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Ramirez resigns, though gov says he asked her to stay

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 19, 2009 07:17 PM

Heidi Ramirez resigned from the School Reform Commission late this afternoon, at the close of a four-hour meeting, declaring in a prepared statement that her expectations about the oversight role of the body were not shared by others and that she felt she could do more "to improve teaching and learning for our most needy students" from work outside the SRC.

Gov. Rendell said in an interview shortly after her announcement that he had a replacement in mind that had been suggested by Republican Senate leader Dominic Pileggi. However, he insisted that he did not ask her to resign, and in fact told her that he would support her if she stayed -- and he added that, in any case, he couldn't force her out. 

"I tried to talk her out of resigning on a couple of occasions, because I thought she was a great appointment," the governor said in a phone interview. "I felt she offered something to the board that nobody else did." He said he told her he'd be "pleased" if she decided to stay, but felt that her mind was made up.

The governor wouldn't name the potential replacement (but at one point inadvertently referred to the person as a "he") and professed that he wasn't sure of the potential nominee's party affiliation. He said that the Ramirez resignation "had nothing to do with creating space for a Republican," although it has been speculated that the party is unhappy with the lack of a representative on the SRC and that the issue arose as part of the contentious state budget negotiations.

Rendell did withdraw Ramirez's name after nominating her for a full term in March. At the time, his office said that since she was already on the SRC she could continue to serve indefinitely. They said they wanted to concentrate on moving other nominees not yet serving through the Republican Senate.

Rendell said today  he was planning to name her replacement "soon."

Rendell said he had a lengthy conversation with Ramirez on Monday and that he was genuinely distressed about her concerns that the SRC did not have a strong enough voice compared to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. 

"She wanted the board to be more questioning and more probing than she felt it was; she thought the board should play a different type of role," he said. "I don’t want a rubber stamp board either. I have confidence in Superintendent Ackerman but I do think the board should probe and give input. I want a board that probes and asks questions."

He said he would ask the new appointee -- as well as Rendell nominee Joseph Dworetzky, who has been awaiting Senate confirmation as the fifth SRC member -- to sit down with Ramirez and listen to what she says about the SRC's relationship to Ackerman.

Ramirez, who joined the SRC in early 2008, said in her resignation statement: "I ...came to the SRC, based on experiences in Philadelphia and in public education more broadly, with a set of expectations for the role of the SRC and its relationship to the district CEO. This view now seems inconsistent with that of many others, making it more difficult for me to honor my commitments to the Governor and the community." After her statement, she declined to be more specific about what she meant.

Ramirez choked up several times during her speech. At the end, the several dozen remaining members of the audience and the SRC members present gave her a standing ovation. Ackerman rose to her feet slowly and after the rest of her colleagues.

Later, the superintendent, who had publicly accused Ramirez of "shackling" her at one board meeting by voting against a resolution, declined to be drawn into a discussion about whether she was glad to see Ramirez go.

"I don’t want to focus on my relationship with Commissioner Ramirez. It gets in the way of the real work. You heard her, the last portion of her comments, talk directly about the urgency we have as a district to reform ourselves for the children’s sake. The fact we may have disagreed in public about specific issues doesn’t mean we didn’t agree on the bottom line. 

"It is not OK that more than half our children drop out of school. It's not OK that a third of our children, close to a half are below proficient. I do not want to focus on personalities; it is counterproductive. In the end, it gets in the way of the critical work we need to do around changing dismal results." 

In the lengthy SRC meeting prior to making her resignation statement today, Ramirez was characteristically vocal, and she was the lone commissioner to vote against a resolution authorizing the production of a reality TV show featuring Tony Danza teaching at Northeast High School this fall.

Acknowledging the active role Ramirez played at SRC meetings, fellow commissioner Johnny Irizarry said that the rest of the SRC would have to pick up the slack.

"Our role is to present questions, to make sure that we're being accountable and that the District is being accountable, too. It's going to be hard to do that without her."

Ramirez will serve until her replacement is seated. Given the General Assembly's record, that could be many months.

