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Superintendent, Audenried student square off at SRC

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 10, 2011 12:25 AM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

After a tense exchange with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, Audenried 11th grader Onika Richardson displays a poster expressing her views.

Despite strong opposition from some students and staff at Audenried High School, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is resolute in her conviction that the District should move ahead with its plans to convert the school to a charter.

“We are going to continue to turn these schools around. We are marching down this road,” said Ackerman Wednesday in her first public remarks on the future of Audenried since announcing the District’s new Promise Neighborhood Partnership on January 24.    

Ackerman’s message, delivered at the School Reform Commission meeting, triggered a tense exchange between the superintendent and Audenried 11th grader Onika Richardson, who spoke against the District's plans before the SRC for the second time in as many months.

“You say that you acknowledge Audenried has made progress, but that it has come too slowly,” testified Richardson, referring to comments made by Associate Superintendent David Weiner about the school’s performance during a press briefing Tuesday.

“At the old Audenried, only 3 percent of the students were testing proficiently, in comparison to the 40 percent that are now testing proficiently,” she said. “That is more than 1,000 percent increase in only two and a half years. Is that not fast enough?”

Before inviting Weiner to reiterate for the SRC the data he presented on Tuesday, Ackerman addressed Richardson’s concerns directly.

“Even if the data that this young lady presented is true, it’s still not acceptable to me that 60 percent of these young people are not prepared to go on to postsecondary experiences,” said Ackerman. “It’s not good enough for my children, and I find it ironic that people think it’s good enough for other people’s children.”

Then, as Weiner presented the District’s argument that the school is performing poorly, there were some outbursts in response from the audience. Richardson, trailed by exiled Audenried English teacher Hope Moffett and retired teacher Lisa Haver, returned from her seat to the lectern and attempted to respond to Weiner but was rebuffed. The protestations provoked shouts from others in the audience.

“[Ackerman] is the CEO. You have to be respectful,” said Desiree Whitfield, the parent of a Greenfield Elementary student who had come out for the meeting because of another issue. 

Following the exchange, Ackerman offered to meet with Richardson privately, stepping out of the meeting to talk one-on-one, first in an adjoining hallway, then in a private office.

Ackerman said afterward that she had encouraged Richardson to visit the District’s Promise Academies. At the first round of 13 Renaissance Schools, Ackerman said, “Not one parent has said we want to go back to how things were before.”

District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser described their exchange as “a healthy conversation.”

Richardson offered a different view.

“She told me that she felt I was behaving disrespectfully, and she thought that I was raised better that,” said Richardson. “Although I was not happy about that comment, I remained calm and told her that I have been raised with respect, but I’ve also been raised to speak my mind and stand up for what I believe is right.”

Richardson also said that Ackerman told her that she “was letting people get into her ear,” a contention she disputed

“[Students] are not being manipulated. We are being educated,” argued Richardson.

Several Audenried staff members in attendance at the meeting circulated a data sheet that they said contradicted the statistics presented by Weiner.

Because the newly reopened Audenried has its first class of 11th graders this year, the school does not yet have PSSA scores – the key data usually used to determine student performance.

So Weiner instead discussed Audenried’s predictive test scores, which indicate that the school is about 14 points below the districtwide average in both reading and math for all high schools – including magnets. Weiner also said that only 51.3 percent of Audenried students were “on track to graduate” and that only 82 of 171 students who started at the school as 9th graders in 2008 have earned enough credits to be in 11th grade.

Audenried staff countered with data showing that their school is outperforming the District’s two current Promise Academy high schools, University City and Vaux.

The information from Audenried staffers puts the school’s current on-track-to-graduation rate at 86.9 percent. They also pointed to the school's annual report showing an annual promotion rate at consistently above 90 percent.

After the meeting, Weiner spoke to some of the concerns raised by Audenried staff.

“If Audenried has some data that makes them slightly better than one school or another, that may be fine, but it’s still not acceptable performance to us,” said Weiner.

“It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can look at this data and not want to do something about it,” he concluded.  “It’s mind-boggling.”

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Comments (34)

Submitted by Philly Mother (not verified) on March 10, 2011 2:39 am

Shame on Ackerman - again - for disrespecting Ms. Richardson! Weiner also doesn't get it - and apparently never will.

