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Why we published the leaked document

by Paul Socolar on Jul 06 2011 Posted in Latest news

The School District of Philadelphia has been planning for much of the last year to close, consolidate, or reconfigure dozens of schools. It’s a massive, politically charged undertaking with potentially dramatic implications for communities all across the city. Interest in the District’s plans is high, as evidenced by the turnout at dozens of community meetings held since last fall.

But when asked – by parents, by teachers, by reporters, and even by the mayor – to share information on which schools are being considered for action, the District’s answer has been, “We’re not ready yet.” Officials have not floated a single proposal as to what might happen to individual schools.

Many of us have concluded that the District is consciously keeping its plan under wraps for as long as possible.

That’s why the Notebook recently made a sensitive judgment call to publish a confidential, draft District document that details more than two dozen school closing proposals.

Predictably, our decision to publish has led to criticism from some District and city officials over the past week.

Nevertheless, we stand by our call. Parents and community members, who know their schools well, should be involved early on in the planning about school closings.

Some people close to the process apparently agree, because on June 24, we received a photocopy of a confidential report from the School District’s facilities master plan (FMP) process. Titled “Preliminary FMP Options Report” and dated March 18, 2011, the 35-page draft document and accompanying charts lay out detailed proposals for a comprehensive plan to downsize the system’s enormous inventory of aging buildings. They include 84 specific examples of possible school closings, consolidations, boundary and grade changes, and new construction.

Before publishing, we took seriously our responsibility to come to an independent, ethical judgment as to whether publishing this confidential material would benefit the general good. We also authenticated the document with the District.

We published it along with an article extensively quoting District statements that the proposals are not final, do not reflect current thinking, and will look different when presented to the School Reform Commission in October.

Despite including those qualifiers, we heard objections to our decision from the District and even the mayor’s office.

During a recent appearance on Fox 29 News, District Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery dismissed our coverage as “literally speculation,” contending that the document was nothing more than “scratch thoughts.”

Read the detailed document for yourself and you’ll see that Nunery’s claim is, as he might say, laughable. The preliminary plan clearly reflects a year’s hard work by a team of District consultants from the URS Corporation on how to downsize the District’s inventory of buildings.

Yes, they do intend for their recommendations to eventually go through a round of community meetings this fall before any school closing decisions are made.

But we at the Notebook have repeatedly questioned whether the District is delaying the announcement of its specific recommendations for school closings for as long as possible. There is a school of thought that this is the best way to minimize controversy: by cramming public discussion of dozens of proposals into the narrowest timeframe allowable under the state law governing school closings – three months. We have never gotten any indication that the District intends otherwise.

Public patience with that kind of approach is worn thin after three previous rounds of meetings, in which the District was slow to release school-specific information and carefully avoided any discussion about which schools should be closed. That’s why parents like Jennifer Cullen, the Home and School President of Fitzpatrick Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia, described the process as having “wasted eight hours of my life.”

Perhaps if the District had demonstrated more commitment to a transparent public process, our decision to publish a confidential document would have been more difficult.

But this administration has not earned the public’s trust that it will act for the greater good when it comes to school closings. In running up a $629 million budget shortfall, the District has also created a “trust deficit,” evidenced by widespread calls for more transparency.

For example, the budget fiasco recently prompted Mayor Nutter to fire off a nine-page letter to the District demanding more information about its finances and decision-making, information the mayor promised to make available to the public. He specifically requested any documents and consultant reports relating to the facilities plan. The District publicly agreed and signed a much-touted “education accountability agreement” – and then its officials promptly withheld the preliminary facilities plan from the “large box” of documents provided to the city. Somewhere along the way, the mayor apparently told the District privately that it was okay to disregard his request.

What kind of accountability is that?

City Council members also requested more detailed information about the facilities planning process during the city’s contentious school budget negotiations. District officials sidestepped their questions, again acting as if the preliminary plan did not exist.

In this context, we believe that publishing the leaked document filled a much-needed gap that a range of Philadelphians have been trying to fill for months.

Philadelphia’s school system can potentially be made stronger if some schools are closed, and we applaud the District for its apparent willingness to take on a tough task that other administrations have avoided. School closings can be contentious and messy.

But it certainly won’t go smoothly when the public feels disrespected by the process.  Right now, that’s what’s happening, largely because of the Ackerman administration’s apparent doubts about whether ordinary folks are capable of taking part in a constructive dialogue about how to downsize the school system.

Parents and community members are likely to have valuable insights and even better ideas. An inclusive process is the best way to manage the citywide school closings and consolidations that are looming. Now that some of the District’s ideas are out in the open, we hope that a real dialogue can finally begin.

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Comments (94)

Submitted by phillymo (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:13.

you guys rock

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 23:32.

Right-ON! Helyn Gym would make a splendid Superintendent. Yes, that's the ticket...A Super Superintendent.