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Fernando Gallard (not verified) on August 19, 2009 11:18 pm

It is very telling that Dale Mezzacappa has decided not to include Dr. Ackerman's statement expressing that she was "sorry to see Heidi leave," a statement made in front of six other reporters, but she does include the extra juicy and dramatic detail of Dr. Ackerman raising "to her feet slowly and after the rest of her colleagues."

Fernando Gallard
Director. Media Relations
School District of Philadelphia

Submitted by Helen Gym on August 20, 2009 12:56 am

Fernando: Was there a reason that the Superintendent didn't make public comments when the public was present? 

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2009 6:49 am

Mr. Gallard's job is to "sell" Dr. Ackerman - Mezzacappa's job is to inform the public. Dr. Ackerman's dictatorial style and mega-control over the SDP can't be "sold" forever.

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on August 20, 2009 5:41 pm

According to my notes, after Dr. Ackerman said what I quoted, she continued:

"I’m sorry to see Commissioner Ramirez leave, but if it is her decision....[this is] bigger than any commisioner or any superintendent. This is why I want the community to be engaged in the process."
She then pointed out that Ramirez voted yes "98 percent of the time."
"I've disagreed with probably every board member at some point. Maybe it wasn't public, but certainly I've disagreed with them. That's what happens in public discourse. It's the democratic way."
I stopped the quote after two paragraphs, thinking that this part was largely redundant to what the superintendent had already said, and that the point she really wanted to make was that the work to improve education in Philadelphia is vital and continues.
As far as Supt. Ackerman standing up more slowly after Ramirez read her statement, that was quite noticeable. I was also struck that neither she nor her colleagues said anything at all in the public meeting. It's been my experience that occasions like this ususally elicit immediate testimonials.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2009 12:22 am

If Dale wanted to really make it "juicy" he could have added the bit about Ackerman rolling her eyes.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on August 20, 2009 10:31 pm

just wanted to point out that my colleague Dale is a "she."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2009 3:49 pm

Right you are sir! Meant to type "she", but the S-caped into keyboard.

Submitted by alan kaman (not verified) on August 20, 2009 8:37 am

Dr. Ramirez by far had the most knowledge of our school district and its problems. The City Of Philadelphia has lost a powerful voice in education and abandoned the system of checks and balances.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2009 11:53 am

We have lost someone who questioned and didn't rubber stamp whatever the SDP puts forward. Interesting that the only woman will be Armbrister who happened to be on vacation and present by phone. I noticed that the article mentions that Gov. Rendell is speaking about another man on board. Where is equal representation by women? It's bad enough that the only parent of children in the School District seems to be on mute most meetings. I would like to see another parent with children in the SDP appointed to the SRC who is vocal. Better yet, let's go back to a School Board and have the taxpayers vote them in. There are not many that are appointed like Philadelphia. Our children always seem to remain political footballs. Politics has been disastrous for education. It always seems to be whoever has the power.
Heidi is a breath of fresh air, inquiring and asking probing questions. We are not able to see or hear what goes on behind closed doors. Was Heidi told to wait until almost the very last part of the meeting to announce her resignation?
We lost Sandra Dungee Glenn who was wonderful as a replacement for Nevils (?).
It's not only about personalities, it is and should always be about children.
I wondered why yesterday there were over 40 students who either were expelled, given a temporary expulsion or allowed to return to school at one meeting. This is ludicrous. Some of these children were without an education while their cases were being decided. There needs to be a better system in place.
Parents attend SRC Meetings when they can attend because these meetings are never held at a time that is convenient for parents. If you notice as soon as the Resolutions are passed the room empties out. Not many parents are in attendance. It is hard and expensive to park downtown. Transportation is not convenient for everyone, especially when you need to take two to three forms of transportation. The SRC needs to go out into the Community at night at least twice a year in different areas of the City.
Commissioner Rameriz did go out into the community. She was not sitting in an "Ivory Tower". She was out among the people. I must say Dr. Ackerman has been holding Rountable Meetings out among the community. It's an important part of finding out what people think, want and need.
Heidi - I really wish you would re-think and stay. I have heard that you were asked to resign, because you weren't rubber stamping. The children need you - please reconsider and withdraw your resignation,.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2009 12:15 pm