Universal, thanks to Archie and Ackerman, is being given the keys to schools because of who they know - not their track record with running schools. If you look at Universal Institute Charter School's data on Emetrics, they have only one subgroup (African American). For some reason, they don't even have an IEP (special education) subgroup. How can a school with about 650 students K-8 not have an IEP subgroup? (40 students in grades 3 - 8 with an IEP). Many other schools do not make AYP because of the IEP subgroup. (This will probably end that trend this year because PA has reading, math and science "modified" tests for students with an IEP. Yes, much easier than the "regular" PSSA).

Submitted by former universal teacher (not verified) on March 12, 2011 6:33 am

Universal Institute Charter School doesn't have kids with IEP's because they REFUSE to test kids, even when they see it is a problem. I taught there for 2 years, and was told by my vice principal (who had a criminal record) that "Point blank, we won't be testing any 7th or 8th grade students for IEP's. We're too close to having a subgroup for that". It makes me sick to know that these clowns will have another school to destroy.

Submitted by we are anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 5:51 am

It seems like basic math is also mind-boggling for Mr. Weiner. He has shown in other articles he is incapable of rounding numbers correctly.

If the school has improved more than 1000% (based on your own data) in less than three years, where do you think it will be after three or four years?

Come talk to us on Saturday, David. I want you to tell our parents that 1000% percent is not enough improvement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 5:09 am

That parent needs to SHUT UP. Ackerman is the one is who is constantly disrespectful to the community and her staff. That parent obviously has no clue what respect is. If she did, she would be first in line to run the fraud and thief Ackerman out of here.

Submitted by Straw Men and insulting her upbringing? Not good enough. (not verified) on March 10, 2011 6:24 am

I would never let my students get away with such straw man arguments.

"“Even if the data that this young lady presented is true, it’s still not acceptable to me that 60 percent of these young people are not prepared to go on to postsecondary experiences,” said Ackerman. “It’s not good enough for my children, and I find it ironic that people think it’s good enough for other people’s children.”

It's "ironic" and later "mind-boggling" that people "wouldn't want to do anything." Where is the logical step from "wanting to do something" to doing THIS? If you're going to model the use of logical arguments, making assertions, and supporting them with evidence (which students practice in the 11th grade), then you have to provide a correct model.

A Straw Man Fallacy is not a good enough model for our students.

An adult telling an 11th grader who made a claim and supported it with factual evidence that she should have been "raised better than that" is unacceptable as well, and evidence that this has gone too far. I would never consider saying that to one of my students. If we want to teach respect, then we must model respect.

Look, just tell the truth. Whatever your real reasons are for doing this, how bad could they be? Whatever it is you're doing with the PUBLIC schools, just tell the PUBLIC that. If you have a good reason for doing this, just lay it on the table. We would sincerely love to know about it. Lying that the numbers say one thing when WE CAN SEE that they say another is creepy, insulting, and flimsy. And probably unnecessary. Why not use your actual reasons? Could they possibly make people any angrier than being blatantly lied to? What could be so terrible about your real reasons? If they're that horrible, then you need to rethink them. If you believe they are sound, maybe we will too. We are at least as smart as you are. Please try to remember that. Level with the public about the public schools.

Submitted by Philly teacher (not verified) on March 10, 2011 6:14 am

Once again, our students are outshining our leaders - in both conduct and reasoning. Both Onika Richardson and Maurice Johnson (who spoke at the rally on 2/25) have shown that they are outspoken, educated young people with a tenacious drive to do what's right. What else can we ask of our young people?
The SDP's response that Audenreid's academic performance is "still not acceptable to us," that they're the only ones who want to take action to improve schools, is bogus. We all want to improve education for our young people. We just don't think closing down a school twice in 5 years and then handing it over to a private company is the way to improve them. We believe that a school that makes tremendous progress in two and a half years should be encouraged to continue to do so, not harassed for not doing enough. If you agree, please come to the rally at 440 on Monday afternoon!

Submitted by we are anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 6:14 am

The School District is coming to Audenried 1pm on Saturday to tell us more lies and convince us to accept their back room deal. If you want to talk to administrators directly, here's your chance.

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on March 10, 2011 6:25 am

Yes, visit the Promise Academies. See the pretty posters on the walls. Observe the scripted curriculum apparently designed to teach "a rock to read". See the look of defeat and disengagement in the eyes of so many students. Note the look of resignation in the eyes of so many teachers. But the pretty posters! The pretty posters!!!

This is all so embarrassing. I applaud all of the teachers, students, and parents in the school district who are still striving to do good work every day, still striving to have their voices heard.