Submitted by Chaos is Winning (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 10:33.

I agree 100 percent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 16:52.

I said that Helen Gym would be a great mayor!

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:16.

For "scratch thoughts", that document is pretty detailed. The ostensible keepers of the public trust are just annoyed that this taxpayer-paid-for document saw the light of day. You made the right call.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:39.

I commend you for publishing the document and doing it in the way you did. This is the one shining light in a world of corrupt media and information that I can turn to.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:44.

I wholeheartedly support your publication of the leaked document. Openness and transparency in the governance of our public schools is essential for good governance and good leadership. It is part of the democratic process without which there can never be "greatness in our schools." That is part and parcel of the "democratic imperative" for our schools that I have written so much about.

Trust formation is the most important element of effective leadership. Trust formation has been cited in study after study of effective leaders in both the private and public sectors.

There can be no trust when district leaders do such things in secrecy. It is a matter of credibility. If our leaders do not see that and understand that, there is liitle hope for us as a school community.

Another essential element of effective leadership and democratic governance is a free and zealous press.

I urge everyone to visit the Constitution Center and Independence Hall this summer. Then ask yourself what are the ideals and values that we share as Americans? Then ask yourselves how we can apply those ideals to our schools?

Do some reflective thinking -- it concerns us all....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:49.

Thanks for sharing the information--Go Notebook!!

Submitted by tom-104 on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:53.

The School District of Philadelphia is occupied territory from outside sources that do not have our best interests at heart. Our schools are built by our tax dollars to provide education to the next generation of our citizens. Yet, as these document show, these arrogant outsiders are paid big bucks to take a chain saw to our school system without any serious discussion or oversight. We are treated like a colony by an occupying imperial army.

Why the political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, has allowed this to happen will be judged by history. Mayor Nutter and City Council should be ashamed of themselves. These dictatorial methods are being followed at every level of government. This is a radical change in the way our society is governed and it's going to require radical measures on the part of the citizenry to reestablish democratic control.

Whose interest do they serve? Certainly not the people of Philadelphia!

Thanks again to The Notebook. Information (which these oligarchs want withheld from us) is the only way we can begin to resolve this situation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 15:20.

I actually work at the District, have lived and will continue to live in this corrupt city. The reason I continue to work here is because someone actually has to do some work. Not everything you read is true no matter how much you want it to be. I don't get paid big bucks and I don't blindly follow either. I quietly do what I think is best for all kids (not just those at magnet schools). I don't live in some fancy condo in cc but right in the community. It's easy to criticize without actually doing anything to improve the situation. I can't believe that readers can't think systemically and put aside their own agendas. Sad as it ultimately doesn't benefit the kids

Submitted by tom-104 on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 16:47.

If your reply is responding to my comment preceding yours, you completely misunderstood what I meant to say. When I was talking about "outsiders" I was referring to Ackerman and the people she has brought in to dismantle public education in Philadelphia of which the closing of schools is part. In no way am I blaming school employees for this, quite the opposite.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 13:37.

i think he completly understood what you were saying. and he is politely stating that your wrong. i agree with him. you are standing in the way of reform and the children willl suffer because of your own selfishness.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 13:31.


Submitted by Timothy Boyle on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 14:59.

 The Notebook should be commended for publishing a document that the SDP refused to acknowledge. Level-headed individuals will see that there are some ideas in the FMP options list that are worth doing. I'll go as far as to say that some of the closures are necessary. But these schools are more than just buildings or money-vacuums. 

The public was willing to take the District at its word that the plans were not complete, we are not willing to take the District at its word that we will be part of the process.

Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 15:23.

Thank you. Your news coverage of SDP in this time of crisis is a service to us and we are grateful. My school is on the list and that saddens me. I'm grateful to have a heads up.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 15:25.

Thank you, Notebook for publishing this document. Of course, some of the closings will have to happen, but the district has been so ham-handed in its approach to transparency (or lack thereof) that it is almost impossible to to trust them. It is only publications like The Notebook that can keep them honest at all.

Submitted by Susan DeJarnatt (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 15:57.

I join the chorus--it was absolutely the right call to publish the document. We have to force transparency on the District because the current administration just is not going to give it to us. You make me proud to be a Notebook supporter!

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:12.

There is a reason that freedom of the press, and all that this concept implies, is so central to American values. No one can make responsible decisions without accurate information. I hope that the district is making decisions with more than scratch thoughts.
May I suggest a new tab: Noteleaks?

Submitted by Erika Owens on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:26.

Love that idea! We always welcome reader tips and contributions, so that'd be a great way to feature that more. Thanks for the suggestion.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:20.

Bravo Notebook!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:21.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO--You must be a sexist racist. It can't be that you exposed something wrong in the Queen's Castle. You must not care about "The Children." either.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:23.

Why isn't the Queen and her criminal friends in jail let alone walking freely among us? I'm almost 60 and have never seen such obvious corruption. The Feds must be ready to slap all of them down unless Corbett is pulling the strings.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:39.