Were these "Roundtable Meetings" the same ones that Ackerman set up and then never bothered to show up for? She doesn't give a damn about what anybody thinks. She didn't in the other school districts and doesn't in Philly.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2009 9:36 am

I attended all except for two of the "Roundtable Meetings" and Dr. Ackerman was most certainly there. For most she was in the auditorium of the schools and spoke with the parents and community concerning the Dream 2014 Plan. Then she stayed for quite a few hours after speaking with people who were having problems or had ideas and suggestions. She did not always attend the workshops held in other rooms due to the fact that she was answering questions.
I always give people credit for something they have done. I dont' know where someone has the idea that she did not attend the Roundtable Meetings.

Submitted by RaulCabrero (not verified) on August 20, 2009 12:18 pm

Heidi should have stuck it out. More vocal than Heidi were the two guys before her. They kicked Paul Vallas at every chance and took the heat that went with it. They stuck around to finish their terms despite calls for their heads. Couldn't stand them, but they honored their commitment. This is a disappointment. I was hoping the first Latina would be tougher than this.

Submitted by LINDA (not verified) on August 21, 2009 2:28 am

What lessons will the children of Philadelphia learn from this dispute?
These students deservea family of problem-solvers who can show them how to address differences and conflicts.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2009 10:25 pm some schools...the "children" run the schools...don't worry so much...they have the leadership skills and savvy to run schools...ask any teacher...

Submitted by LINDA (not verified) on August 24, 2009 2:56 pm

For a number of years, I mentored a beautiful young lady in Philly.
My friend, or little sister as I often called her, was attacked by fellow students one morning riding the subway to high school. She turned around, went home and told me she was never going back.

It took lots of "tough love" to change her mind.
It also took 30 days to complete the transfer. The new high school enrolled her in French, which she had never had before. She arrived in French class in mid-October. The teacher wouldn't let her take the French book home up to catch up because of the book shortage.
She now she was failing French class.
I went to the school with her to meet with the teacher and principal. I asked them if they could put this textbook (and others) in a nearby library so students might refer to them at night while doing homework. They promised to look into it. (I never heard back.)
I offered to buy the book for my little friend. (They promised to look into it. They never got back to her. )

As we were leaving the meeting, my little sister turned to me and said,"How come I have to be responsible, but they don't. They're the adults."

That experience opened my eyes to challenges faced by some of our students.
(By the way, she dropped out of high school, eventually, but later went back and received her GED) I think there are plenty of opportunities for improvement - with parents, students, teachers, administrators and politicians.

Adults ought to lead by example, I told her. "Sometimes they don't but that doesn't give you an excuse to fail."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 25, 2009 10:41 am

Philadelphia Daily News
Posted on Tue, Aug. 25, 2009

SRC needs to learn its ABCs

AS INTERIM chief executive officer of the Philadelphia schools in 2000-2001, there were many days I wished I'd a magic wand to make board members disappear. I had a job to do, so how could I answer all their questions, from the mundane to the important to the inappropriate?
So I can understand how School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman might've been frustrated by inquisitive SRC member Heidi Ramirez, who recently announced her resignation, citing her frustration at being ignored.

Fortunately, I never had that magic wand and, I hope, Ackerman won't get one, either. Board members are essential to the public process and the more thoughtful they are, like Ramirez, the better.

Let's remember why the SRC was created. It was intended to oversee the school district after state leaders lost confidence in the district and its governance and refused to provide more funding without more state oversight.

The SRC wasn't created to become simply another school board. It was intended to be an independent, powerful quasi-regulatory group with a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, students, their parents, the city and the state.

After an initial flurry of publicity and goodwill, the SRC failed to provide the oversight needed to rein in the district's then-chief executive officer, the energetic Paul Vallas. Despite getting an influx of significant state and city financial aid, the district soon found itself mired in red ink.

The SRC now consists of two new members, including chairman Robert Archie; a member who rarely asks a question publicly; and one vacancy in addition to the departing Ramirez, apparently shunned for asking probing questions like "How much will it cost?"

