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Vallas responds to Ackerman

By the Notebook on Sep 7, 2011 12:18 PM

The Notebook recently began sharing content with Education Week, where this piece originally appeared.

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by Christina Samuels

Call this A Tale of Two Philadelphia Superintendents. Was it the best of times, or worst of times?

After Arlene Ackerman resigned as superintendent of Philadelphia schools earlier this year, she launched a Youtube channel that included a laudatory video she said was meant as an opening to her back-to-school rallying speech for school principals.

Ackerman ditched that video, instead deciding to enter the auditorium to the strains of "Is It a Crime" by soul singer Sade and delivering a defiant speech. "Is it a crime to stand up for children instead of stooping down into the political sandbox and selling our children for a politician's victory?" she told the crowd Aug. 18. Five days later, she was out.

But now former Superintendent Paul Vallas, Ackerman's direct predecessor, said he takes exception to the idea that Ackerman walked into a district in disarray in 2008 and turned everything around. In an emailed letter to Education Week, he lists his own record of achievement.

"I'm not making comments about one person's record. I just feel an obligation to defend mine, and that of my team," Vallas told me before he was to board a plane to Haiti. He served in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2007 and then worked as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana before resigning early this year to work on rebuilding schools in Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from last year's earthquakes

Some choice quotes from the letter, which claims the video takes "major liberties with the truth.":

  • "Ackerman inherited a budget that was balanced, and had been for two years prior to her arrival."

  • "In addition to leaving the district financially healthy in 2007, my team left the district with a fully funded $1.7 billion school construction program."

  • "Dr. Ackerman inherited a district where high school test scores had risen for five consecutive years upon her arrival."

  • "Dr. Ackerman inherited a system that included the nearly 60 new charter schools we opened and provided with unprecedented support."

Today was the first day of school in the 155,000-student district, and it's safe to say that there is some controversy fatigue, particularly after Ackerman launched a media offensive after her resignation that included an interview with Education Week and Philadelphia media outlets, blaming political maneuvering for her ouster.

But Vallas said he's not trying to stir up any more problems. "This is the age of the Internet. When something goes out unresponded to, then it kind of takes on a life of its own."

I have a call in to Ackerman for her comments.

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Comments (3)

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on September 7, 2011 6:34 pm

Kristen Graham trivialized this letter, but I think Vallas makes a few solid points. There was a point where his team was looting schools for art they planned to sell off, so it's facile to claim his budgets were healthy, but they were 10 times healthier than Ackerman's. He also made a huge contribution to the district in the establishment of a district-wide core curriculum with a planning and scheduling timeline. In a district where 30 percent of students move from one school to another during the course of the year, this simply can't be underestimated.

I'm no fan of Vallas - he recently mentioned he'd cut teachers' salaries, if he could, to 2007 levels (another millionaire eager to hammer the middle class). But he did not leave the catastrophe described by Ackerman - and certainly didn't do as much damage.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 8, 2011 2:26 pm

Sadly one of Ackerman's initiatives was to dismantle the Core Curriculum. In place she put in scripted instruction in the Empowerment schools and took out Social Studies and Science from large parts of the school year.

What will be lasting from the Ackerman years has yet to be determined. Right now, the best thing seems to be this hyped up video. The rest is a train wreck.

Submitted by Phila. Teacher (not verified) on September 10, 2011 1:29 pm

Shame on you, Ackerman, for taking the additional money that the troubled school district had to give you in lieu of the broken commitment from the anonymous donors. And shame on the donors for backing out of the deal. If the agreement was not to speak disparagingly about district administrators, the deal should have been off, instead of excusing this greedy woman who caused a lot of unhappiness among our employees, not to mention what we have to deal with in her aftermath.

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