Thank you for exposing the information you did. As a teacher at one of the "targeted" schools, I am appalled at the district's lack of consideration for students, parents, their own employees (why am I NOT surprised?), and the communities that these schools represent. We care about our neighborhoods, and we will fight to make sure that our schools are more than a dollar sign to the businesses and leaders that influence the educational decisions of the school district. We represent children. We teach children. We are entrusted with children by parents who want the best. We give them the best we can, and then are struck down by decisions based on money. The Notebook is to be commended for publishing information and disregarding political and financial backlash it may receive for revealing information. You guys ROCK! Keep it coming-as an employee, we get more info from you than we do from the SDP!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 16:41.

It is evident by the recent resignations of her core staff chiefs, Tomas Hanna and David Weiner to the NYC school district that everything is crumbling around her.

We as a community have to do what we can not to let schools close. Many of the so called "under utilized schools" are overcrowded and in low income neighborhoods (from south to north). How can an "overcrowded" school be consided "under utilized".

Submitted by Paul Socolar on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 18:22.

Hi - it would be helpful to hear some detailed examples of schools labeled as underutilized that you think are actually overcrowded.


There has been little discussion to date about there are flaws in the method being used to determine school capacity - which in turn determines whether a school is underutilized.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 19:59.

Many schools have rooms set aside for special ed resource rooms. That was counted against schools because 30 students aren't "housed" in them. Computer labs, music and art rooms-they count those as classrooms and say they should be used with 30 students in each.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 20:43.

Any school with any Special Education classes would be tallied inaccurately. Schools with ASS, LSS, MDS, or LS classes MUST maintain legal caps on those classes (some as small as 10 students), therefore, there is no way the rooms used for these classes can ever contain 30 students. Yet, we have all heard from several people that none of this was taken into consideration when the "use index" was figured. In a school like mine which has ALL of the above special ed classes (and multiples of some special ed classes), plus rooms for speech and hearing support, the figure of students that can actually fit into the building could be really off. Also, music, art, computer labs etc... serve up to 180 students per day, but the rooms should not be counted as a room that can hold 30 MORE kids than the school already contains. Therefore, simply multiplying the number of rooms in a school by 30 does not give an accurate picture.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 21:39.

Some schools may also have "inaccessible" spaces. For example, the 4th floor at Furness is not usable because of a bad roof. Last year asbestos was removed from the 4th floor as well as bird and animal remains. It is still being "cleaned up" but I doubt it is usable space. Other schools may have areas which are not "usable" for similar reasons.

Submitted by Sheppard Teacher (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 10:40.

I can tell you that Sheppard is absolutely not underutilized. The district is choosing to designate the special ed, ESOL, literacy and art rooms as "empty." It is also using a base of 30 students per classroom when because of reduced class size, there are about 25 students. Suburban districts would still call this overcrowded. In Philly, it's "underutilized." Sad.

My understanding is that CASA protested the way these counts were conducted and should have more information for you.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 11:08.

This whole issue of underutilized is perplexing. I lived in the suburbs many years ago. There was a huge uproar at the beginning of the school year because the local school district had two kindergarten classes that had around 25 students each. Parents went to the school board to basically demand another kindergarten teacher. The response from the superintendent was that they were already planning to hire a third teacher and were interviewing potential candidates. Within a week, there was a third teacher and class sizes were reduced.

The count was done improperly. Rather than simply look at the total number of classrooms in the building, the SDP needed to look at the actual use. But that would mean the numbers would be in line with reality. The SDP needed a higher number in order to mislead the general public. It's unfortunate and frustrating because our students will suffer when class sizes are increased and teachers are gone next school year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 19:19.

Thank You!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 19:38.

I wish you guys were in New York as well. Our community trust ( public schools ) are being stolen right in front of our eyes.

But, thank you Notebook for speaking truth to power. We need a lot more like you in a lot of places.

Submitted by Elijah Kaufman (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 21:50.

Thank you for publishing the leaked document. Opacity breeds distrust.

Submitted by Citizen (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 22:32.

You're the best -- investigative, honest, thorough-going journalism lives! THIS is what Philadelphia and it's history stand for. Thanks!

Submitted by Chaos is Winning (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 10:36.

The document doesn't represent "scratch thoughts." It represents a comprehensive plan the SRC intended to enact. The secrecy surrounding it was meant to prevent parents and others from organizing and protesting because the SCR, a five person group loaded with conflicts of interest, have absolutely no regard what the million-plus citizens of Philadelphia want in regard to the stewardship of our children's schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 18:04.

BINGO--They just don't care and when you don't care, you have nothing to lose. Ackerman, Nutter, Corbett, The SRC, creeps like John Q. Porter, Dwight Evans and Kenny Gamble have no business holding positions of leadership. When will this nightmare end is the biggest question in my eyes?? And don't even get me started on the farce called Charter Schools which is the new, trendy way for politicians to skim money off the backs of the poor--this time kids !!! Beyond disgraceful !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 14:49.

