As chairman of the Pennsylvania Black Caucus, I am expressing my unwavering and unequivocal support for Dr. Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of the Philadelphia School District. In light of a recent personal attack against her, including a call from one state lawmaker for her resignation, I believe it is necessary to set the record straight.
Dr. Ackerman has decided that she will defer any bonuses from the School District. The bonuses were in Dr. Ackerman’s contract, but she made the decision in light of the state of the economy and the budget cuts the District must make this year. In addition, she announced she will take 20 furlough days as part of the budget cutting measures. It was the responsible thing to do. Her greatest concern is the education of Philadelphia’s children.
A Harvard-trained educator and former Columbia University professor, Dr. Ackerman recently was given the Richard R. Green Award as the nation’s top urban school leader. She turned things around in other school districts throughout the nation, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Seattle. And now, she’s doing the same for Philadelphia, and we are fortunate to have her. She deserves nothing but the praise of parents and students throughout our community who love her and say she is doing a great job.
In less than three years, Dr. Ackerman is making a positive change for our children with impressive achievement gains.
For the first time, over half of Philadelphia school students scored proficient or better on state standardized tests. Nearly 100 schools were given Keystone Achievement Awards for the progress they have made. The six-year graduation rate for high school students is 63 percent, up 4 percent in the past two years. A dropout recovery program is attracting thousands of former students back into school. And reading and math scores are up for eight straight years, while violent incidents have dropped 29 percent in two years. Her Renaissance Schools Initiative, only in its second year, is reaping big rewards.
Ackerman’s Promise Academies are turning around low performing schools. Her Parent University initiative allows parents to better themselves and gain new skills. This is a win-win for parents with young children in school, to get them up to speed on what is being taught, and to enable them to help with homework assignments. Schools are being funded fairly across the District. And Promise Neighborhoods will provide cradle to career services to students, and help them to pursue post-secondary education.
It also is clear that Dr. Ackerman is building for the future of Philadelphia, with investments in smaller classes, improved counseling, and more support for struggling students and new immigrants. Internship programs are steering high school students to the teaching profession, and the “grow-your-own” program is helping members of the community achieve their teaching certification.
Managing America’s eighth largest school system is no easy task, and there is no one better prepared to lead it than Arlene Ackerman. At a time when women such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Arlene Ackerman are being denigrated for making a positive difference in young lives— the First Lady for encouraging children to make healthy choices, and Dr. Ackerman for placing Philadelphia’s children on a better path to success and adding value to their lives— we must embrace these arch “sheroes” among us and sing their praises. There’s no better time for celebrating these significant accomplishments than during Black History Month. The attacks on these Black women are unjustifiable, and those who would encourage people to put them down should tell us who they really are. I say thumbs up to Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia School District.
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