately derailed her superintendency. She was essentially forced to resign in August 2011, taking a hefty $905,000 buyout to depart three years before her contract expired.
Ackerman later acknowledged that she no longer believed she could bring about the changes Philadelphia's schools needed to excel. But she deserves gratitude for devoting her life to that goal here and elsewhere.