Only in Ackerman's World,do you have to justify exposing the truth !! When will it end?? Of course, though, everything she does is for "The Kids." !!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Phil Goldsmith (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 16:22.

Congratulations for not being intimidated and providing public information to the public about our public schools. The Notebook is performing an important public service.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 16:33.

Thank you for publishing the document-- if you don't tell us, nobody will!

Submitted by Juan (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 18:33.

Blondell Brown has lost my vote in the fall. Man, I might as well register as a Republican for next year! There's NO WAY Nutter is getting my vote - have lost all confidence in him. And Brown is using rhetoric to not take a stand...this, after she recently accepted a COLA raise, then turned it down later - is she losing her mind? Bill Green is doing okay but, unfortunately, is a proponent for charter school. I've worked in a few charter schools and they are corrupt and should be shut down.
I know this comment is all over the place...but I am glad for

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 20:46.

GREAT POST about Charters.People are catching on more and more.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 13:21.

People are too stupid and selfish to understand the adminisdtrations plans to downsize. Keeping these documents away from the public is the right thing to do.

If these documents were to be exposed, people would be upset and then NO REFORM would ever be carried out. The children of Philadlephia would suffer because of the squabbling between the "adults".

Ackerman has decades of experience in school reform and planning; all these back seat drivers need to get off her back and let her do her job. Let her do what previous superintendents and administrators have FAILED to do for 20 years, REFORM!


Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:45.

Who are you calling stupid????!!!! I guarantee you I am smart enough to understand every issue involved and so are the vast majority of people who comment on this site and are "the public."

These are public schools we are talking about and they are part of the "public trust" that is our school system. The schools are supposed to be about OUR children.

The parents and advocates I see at the SRC meetings seem to have a better command of the issues of school reform than anyone on the SRC including the superintendent.

Many who have posted comments on the Notebook's site have devoted their professional lives to the schoolchildren of Philadelphia and OUR public schools.

There is a reason we have a "Sunshine Act" and that reason is that it is essentialfor well reasoned decision-making and is essential to democracy in public governance.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 16:55.

She has 20 years of experience.. destroying school districts one step at a time.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 13:42.

the defense department makes some documents clasified and confidential for good reason and no one crticizes them for it. the school district needs to be able to do the same thing. shame on the notebook.

get off your high horses, your not promoting tranparency and democracy your just inciting a riot. what you did was wrong.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:09.

I have to disagree with you. The found it helpful to see the direction the SDP might be going in. A school near mine is being recommended to close and those students would come to my school. The problem is that with the numbers based on this report, my school would be considered overcrowded. That doesn't make for a good learning environment.

I don't think releasing the report is inciting a riot, but actually helping more people to be informed and get involved. I would hate for final decisions to be made when they people most affected had very little to no input.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:17.

Leaders are elected or appointed to make these difficult decisions. If you don't believe in your leaders ability to make these decisions then you can move to another area or work to put new leaders in their place. You do not publish classified, sensitive documents.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:34.

Wow, we are well on the way to becoming a militarized, totalitarian state if this thinking is now accepted. These are classified documents??

These are public institutions, paid for with tax payer dollars. The people that make these decisions are public servants. They work for us! We have the right to know what decisions they are making that affect our children. We have the right to know if the decisions are being made in the public interest or are corrupt decisions made to enrich those making the decisions and their friends. This is what democracy is. If you don't think so than you support dictatorship!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:59.

Militarized? Totalitarian? Are you serious? The Philadelphia School District is far from your sensational adjectives. The dramatic language doesn't promote intelligent discussion.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:08.

You are the one who used the word "classified". This is the talk of the military and CIA. Nothing is "classified" in a public institution if we still live in a democracy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:10.

I apologize for my poor choice of words. Confidential is the word I was looking for.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:24.

Sorry, "confidential" is no better. Why must discussions that affect the future of our students and the employees of the School District be "confidential". What are they hiding? Who are these decisions being made for? It surely isn't for the students and employees of the School District if these discussions must be hidden. Who is the SRC taking their orders from and why must discussions be hidden?

Submitted by Inspired_Apple on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:18.

"of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life."
1) Centralized governing body: The SRC. Appointed beyond control of the people and therefore, cannot [and HASN'T been] held accountable for any of their actions.
a) grossly mismanaging budget
b) pushing for Imagine 2014 that people do not 'Imagine' utopian ideals of 100% perfection [yes, I used utopian correctly]
c) answers questions by throwing a red herring [ie..."The Children"] over every question asked. "Are you planning on leaving the school district like what you said to the SRC on camera before you realized you were on camera?" "....this isn't about me. This is about the children."

