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In a shocker, Dungee Glenn out

By Helen Gym on Mar 25, 2009 08:37 AM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Sandra Dungee Glenn (right) with Arlene Ackerman at a recent SRC meeting

In a shocking turn of events, both the Inquirer and the Daily News are reporting that School Reform Commission Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn may be off the SRC. Media reports say that she may be replaced by attorney Robert Archie.

A few weeks back, I wrote about the baffling secrecy and lack of transparency around choosing the members of the School Reform Commission, the city/state oversight body for the Philadelphia public schools.

In fact, a School Reform Commission appointment is probably one of the least transparent processes in the School District of Philadelphia. Decided upon in backdoor rooms, at the sole discretion of either the Governor or the Mayor, lacking any written set of responsibilities and expectations, and largely absent public standards for avoiding ethical and financial conflicts of interest, the Commission appointments have long baffled most parents and education observers.

Unfortunately, if true, the departure of Sandra Dungee Glenn won't do much to alleviate those concerns. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Number one is the lack of any transparent process or set of guidelines in the selection/ouster of SRC commissioners: Dungee Glenn has served on the SRC for seven years and was on the Board of Education prior to the state takeover. She has plenty of admirers (and probably some detractors as well), but after all that time of service, where’s the public input on whether we think she’s done a good job? Is she being replaced because she did a bad job or because the Governor or Mayor said, “I want my person in there”? Her potential ouster shows how flawed a process is when a person has served for a decade but there’s no public vetting of whether she should stay or go.
  2. There's the loss of institutional memory at a critical time in the School District’s future: This is a critical moment for the schools, with a number of major imminent decisions including school closings, the renewal of EMO contracts and disciplinary school contracts, a controversial plan to deal with failing schools, and the launching of School CEO Arlene Ackerman’s Strategic Plan "Imagine 2014." Note that School Chief Arlene Ackerman, her new chief of staff and many of her top executive staff hail from outside Philadelphia. Dungee Glenn’s departure and the rumored departure of Martin Bednarek also means that the senior person on the SRC could be Denise Armbrister, who was appointed in 2007 and has yet to make a mark there.
  3. And institutional memory is important because of all that stimulus cash: This year the School District has an unprecedented amount of money – on the order of $325+ million – thanks to federal stimulus dollars. Don’t we want that money spent based on the wisdom and experience of what’s worked before and what might be needed now? How are parents, staff, students and community members supposed to feel confident with a new crew coming in trying to make those decisions when we’re not even sure why and under what guidelines new SRC commissioners have been chosen to oversee that decision-making?
  4. Finally, Dungee Glenn’s departure potentially poses challenges for incoming leadership, particularly CEO Arlene Ackerman: The lack of a transparent process means that Mr. Archie has his work cut out for him on the public trust front - and that's something political leaders could have avoided. It's hard to imagine that parents and school members who face school closings, charter upheavals and the like in the coming months might not view the new SRC with considerably wariness. Although the rumored retention of Dr. Heidi Ramirez is encouraging, a fresh SRC doesn't guarantee fresh optimism about the SRC shedding the vestiges of its politically charged past.  In particular, Dungee Glenn was a major booster for Dr. Ackerman, and more important, she was a graceful foil to the Schools Chief’s occasional rougher edges. Dungee Glenn had the political skills to navigate SRC meetings without seeming distant or condescending, she smoothed things over when disagreements came up and worked to keep the Commission together. Although I was disappointed that the Chair didn’t work to engage the SRC more with the public beyond the SRC meetings, I always felt that Dungee Glenn was strongly aware of and responsive to the notion of the public responsibility of her position.

As Dr. Ackerman takes on some of her more controversial initiatives, she will need a partner with the political grace and influence that Dungee Glenn has imparted, and the public also needs someone with the sense of public service and responsibility Dungee Glenn has infused into her role as well as the influence she has with Dr. Ackerman.

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Comments (10)

Submitted by keith newman (not verified) on March 25, 2009 4:20 pm

I count myself as an admirer of Ms. Glenn. She has worked to be informed and knowledgeable. I can't say that about Mr. Bednarek or Ms. Armbrister. I don't mean this as a personal attack, but having attended several SRC meetings it appears neither of them has done the research to make informed knowledgeable decisions.
Do we know what background in education Mr. Archie has? Is he prepared to vote on 2014 with his knowledge of what works in education?
Is it even constitutional to have unelected representatives make decisions using our tax dollars? The mayor cannot be held responsible so why should even have appointments to make. The governor by definition is not responsible for city schools.
We must as Mayor Nutter wants to, take back our schools. Frankly this state treats us a petulant child.

Submitted by Down in the Basement (not verified) on March 25, 2009 10:24 pm


Yes, Ms. Glenn did a fine job...the SRC must be proud of the 50 percent drop-out rate in the least 50 percent graduate...what a feather in their collective "cap..."

If you admire Ms. Glenn for that...then I would like to know whom you don't admire...

It looks like the SRC members are dropping like flys...does anyone know what the meaning of the word "schadenfreude" is?

Maybe the above mentioned people know what it is like to be "ousted..."

Finally, yes, there is a God!...:)

Submitted by Helen Gym on March 26, 2009 9:47 am

For clarification, SRC members aren't dropping like "flies." Their terms expired and new ones are being appointed.

