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.


  • ClearThinker7

    What a shame… A clear leader be ousted for political reasons. This is a prime example why America’s Educational System is a a failure.

  • Jackie

    And Mayor nuthing raised our property taxes by 12% to cover the school deficits. But found money to oust her.

  • Steve P.

    Dr. Ackerman is truely a pioneer who is an activist for those in need. She was one important piece in a movement to provide a quality education for all the children of Philadelphia. Who now will care enough to lead the effort to provide a quality education for ALL the children in Philadelphia. Who will be bold enough to stand up and allow all our children to Rise?

  • Suzette

    Welcome to my world, Dr. Akerman. The only difference between you and me, a lauded & applauded K-8 CA teacher for over 30 yrs. is the way we were “set free”. YOU were bought out. Every year, dedicated, passionate educators who’s 6 wk benchmark tests, writing assessments, state tests, etc. are all on par with their peers, whom the parents and students appreciate are kicked it. Our districts don’t fail to follow the contract, but ohhhh, between the lines, they change the grade of your expertise, or make you pack up your 100 boxes of materials at age 59 with no custodian help and move to the other side of the playground, and many other devious actions. Thus, by frustrating the educator beyond the imaginable and into depression and embarrassment…..we quit. Yet we don’t get “bought out”. We go quietly into the substitute pool in the adjacent districts just to survive. Am I sorry you “lost” your job in these times? Yes. But you’ll be alright, perhaps even find another position, though you don’t need it with $900,000.

  • city living

    As always, there is probably much more to this story than meets the eye. A district would not go to all that trouble and money to oust a superintendent who had people skills and clear results as well as “passion”…

  • Janet Ramsoj

    Hi City living…you are pre-conditioned to believe ohhh something does not smell right here, but please dig deeper and understand the condition of our country, We are building Prisions faster than any other Country in the world, these prisons are Privatized they collect up to two Hundred and some odd dollars per person per day. When someone becomes to successful in the area of education..hmmmmm makes you wonder why they won’t allow her to succeed for these children…

  • Karen E. Dabney

    The “system” also includes the communities, government and those who make the rules.

  • Jackie M.

    Did her audacity to believe that ALL children could be successful offend “them”?

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