Add to this mix a strong-willed Ackerman, no shrinking violet. She touts her experience of having headed two other urban districts and talks about "the children" as if she is the only one who cares about the students.

If there seems to be a mismatch between the SRC and its No. 1 employee, it's because there apparently is. That should be a red flag for those who believe in a healthy system of checks and balances.

As for other checks and balances the independent school-safety-advocate post was recently eliminated by the state. (Ackerman also wanted the district's inspector general to report to her rather than the SRC.) Even the largest and most vocal union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, has been significantly weakened, for better or worse, paying the price for clinging to the past rather than changing with the times.

Our governor and mayor are bogged down with their own fiscal emergencies, which aren't likely to go away quickly regardless of the eventual passage of a state budget. And City Council pays scant attention to school district issues.

Finally, it must be noted that our newspapers are fighting for their lives and don't have enough resources to adequately cover public education. In fact, the Ramirez resignation was first reported by the small independent Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

If there was any institution in town that needs oversight, it's our schools. Its budget of more than $3 billion is nearly the size of the city's, and it has more employees. The potential for skulduggery is far greater than in city government, and its importance to the economic and fiscal health of the city cannot be overstated.

The Ackerman-Ramirez affair may seem like a lot of who-struck-John. But it represents a far more important issue. Just who will provide the financial, intellectual and policy oversight for public education in Philadelphia? If the SRC is to perform its role, it needs members with guts, intellectual curiosity and an understanding of the ABCs of their job.

A is for accountability. Ensure that the superintendent is meeting her timetables, that the budget is realistic and that variances are known as soon as possible. Ensure that contracts are bid and rewarded fairly, that employees are treated equitably.

B is for boldness. We can't afford timid souls on the SRC. We need insightful members who provide probing, out-of-the-box thinking on how to transform the district. They need to know the difference between having the superintendent's back when she makes tough decisions and backing off for fear of her wrath.

C is for credibility. Listen and respond to questions and concerns of parents and other interested parties. The public wants to know that its concerns are being heard. They are the customers - and are leaving our schools in droves.

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who has denied being involved in any deal over the Ramirez resignation, had it right when he said he thought SRC members should have "demonstrated knowledge in a relevant field" and "the strength of character to be independent and speak their mind."

With a doctorate and two master's degrees in education and two years on the SRC, the independent Ramirez sure fills that bill. Maybe Pillegi and Gov. Rendell can finally agree on one thing: Get Ramirez to stay

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 26, 2009 8:37 am

I was wondering when Phil Goldsmith would write an article on his thoughts. I am in total agreement with his assessment of the situation. Dr. Rameriz needs to stay. I have never felt comfortable when people do not like their "authority" to be questioned. Where are we headed here? Are we reverting to a "School Board" without state oversee? If we are they must be an elected School Board. I for one am tired of political cronies being placed in positions of importance. I demand to vote in a School Board. I have sat through many SRC Meetings and it's very interesting to me that those who question and speak out are the one's who are no longer on the SRC (e.g. Sandra, Marty and now Heidi.)
I have sat and watched as people present their testimony before the SRC and as soon as there is a vote the audience empties out. I must say the audience is not comprised of enough parents/guardians due to the times and place the meetings are held.
I feel as though Archie is Dr. Ackerman's "yes man." Ms. Armbrister is a parent of children in the SDP, but stays very quiet during the meetings. Is she more voiceful in the closed meetings? We need people on the SRC or a newly elected School Board to be parents of children in the District. I know they are out there.
Phil you wrote a though invoking article. People need to wake up and stop being so complacent when it comes to the education of their children. People who are better educated will help to build stronger communities. The City and its' citizens desperately need this.
We don't need an SRC that rubber stamps.
I do believe in Dr. Ackerman's "Dream 2014." The Plan shoud be given a chance, but needs careful moitoring. If something does not work change it - do not let it become stagnant. I do question the "Renaissance Schools." EMO's and some Charters DO NOT WORK! Let's not get mired down and allow these schools to continue along their path. Philadelphians are slow to change, but the future of our children depend on a great education. It is about time they were given a chance to achieve and succeed! We need a true partnership between administration, teachers, staff, parents, community and students!

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