Nunery: Stay the course on Philly school reforms

The Philadelphia schools’ new acting superintendent says the school district intends to continue the reforms of ousted leader Arlene Ackerman, who resigned on Monday in a cloud of controversy about her $905,000 buyout package.  

“I think this is a year for us to consolidate what gains we have,” Leroy Nunery, named interim leader on Tuesday, said. “We’re trying to present the prudent course of action and extend what good work has already been done.

Nunery said in an interview that his immediate focus is on making sure schools open seamlessly on Sept. 6. 

Questions continue to swirl about the $905,000 buyout given to Ackerman, which ended weeks of rumors and rallies about her possible departure.

State Auditor General Jack Wagner said on Tuesday he intends to investigate the payment, which included $500,000 in public money, with the rest coming from as yet-unnamed private donors.

With the start of school just two weeks away, Nunery said the School District needs to restore trust and rebuild relationships with those turned off by the recent controversy.

“I think its very clear that the District has gone through a lot in the last several weeks and months,” he said. “We’ve got to restore confidence in public education.”

The opening of school, always a complicated dance in a system with unpredictable school populations and an ever-changing roster of teachers, will be particularly tough this year. This summer saw more than 2,000 layoffs of district personnel and other turnover that has left 556 teaching positions as-yet-unfilled.

The School Reform Commission votes Wednesday whether to approve Ackerman’s buyout package.

Nunery was tangentially involved in one of the controversies last school year that sapped some trust in the schools: the sudden reversals and closed-door meetings about the future of Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Northwest Philadelphia. Nunery was present at one of the key meetings where state Rep. Dwight Evans pushed for a firm he favored to get the charter school contract over the choice of an volunteer advisory panel.

Mayor Nutter has begun an investigation into the sequence of events, which involved the withdrawal of a company that had been tabbed to operate King as a charter school.  Nunery declined to comment on the King situation, noting that Nutter’s probe is not finished.

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