The Philadelphia Inquirer has been doing some interesting investigative reporting, trying to flesh out the story of how a highly regarded School Reform Commissioner, Heidi Ramirez, came to an unexpected decision to resign this week.
Lost in the hubbub yesterday caused by the resignation of School Reform Commission member Heidi Ramirez were signals from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman that she is taking a more conciliatory tone in negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Heidi Ramirez announced her resignation from the School Reform Commission Wednesday. Over the last two years, Ramirez has been the most active of all the commissioners. At SRC meetings she has continually asked tough questions about the budget, the strategic plan, and hiring practices. These questions often put her in conflict with Dr. Ackerman.
I believe that asking tough questions is a responsibility of SRC members. This is not because I have a problem with the administration.
A letter sent today to Gov. Rendell by eight local Latino leaders in Philadelphia urges the governor to ask Heidi Ramirez to stay on the SRC. The letter was sent from the Norris Square Civic Association and signed by directors of organizations including Youth United for Change, ASPIRA, and Esperanza
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.
We've received confirmation that Commissioner Heidi Ramirez will resign during the SRC meeting taking place this afternoon.
Updates will be posted as they become available.
While there are not yet any public comments from officials on this news, a number of education advocates have expressed consternation at the report of Heidi Ramirez's expected resignation from the School Reform Commission.
"This is a terrible loss for both the School District and the citizenry of Philadelphia," said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. "Heidi was the best appointment that anyone could remember."
Sources inside and outside the District have informed me that School Reform Commissioner Heidi Ramirez will announce her intention to resign from the SRC. The announcement is expected this afternoon when the SRC convenes.
The announcement follows months of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s public critiques and complaints about Ramirez’s inquiries into areas such as the budget and contracts. It also follows Gov. Rendell’s decision in the spring to put Ramirez’s re-nomination in limbo and open angling by Harrisburg legislators to get Republican representation on the SRC. One can only guess that Ramirez, whom Governor Rendell once praised as “the most qualified” member of the SRC for her education background, got little backing from state or city officials.
And that bodes poorly for future oversight of the District.
3:10 p.m. District spokesperson confirms Commissioner Ramirez will resign soon during today's SRC meeting.
6 p.m. Fighting back tears, Heidi Ramirez resigns, saying her educational vision is now "inconsistent" with that of the District. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman notably waited to be the last person to stand in acknowledging Commissioner Ramirez and rolled her eyes before standing. Read her resignation letter and the text of her public statement.
But the story continues. State legislators and the Philadelphia City Controller held a news conference today stating that shutting down the Safe Schools Advocate office is illegal. They say the office is legally mandated and, by closing the office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is in violation of the law.
According to a letter to PFT members from President Jerry Jordan, the School District has presented a 16-page list of new contract proposals that, in Jordan’s words would “weaken your voices in your schools…, limit your professional opportunities and leave many of you without the most basic protections our union contract now affords.”
The Notebook itself was in the news this week, in a New York Times Magazine article about the newspaper industry in Philly. Read about the Notebook's role in the shifting media landscape here. Editor Paul Socolar's alma mater picked up on the Magazine article in its blog and posted an interview with him.
Lots of news from this week's SRC meeting:
The School District presented a report to the SRC and the public on its latest test score results on August 12 and highlighted a seventh consecutive year of gains in both reading and math scores on the PSSA exam. However, Superintendent Ackerman focused her remarks on how far the District has to go and on the continuing racial achievement gaps, passing up an opportunity to applaud District teachers, whose union contract expires this month.
Milton Friedman said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Well, in Philadelphia schools, many students are able to get a lunch that is free, but not necessarily one that is healthy. The poor state of nutrition in school cafeterias should not only be alarming for advocates of health, but for advocates of quality, equitable education as well.
Without wholesome, nutritious food, our students are not able to perform to their academic potential. The lack of quality food in our schools has a direct impact on how well (or poorly) our youth can focus, study, learn, socialize, grow, and develop.
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold
We can build a new world on the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us Strong
At a time when the labor movement has bled membership and unions are hard pressed to defend the gains made in earlier years, the radical optimism of this old labor hymn seems badly out of place. But, as I will argue in this and future posts, the vision of unionism as an instrument of social transformation retains its relevance.
It has found expression in the ranks of teacher unionism, as activists grapple with how to respond to the crisis in public education and the simultaneous attacks on teacher unions.
No, not that one (he'll be here in October anyway). Tony Danza.
Next week the SRC will decide if Tony Danza can film a reality TV show in a Philly public high school.
Should A&E be allowed to develop another reality show in Philadelphia? Would it be a distraction, something lampooning the Philly schools, or an opportunity to shine a light on an actual urban classroom and not just its movie equivalent?