And Jan, I'd appreciate your making a point without jumping overboard on the scorn, contempt, cynicism, juvenile mocking, and bitterness front. I am sure there are valuable insights you might have but, seriously, they get lost because of the way you're posting.

Submitted by Down in the Basement (not verified) on March 26, 2009 4:26 pm

Sorry...Helen...who died and made you judge, jury, and executioner...?

I notice you go hither and yon critiquing others...not just me...I couldn't give a rat's behind...what you say...sorry...

The "appointees" and you hope to be one, as "appointee"...the "appointees" did not have their appointments reassigned...they were dropped like yesterday's meatballs...

I am mystified...what gives you the right to criticize not just me...not just enough is enough...AKA...Enuff is Enuff...who else do you critique?...whom do you not critique...?

I know you need to show that you are in control...we know where your sympathies lie...I predict Helen will be the next SRC member...

Fast Eddie needs to appoint you for all your good work...:)

Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 26, 2009 7:10 pm

As the Notebook's editor, I've learned that Helen is not expected to be appointed to the School Reform Commission this week.

But she will continue to be one of our regular bloggers on the site, and as such Helen shares the Notebook's interest in having the dialogue on this blog be a civil and constructive one and is speaking up appropriately about your posts.

The terms of usage are below and have been pointed out to you more than once, and more than one of your posts have been taken down because you insist on coupling the arguments you make with name-calling and insults. Our first recourse is to remind you (and our readers) of our rules of engagement and that you can choose to abide by those rules ... or to post elsewhere. This is not a site where anything goes. We're hoping these reminders of our rules will be sufficient. We have not yet had to ban anyone from our site.

Submitted by Helen Gym on March 26, 2009 7:00 pm

Jan: Clearly subtlety and irony are not your thing. If you read my post at all, it wasn't a serious application for the "job" - like I said, right now, I have enough volunteer opportunities.

And you're right. I love a good critique as much as anyone, but I guess my distinction is that I leave out words like "weenie" and other choice phrases you appear to enjoy using. I sorta prefer, I don't know, logic? arguments? history? facts? Just as a piece of advice, I would suggest that you re-read your posts and ask yourself whether you can find anything you've written that has not included juvenile mocking. I know you'd like to be a voice for teachers, but seriously, it's disturbing the way you spend all this time both here and at other blogs, simply mocking anyone who posts anything about the public schools. It's not that helpful, and as a teacher I think you have other things to offer than that. Call it criticism or call it advice but either way our posts speak for themselves.

Submitted by Helen Gym on March 26, 2009 9:00 am

Regardless of who's appointed - and there are other appointments swirling - two key issues for me are process - including articulating the qualifications and job responsibilities of the SRC Commissioner as well as allowing for increased public input on the position - and whether the SRC, state, city or any other entity is investigating strengthening the ethical and political guidelines around service on the SRC.

Submitted by the Notebook on March 26, 2009 12:31 pm

I believe process as well as public input is important in such a critical task as the selection of SRC commissioners. The school district constantly talks about putting children first, but I wonder what happens to this core belief when parents and others responsible for the educational achievement of our kids are not given a chance to weigh in? It would have been nice to hear reasons why SRC chairperson Sandra Dungee Glenn has not been reappointed. I have sat through numerous SRC meetings and have found her to be extremely knowledgeable of and focused on the issues. She operated with - as Helen Gym put it - a "graceful foil" in dealing with Superintendent Ackerman's "occasional rougher edges" and I think that speaks volumes about her ability to lead in a district such as ours that is facing so many challenges and changes. Since a changing of the guard is inevitable, my hope is that we can learn from the achievements of this past commission and carry on in a way that continues to benefit and improve the lives of those we are working and advocating for every day - the children.

Submitted by keith newman (not verified) on March 26, 2009 10:59 pm

I find it hard to believe this city is not in outrage. I have no beef with Mr. Archie. I am satisfied he personally is a man of integrity, but a system without integrity can only damage the person it chooses as its leader.

Mr. Archie serves on boards of EMOs and Charter School Operators. How can he maintain his integrity, the Charter schools and EMO systems integrity, by being placed at the head of a board which deals out multimillion dollar contracts to EMOs and Charter Schools?
Just to maintain integrity you would think Charters and EMOs would oppose his nomination.
We would not appoint an educator to head the ABA nor a nurse to head the AMA. Our education leader should first and foremost be an educator.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 27, 2009 2:00 pm

The Daily News reported yesterday that along with the expected appointment of Archie, "Sources said that Nutter is seriously considering appointing Johnny Irizarry, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence, known as La Casa Latina, and Al Taubenberger, president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. "

According to a report in Thursday's Inquirer, "Al Taubenberger, Nutter's Republican opponent in the 2007 mayoral race and president of the Northeast Chamber of Commerce, has emerged as a likely candidate for one of the seats, sources have said. Heidi Ramirez, director of the urban education collaborative at Temple University, is likely to be reappointed, sources have said."

Mayor Nutter's staff is widely circulating an invitation "to join the Mayor and Governor Edward G. Rendell for a special press conference regarding the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. The event will take place on Saturday, March 28 at 11:30 a.m. at the School of the Future."

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