2) Dictatorial control: "a person invested with supreme authority during a crisis, the regular magistracy being subordinated to him until the crisis was met." In 2001, Anonymous & afraid to verify identity that hides behind a screen of ambiguity, our district was taken over.

Totalitarian is poignantly accurate. If you know anything about the school system you will know that this is true -- I assumed you said "the Philadelphia School District is far from your sensational adjectives" because you might not have understood what they meant.

Please visit for references.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:56.

The defense department keeps some things secret for national defense reasons and the security of our nation. They are not nearly the same as the reasons the school district would keep things secret.

There are only 3 reasons to keep the public in the dark: 1) wrongdoing; 2) incompetency; and 3) the arrogance of power.

That is why we have a Right to Know law!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 14:15.

Leaders are elected or appointed to make these VERY difficult decisions. If you don't believe in your leaders ability to make these decisions then you can move to another area or you can work to put new leaders in their place. You do not publish classified, sensitive documents. This undermines confidence and makes it impossible for them to do their job effectively.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 15:09.

I disagree. I've lived in several states and have never seen the level of corruption and insider shenanigans that go on here in Philadelphia. The western state I moved here from is a leader in open records laws, public processes work very well, and the citizens feel empowered to have their say about issues that directly affect them and their children. Out there it is just taken for granted that public documents are public information. Involving the public from the outset is definitely a messy and sometimes lengthy process, but the results are more representative of what the community actually wants.

Frankly, when I contemplate the secrecry that you advocate, I worry about the future of our participatory democracy. WE THE PEOPLE are in charge here, or have the citizens of the great city that represents the very cradle of American democratic ideals forgotten this?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:03.

Democracy in education is "imperative" if we are going to make decisions in the best interests of students and the entire school community.

May I once again suggest that we all visit the Constitution Center and Independence Hall this summer. Then reflect upon the values that we cherish as Americans. We must lead and govern our public schools on those same principles if we are ever to have great schools that work for all children, their parents and the entire school community.

Open, transparent and honest governance is essential for well reasoned decisions about public interests. Thank you for your informative post.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 15:12.

They are not classified sensitive documents. We elect leaders to lead us in the decision-making process not make unilateral decisions and force them upon us. The best leadership is inclusive and collegial. We live in a democratic society with a Constitution and there is a democratic decision-making process that is mandated by the Bill of Rights. It is one prong of "procedural due process" and is mandated by the 14th Amendment to our Constitution. That is why we have a Sunshine Act in PA and a Right to Know law! We are talking about Public Schools.

This is still America. Isn't it? I can not disagree with you more....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 15:40.

Not all decision making processes lend themselves to discussion, especially when there are so many interest groups trying to protect their interests. Sometimes decisions have to be made behind closed doors. I am sure everyone reading this suported health care reform, including myself. Most of the legislation never saw the light of day, it was passed without being read by the public or even most politicians and it was the right thing to do because it was the ONLY way to get it passed. This situation is much the same!

Everyone understands the democratic process of discussion and open information, you dont need to explain it to me. Sometimes the situation just doesnt allow it and thats when REAL LEADERS make the difficult decisions. They don't bend to public hysteria and become peralyzed by fear of retribution from special interests or the lynch mob of "parents". This has stagnated reform until Dr Ackerman came to town. History will judge the administration to see if they were right and the next surperintendent can change or continue the reform that was chosen. Again, you dont publish these documents!!!!


Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:17.

There is no legitimate reason to make those type of decisions behind closed doors. The legislation as to the health care laws you are talking about can not be passed into law without it first being publicly published and debated upon by both our Senators and Congressmen in an open and public manner.

Your philosophy of governance and leadership is not advocated by any credible author on the best practices in leadership. And what you advocate is illegal in PA under our Sunshine Act and Right to Know Act.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:34.

The legitimate reason is that if people find out what is contained in the documents, there is outrage. There is a stroy on Fox news that night and a hysteria is created. The reform is then haulted and then nothing gets done and the children of Philadlephia still have the same broken school system they started with.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:43.

It is tragic that in Philadelphia, the birth place of American democracy and the American Revolution against monarchy, that we have people who are willing to accept monarchical rule from a tiny elite. It is indicative of how far we have fallen that there are people who find government "of, by, and for the people" to be messy and inconvenient. If you think Ackerman's program of privatizing schools for her wealthy promoters who want to make money off our schools is going to fix the school system, you are buying fool's gold.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:04.

I am sick to my stomach of all this Democracy, Sunshine, Freedom, Constitution, Patriot mumbo jumbo. You all sound like a bunch of tea partiers.

What is happening with school reform is not a threat to democracy or any of our rights. It is not totalitarianism or a monarchy or any thing of the sort. And if you dont like it, sign up for a job at the school board or go to a twon meeting and voice your opinion.


Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:33.