Submitted by Philly Mother (not verified) on March 10, 2011 8:25 am

Amazing that Ackerman did not get any "push back" for her statement on "teaching a rock to read." Out of another mouth she would have been labeled a racist and the African American leadership in Philadelphia would have been outraged. But, Arlene apparently is allowed to compare our children to "rocks." Then, Ackerman has the nerve to tell Audenreid students they are being manipulated - they can't form their own opinions. Shame!

Submitted by Furiousi (not verified) on March 10, 2011 2:48 pm

Arlene manipulated and exploited the student ambassadors of South Philly High - a group of kids she paraded around town, during school hours, as the "real faces of South Philly High". In the meantime, she yelled at the Asian student who asked about a guarantee for his safety, telling him and the other victims of violence to "get over it".

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on March 10, 2011 7:47 am

A graduation rate that high should be applauded, no matter where it is.
The SDP has it's own agenda and will continue to ignore data they cannot spin.

Submitted by Philadelphia Citizen (not verified) on March 10, 2011 7:51 am

Visit Daroff and Bluford, the two unfortunate "Renaissance" schools that Universal took over in September. See the disorder. See the disregard for young people's minds. Kenneth Gamble and his crew are not educators.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on March 10, 2011 7:57 am

You did a great job, Onika. Your parents should be proud of raising an articulate young lady. Keep learning and will do well.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 9:36 am

She really gave a fantastic reply.

The nerve and condescension of the superintendent to say that to her.... But it really says something about Arlene Ackerman and how she views disagreement.

Submitted by capski (not verified) on March 10, 2011 8:03 am

Onika is a lovely, mature, and intelligent student. She is an example of the best that public schooling has to offer. For Arlene to imply she was raised better than Onika is horrible. Michael Silverman said the same exact elitist statement to the community members at the public meeting held in January.

Arlene, Penny, David you need to come to Audenried on Saturday. Sending people who work under you to be ripped to shreds by the community is cowardice. Instead of trying to intimidate a young girl one on one, stand up for your actions publicly.

Submitted by Christina (not verified) on March 10, 2011 8:05 am

She uses the "other people's children" comment as a devious term, stirs up the crowd with it and slices quick dividing points using race, class, without concern for the hard work people are doing to educate all children. She's done that before.

Submitted by YourNeighbor (not verified) on March 10, 2011 9:10 am

The gift of a $60 million building to Universal Companies is the just another example of the corruption in the SDP. Bob Archie was on the board of this company until recently. He and Gamble are close friends. Let's look at the history of Universal's success in education. Oh we can't, because it is mediocre at best. How are Daroff and Bluford doing under their direction? The students at Audenreid have every right to question what is going on. They went to Vare, they know what they are getting. Keep up the fight, you are scaring them and shining a light for others to see the blatant corruption.

Universal wants to take over Point Breeze and Grays Ferry, let's look at all of the vacant property Universal owns and has yet to build on. Yet when it does build, it won't be affordable for those of us who have lived in this area for more than three generations. An example would be the new "green" apartments at Broad and Fitzwater. Or the new housing, rehabs, in Schullkyl (I mean South of South for those of you new to this area).

The SRC is a FAILURE.... We have a RIGHT to LOCAL control of our schools, when can we elect our own school board? The SRC was supposed to bring financial oversight to prevent the SDP from having budget deficits, so much for that.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on March 10, 2011 9:58 am

"We have a RIGHT to LOCAL control of our schools, when can we elect our own school board? The SRC was supposed to bring financial oversight to prevent the SDP from having budget deficits, so much for that." ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! We need to take back control of our schools. It is our tax money, let the taxpayers, through a legally elected school board, have a say!!


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2011 4:51 pm


Submitted by BAN (not verified) on March 10, 2011 10:50 am

This affirms what I've always believed about Ackerman and her ilk - she does NOT really believe that children CAN learn. If she did, she would not subject them to scripts.

I talk to a lot of parents and they would never let their kids anywhere near a Promise Academy-type school. They want their kids to really learn. Ackerman reveal her true ignorance by positing that scripted curricula will better prepare children for college.

I'm telling you - Ellison presaged this 60 years ago with Dr. Bledsoe from Invisible Man.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 11:42 am

A read in the PhillyNow blog that the SRC has officiellay fired Hope Moffett. Is this true?

Submitted by Betsy Wice, retired teacher, parent of PSD grads, taxpayer (not verified) on March 10, 2011 12:28 pm

David Weiner and his "statistics" are exposed in Thanks, Frank Murphy, for this detailed account of the Meade precursor to the Audenried story that is playing out now.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 8:51 pm

This article is a must read. It appears that, even in Puerto Rico, students and teachers are being persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2011 8:17 pm

Adults always think that if a child or teen disagrees with them then they are being disrespectful. And its sickening. Young people should be able to voice their opinions when they see fit. Being older doesn't make you brilliant, Ackerman. We can see that (though she obviously can't see her own idiocy).

