Million-Dollar Buyout: The Resignation of Philadelphia Schools Superintendent

By Tamika Thompson
Arlene Ackerman

The career educator began her tenure in Philadelphia—the nation's eighth-largest school district—in June 2008.

What is the reason that the School Reform Commission—the governing body of Philadelphia’s school district—bought out Philadelphia schools superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman to the tune of more than $900,000? The career educator, whom supporters hail as passionate and critics have dubbed “Queen Arlene” because of her “autocratic style” and high salary, began her tenure in Philadelphia—the nation’s eighth-largest school district—in June 2008 with the goal of closing the achievement gap in Philadelphia schools as she had previously worked to do in San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

So, again, why was she forced out? Well, the answer depends on who’s talking.

The official statement from the state-appointed School Reform Commission (“SRC”) makes no mention of the reason, but instead praises Dr. Ackerman. “The aggressiveness of Dr. Ackerman’s five-year strategic plan, Imagine 2014, was outweighed solely by her personal commitment to demonstrating that given the right systemic reforms, all of our children can achieve.”

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says he was informed of the SRC’s decision to buy out Dr. Ackerman, but was not involved in the negotiations between Ackerman and the SRC, even though he appoints two of the commission’s five members.

“There was never any pressure or any effort on my part with regard to what ultimately would happen or would be the decision of the School Reform Commission,” Nutter said in a press conference.

Dr. Ackerman herself has been quoted as saying that she was ousted for crossing Mayor Nutter and the teachers’ union and for not playing politics.

In an impassioned speech to the school district’s principals at an August 18th leadership conference, the 42-year education veteran referred to “vicious, personal attacks” that she had to endure and wondered openly what crime she had committed?

Is it a crime for this superintendent to do the superintendent’s job of educating children but not playing politics? Is it a crime to stand up for children instead of stooping down into the political sandbox and selling our children for a politician’s campaign victory?

Is it a crime to believe that all of our district’s resources should be allocated equitably, including contracts. Is it a crime? Is it a crime to expend additional resources on the schools that have failed students and communities for decades?

I am guilty for wanting for other people’s children what I wanted for my own. I am guilty of putting children, not politics first.

Sentence me. I dare you. Or set me free.

Ackerman’s deputy, Leroy Nunery, is acting as interim superintendent.


Last modified: March 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm
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