The only hysteria I see is coming from you! Everyone else is having a reasoned discussion. You on the other hand say, "I am sick to my stomach of all this Democracy...", etc. And are the all caps really necessary? It's considered screaming you know.

I have spoken out at community meetings the SRC called. Neither they or Ackerman attended. The only Board person there was Finance Director Masch. The only benefit of those meetings was that parents and teachers could hear what each other thought about what is going on.

As for the community meetings making any difference at 440, please! They are a royal court and don't have time for the peasants. (Maybe she is getting tips from Marie Antoinette in France. I wonder if she'll come back and greet us with, "Laissez-les manger le gâteau !")

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:55.

How on earth could any of us sign up for a job at the school board? It is not elected. It is not even local. The state took over the school board and is not accountable to anyone. I would LOVE a position on the school board. There are others who are even worthier of it. But the SRC is made up of lawyers and businesspeople who (mostly) don't give a hoot about our students, the city, or education in general. That's why one of them lives in California yet won't give up his seat on the SRC.

If you go to an SRC meeting, and voice a dissenting opinion, you will be given 2 minutes. If you are the press, and have a previously scheduled meeting with Archie, he will tell you to go away and that he has no obligation or desire to talk to you.

So, now that you have a little bit more understanding of how it actually works, do you have any other ideas that actually apply to this district?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:46.

What I am advocating is keeping some documents out of the hands of the public. So when the administration tried to keep these documents confidential, they were in violation of the law? Wheres the law suit? Are you really claiming that they broke the law? Or are you just being sensational?

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:21.

No, I am not being sensational. We have a Sunshine Act and a Right to Know Act in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia School District has already lost at least one recent lawsuit I know of under the Right to Know Act. Go to the PA Dept of Ed website and they have the law posted. Just hit the icon.

Under the Sunshine Act every school board, the SRC included, has to conduct open and public meetings. They can notlegally pass a resolution unless it is done at an open and public meeting. They must give citizens the opportunity to comment before they pass a resolution. Again, that is one prong of "procedural due process."

Democracy is the law in PA and every other state in America. It is not optional. We have a constitution in America and in PA. That is not a confidential document under the law. It is also unethical not to disclose it. Democracy is a participatory process.

Nobody is going to sue them now because the Notebook did their job as a free and zealous press. It is an essential element of democracy. The right to participate in the processes of governance is what we send our children to war to protect and die for!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:21.

So, anyone who questions Ackerman is part of a lynch mob? That's really nice.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 15:39.

These documents may be sensitive, but they are certainly NOT classified. The school district is a public institution built with public money. We have a right to know what the district plans to do with buildings and the children and families who rely on them. These discussions will not be easy, but they need to be done in public--not behind closed doors and then presented as a fait accompli. The public needs to be kept informed, not kept in the dark.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 21:54.

I definitely do NOT trust in the ability of the leaders of the school district to make these decisions. I am absolutely working to replace them with more competent, trustworthy leaders. The way that people do that is to show the public that the current leadership is failing to serve the citizens of Philadelphia. In order for the public to reach this conclusion, they need access to evidence of what the current leadership is doing. Certainly you do not believe that we should base our opinions only on what information is provided in press releases.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 15:38.

Not all decision making processes lend themselves to discussion, especially when there are so many interest groups trying to protect their interests. Sometimes decisions have to be made behind closed doors. I am sure everyone reading this suported health care reform, including myself. Most of the legislation never saw the light of day, it was passed without being read by the public or even most politicians and it was the right thing to do because it was the ONLY way to get it passed. This situation is much the same!

Everyone understands the democratic process of discussion and open information, you dont need to explain it to me. Sometimes the situation just doesnt allow it and thats when REAL LEADERS make the difficult decisions. They don't bend to public hysteria and become peralyzed by fear of retribution from special interests or the lynch mob of "parents". This has stagnated reform until Dr Ackerman came to town. History will judge the administration to see if they were right and the next surperintendent can change or continue the reform that was chosen. Again, you dont publish these documents!!!!


Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:12.

Sorry she's in France and can't hear you!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:30.

How dare she take a vacation!!!!

She has only been working tirelessly for 30 years for the children of the United States and studying education to earn her PHD and taking on the task of leading the reform of one of the largest school districts in the country!

She is also one of the most well respected people in education and justly earns a 6 figure salary. Those are the rewards of working hard!

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 16:53.

The people who work the hardest for the school children of Philadelphia are the teachers in the classrooms who teach five classes and advisory and have a common meeting period. The ones who have dedicated their lives to the school children of Philadelphia are the real heroes. Most of the teachers have not moved from city to city to promote their own careers and gain riches. They have selflessly dedicated their lives to the children of their own communities.

For your knowledge, we have been reforming our schools and school system since the late 1980's. Our most effective programs and our most effective schools were founded long before Paul Vallas and Dr. Ackerman came to Philadelphia via the state takeover of our schools. Since the state takeover, I have witnessed little reform that has worked for children.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:36.