District officials are right when they say that those numbers aren't enough. Because they aren't, major sweeping changes need to be made. And there will always be ruffled feathers. However, these clowns are just blatantly shoving ineffective programs down our throats. and the disconnect between the students/teachers and the district is so over the top. They don't care what the students and teachers think at all!! Clearly!

In regards, to that woman calling Ackerman the CEO, this is not a private company. We shouldn't be bowing down at her feet or begging for her attendance. Every move she makes should be to service the students. That is what a school is right? A place for students?

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on March 10, 2011 9:23 pm

It is very exciting to see students so engaged in their future and not stand by blindly to the changes affecting them. Part of the high school curriculum is learning about acts of civil obedience. The loud and clear message coming from the SDP is that students should simply learn about, but not actively participate in protests.

Submitted by ACourt (not verified) on March 10, 2011 10:29 pm

1000% in three years is great. Mrs. Ackerman is right that more needs to be done, but ignoring that this is the direction it needs to be done in. Why change something that is heading in the right direction in leaps and bounds. The trend in the data is going upwards so why try to fix something that isn't broken. She is only trying to 'fix' the wallets of the elite corporate whoremongers. Haven't they gotten enough of our taxpayer money already. When is ENOUGH, ENOUGH?

Submitted by SD Teacher (not verified) on March 10, 2011 10:32 pm

The people who are here saying that free speech doesn't exist in the workplace and that every employee should just tough it when their employer is doing something backhanded are looking at this wrong. That's what the employees at Enron did and look where that got us! Hope just looked at the data, saw that it was not correct/complete (as it was for another school and time) and asked for correct data. Students at other schools like King protested and walked out before Audenreid. Did she call up all those students and make them protest. The idea of her making the students take their time and effort to protest is laughable. I am sure these students will only do what they want to do. Hope Moffett is admirable because she helps them want to learn. 1000% progress in three years for her students is great. Why such a huge jump... They came so poorly prepared (many from Vare middle which was run incidently by Universal, the company now trying to take over this new $55 mill. school)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 12, 2011 2:38 am

A question. Why is Ackerman sitting at the table CHAIRING SRC meetings? Who appointed her to the SRC? Doesn't she work for THEM?

Submitted by former universal teacher (not verified) on March 12, 2011 6:41 am

Universal Institute Charter School doesn't have kids with IEP's because they REFUSE to test kids, even when they see it is a problem. I taught there for 2 years, and was told by my vice principal (who had a criminal record) that "Point blank, we won't be testing any 7th or 8th grade students for IEP's. We're too close to having a subgroup for that". It makes me sick to know that these clowns will have another school to destroy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 12, 2011 12:42 pm

This practice of schools intentionally not testing kids for placement in special ed. for fear of having a valid percentage for PSSA subgroup is all too common in Charters. This happens way too much and SHOULD be investigated. Also, it is one of the many unintended negative consequences of NCLB... what a shame!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 13, 2011 12:51 am

Sounds like another potential lawsuit. If these privately-managed charters are refusing to test students for Special Ed, and/or not accepting students with existing IEPs, they're denying students their right to a free and approprate public education.

Seems like Ackerman's goal is to demolish the public school system, but there is this little thing called IDEA. Even she and the SRC aren't powerful enough to circumvent federal regulations. ALL children deserve an education, even if they have special needs, speak languages other than English, or have difficulty taking standardized tests to make their schools' managers look good.

"Children come first", indeed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 13, 2011 1:29 pm

Video of the exchange between the Audenreid student and Ackerman is here:

Interesting to hear Archy chime in to say the student should look at "our data". Interesting the experience of the student means nothing to them. Data can be skewed to fit an agenda.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 13, 2011 2:20 pm

Follow up on "data can be skewed to fit an agenda."

See this article from former Principal Frank Murphy from his City School stories blog:

Public Skepticism Over Use Of Audenried Student Performance Data

Submitted by Frank Murphy, March 10, 2011

The general public should carefully consider the data recently released by the school district regarding the academic performance of the students at Audenried High School. This information was not presented at the time that the decision was made to turn this school into a charter school. It appears to be a hastily constructed response to the criticism that has been directed at the school district administration regarding their decision to turn this school over to an outside manager.

The full article is at:

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