We’re in the dark as much as everyone else about the 21 benchmarks on which Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was recently evaluated by her bosses at the School Reform Commission and awarded a $65,000 performance bonus. The continued unwillingness of Ackerman and the SRC to disclose the criteria on which she was rated is baffling. The public has a right to know what the expectations of the city’s educational leader are, even if the details of her rating are private.

It is disturbing that the SRC reportedly found the superintendent to have exceeded all her benchmarks, even in the face of an ongoing fiasco at South Philadelphia High School and Ackerman’s failure to listen and respond with empathy to the Asian students’ experience of prejudice and violence.

Given what is known about the importance of strong school leadership, one of those 21 benchmarks should be about recruiting, supporting, and maintaining top-notch principals and administrators. On such a benchmark, Ackerman’s performance to date would fall short.

Perhaps the most troubling element of the South Philadelphia situation is that the District failed to adequately vet LaGreta Brown for the position of principal at such a challenging school. A candidate who wasn’t fully certified and had been run out of Atlantic City with a trail of bad press should never have been put before any school hiring committee.

No recent superintendent here has treated the issue of school leadership with the urgency it deserves.  The District would do well to study the example of Atlanta, an improving urban district, where Superintendent Beverly Hall has created an exemplary program that recruits talented aspiring principals and turns out high-quality instructional leaders.  Without such leaders, stories like South Philadelphia’s are likely to continue to haunt us. 


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