Yeah, I think the idea of anyone in this district working harder than a teacher is rather comical.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 19:38.

I fully agree with your comment regarding how hard the teachers in your district work. What upsets me however is that the same cannot be said for some of your biulding principals, especially the ones that transfer into "troubled" schools claiming that they are "turnaround specialist" Often that is akin to "I will crush you and trash your career if you do not improve scores".I know of one such school that is being crushed by such a bully. It will be interesting to note if as the investigation proceeds into testing fraud we come to learn that these so called leaders were so steeped in insuring their success they resorted to such tactics. Only time will tell.
Keep up the good hard work. The children of Philly need you now more than ever.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 18:21.

You're correct, sadly, about many principals. It's a result of a certain item rolling downhill.

My own opinion is that no one should be issued a principal's certificate with less than 10 (and preferably 15+) years of experience as a classroom teacher. The norm now is that failed teachers who don't want to waste their degrees seek out principal's certificates. That's not good for anyone.

Most of the older (as in close to retirement) principals have teaching experience and are ordinarily much more sympathetic to teachers.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 19:12.

I agree. Our best principals are the ones who came up through the ranks and were successful teachers for many years. The good principals are a dying breed in Philadelphia.

Many of our best principals and AP's have left the district in disgust of the "tenor of our times." It is known as "the brain drain."

I also agree with the post above that talks about many '"turn around specialists" are bullies and not real leaders at all. I assure you that none of them have actually turned around a school. Unless, of course, it was to drive good teachers out of the schools and thereby ruin them.

We need to go back to the days when school communities had a legitimate say on who was to become our principals and AP's. The way the district chooses its principals in the dark of the night has got to stop if we are ever to get effective leadership into our schools.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 17:34.

She chose to take a vacation during the most tumultuous time this district has ever experienced. True leaders don't do that. Period.

She chose to take a vacation after laying off 3,000 people. She caused those layoffs though her incompetent management. They can't pay mortgages and may lose their homes. She's dining in a cafe in Paris.

She chose to take a vacation after throwing the district into disarray.

She chose to take a vacation when it's extremely likely that her minions will break union contracts on her behalf the moment summer school ends.

As for being a respected educator, I think poll figures would prove you dead wrong. She's utterly loathed by anyone who really understands the needs of children in an urban school district.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 18:17.

Quite a few people here have attempted to TEACH you (I use the word on purpose, since you seem unaware) that the public has a right to the content of documents that elected/appointed officials produce. Period. It's the law of the land. If you don't like it, well, that's okay, but stop claiming it's appropriate. It's not! We have a right, as citizens, to know what are officials are up to, and to participate in the process.

BTW, I do agree that some people will fight the closing of their schools, and that it will be a tough process. That's what democracy is -- a tough process.

[Ackerman doesn't have a PhD -- she has an EdD. Big difference. And I don't think her 1/2 million dollar salary is "just". Working hard? There are thousands of people in this district working hard who make 1/10th of what she makes.)

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 18:34.

While I agree with most of your post, your comment about and EdD vs. PhD is incorrect. Harvard only grants EdD - not PhDs in education. Penn, for example, grants both. The only different between an EdD and a PhD for some programs is one course (an elective). PhDs, at least at Penn, are full time students and aren't paying for their degree. Most EdDs are part time and juggle school, work and often family simultaneously.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 21:15.

The "big difference" I was referring to was the fact that in general, a Ph.D. involves the completion of original research, and the Ed.D. is more of an "applied" professional degree aimed toward practice (often management) in the field. Although the difference can be argued (and is, often), you can easily find numerous references to this distinction online. (Harvard actually invented the Ed.D., which may be why they offer only it in education.)

To my ear, Ph.D. says something completely different about someone than does Ed.D. -- fundamental researcher, contributor to the body of knowledge, vs. highly educated practitioner. I admit my bias here, but it is a widely held one.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 19:32.

I guess my bottom line is if the people of Philadelphia miss this opportunity for reform by fighting the SRC and Dr Ackerman every step of the way, that would be beyond sad.

It's not easy to be a leader that actually steps up and changes things; look at President Obama and the criticism he has received over health care reform. That was actual reform and when you do actual reform, you are going to make people angry. Its tough to be Dr Ackerman, she deserves more credit and less vilification.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 21:16.

It is very difficult to manage a large urban school district. However, Ackerman's managerial style alienates people, especially those people who can help real reform occur. When a leader continually acts in such a manner, people tend not to trust and/or believe that leader. It's difficult to sit back and watch the chaos that is happening in our schools, and have faith that the SRC, Ackerman, and upper level administrators can restore order in an ethical manner.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 21:27.

If her managerial style gets things done, isn't that whats important, not to sound Machiavellian. People before her were not successful. She isn't here to make friends or make people feel warm and squishy inside. She is allowed to have her own style of leadership. She is the superintendent!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 22:02.

