If not Ackerman, who?

    In today’s Daily News It’s Our Money columnist Phil Goldsmith makes a compelling case that Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has to go. It’s not a hard argument to make, mind you, but Goldsmith hits all the salient points.

    And I like his point that it takes more than an educator to run the school system:

    “The job involves more than academics. It involves overseeing logistics like food services, transportation, facilities management, safety, and dealing with a multitude of unions and stakeholders of different colors, languages and political persuasions. And, of course, it requires sound fiscal management.”

    Money has always been a critical issue for the schools, and if you can run its operations in a way that saves cash, you have more for education programs.

    But let me pose another question:

    Who do you get to do this job well?

    I’ve covered this city for close to 30 years now, and I’ve seen one promising school superintendent after another arrive with strong pedigrees, high hopes and big plans, only to be get eased out after he or she was judged inadequate to the task.

    In the 1980’s it was Connie Clayton, passionate about kids and a formidable player in both education and politics.

    In the 1990’s it was David Hornbeck, a nationally-respected education reformer with a messianic commitment to his work. His plan to radically transform the school system at staggering cost ultimately foundered on fiscal realities and his own political ineptitude.

    And in the last decade we recruited Paul Vallas, a national education star who’d reportedly done amazing things in Chicago. The district’s finances fell apart, and he got the heave-ho.

    There were others in between, including Goldsmith himself for a stretch.

    Most superintendents claimed kids were making demonstrated progress, but needed more money.

    I don’t know anyone who’s solved the urban education dilemma – how you deal with a school system largely abandoned by a city’s middle class, disproportionately stocked with kids from poor and sometimes dysfunctional families.

    I don’t want to be cynical about it. It’s critically important, and leadership really matters. If you have a brilliant idea or the perfect candidate, let me know.

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