She is allowed to have her own leadership style. However, because she works in the public sector rather than for a private company, people may legitimately criticize her for it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 22:43.

Gets things done? Are you loopy? Destroying the school district and alienating everyone outside of her clique of soroity sisters is all Ackerman's done in her three years so far.You must still be on her payroll to post such nonsense at this late date. Get with the program!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 16:54.

She is the superintendent... lousy- albiet- but superintendent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 19:02.

Are you implying that, because she is the superintendent, she deserves our respect?!! I respect a lot of people in the District, including my principal, but I will NEVER respect Ackerman. Respect is something that is earned and she has done very little to earn my respect.
I have a strong suspicion that, if you polled all of the District's employees at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, at least 99% of them would agree with me.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 22:37.

Clearly you don't work under Dr. A. First of all, to claim that any management style that "gets things done" is acceptable is too ridiculous to waste time disputing. Secondly, you exclaim she is superintendent as though you equate this with... sorry, in America I can't find a comparison. We are allowed to question anyone, including the president, so it's most certainly appropriate to question a power-hungry egomaniac who doesn't care whom she destroys in her quest for power and attention.

Thirdly, good leaders make an effort to make people feel good about their job - your contempt for "warm and squishy" not withstanding. People will do anything for employers who show respect and appreciation for them.

Most importantly, however, Dr. A is not getting any "job done" that involves education children. She has forced a teaching program on many schools that involves practices proven by decades of research to fail - and that's what's been happening. She's ordering them to do what amounts to "drill and kill," a rote program that allows for no mastery, no creativity and no hands-on piece to facilitate true understanding. It's just drill, drill, drill for the PSSA, while threatening every adult in the district - as though that alone could raise test scores (Well, for some I guess it worked - now they'll have to answer for cheating). If you understand nothing else, understand that fill-in-the-blank tests prove absolutely nothing. How many have you taken since entering the work force?

The Philadelphia Inquirer, who had initially supported Dr. A with a revolting slavishness has now called her "too self-centered to lead city schools." The Philadelphia Tribune is also coming down on her, particularly impressive since SRC head Robert Archie is on their board. This woman has bounced from district to district, getting rich off of poor children before people got so sick of her, they bought her out. What does it say about the SRC that they hired someone with that sort of history.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 22:38.

Sorry, there should be a question mark ending that last sentence.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 13:59.

Machiavelli was probably a genius of leadership theory (and often misinterpreted). Machiavelli didn't advocate cruelty. He actually pretty specifically argued that leaders should not make people hate them, just fear them a little, in the same way a child fears their strict parents (i.e. not afraid of being destroyed, but simply aware that there are consequences). If Dr. Ackerman were harsh and blunt in the pursuit of effective educational policy and was herself an outstanding manager, I probably wouldn't care that much about her style. The problem is that she's really, really ineffective.

Yes, test scores have gone up. Test scores have gone up every year since NCLB, basically, regardless of the Superintendent. And Dr. Ackerman got a few hundred millions extra dollars to pump into schools. Given the resources and political capital she had when she arrived, the gains in this District should have been a lot more significant over the past three years.

And, it turns out, a lot of the increases (which haven't been that impressive, actually) are probably the result of increased focus on the test, which usually translates into people blurring the lines between proper and improper administration.

The problems is that she's so aloof and disconnected from the schools (she's never in them...I taught in a Promise Academy and saw her once all year, and that was with a crew of reporters in tow). So she doesn't know which schools are actually getting better and which are simply playing games. As a result her harshness ends up being misplaced so often, and real reforms aren't really happening in most places in the District. And the places where they are, kinda, (i.e. Promise Academies) have been botched so badly that they have produced only a small fraction of the improvement that the investment should have yielded.

So no, she's not supposed to make people feel warm and squishy, but she is supposed to make people respect her. The best way to earn respect, I think, is to do your job professionally and thoroughly so that the members of your organization feel obligated to put in their best effort.

Submitted by enuf already (not verified) on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 22:05.

not effective....disfunctional leadership. the staff she is supposed to be leading don't trust her motives and rightfully so. she is not trying to advance the psd. she is trying to dismantle it. if someone had bothered to take a vote a year or two ago, it would've been an overwhelming "no confidence". the carpetbaggers need to leave.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 23:22.

I was searching Google today using the search term "San Francisco and Ackerman" and came up with some interesting links. One thing I found while searching was this Philadelphia Magazine article from January 2010 :

"Queen Arlene
Philadelphia schools head Arlene Ackerman arrived a year and a half ago with a strong résumé on education but an unwillingness to play politics. So just how long do you think she’ll last in this town?"

If you haven't read it, it is an interesting profile which may give some insight to who we are dealing with, and remind us how we got here. If you read it at the time of publication, it is interesting to revisit it. The more things change the more they stay the same.

The article is at:

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