The firing of Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the million dollar buy-out of her contract, which had only recently been extended, followed by the resignation of two of the four remaining members of the School Reform Commission, leaves the governance of the Philadelphia School District in shambles.
While Governor Corbett has one appointment to the SRC awaiting confirmation by the State Senate, and Mayor Nutter has appointed Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett to fill one of his two vacancies, it’s not clear if those changes will be sufficient to change the character of the School Reform Commission from the complacent, business-as-usual club it has become.
Former SRC member and public education reformer Heidi Ramirez gave us early warning that all was not well with Superintendent Ackerman and the School Reform Commission. During her tenure on the SRC from 2007 to 2009, the founding director of the Urban Education Collaborative at Temple University, was the SRC’s most active, vocal, and engaged member.
She was often the only member of the SRC to react to major policy shifts or million dollar contracts or emotional testimony. Her questions triggered open hostility from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman who clearly preferred a board that did not ask questions. And the appointing authorities, Governor Rendell and Mayor Nutter, chose to support Ackerman.
In 2009, unable to obtain information or cooperation from Ackerman, and without support from either the Mayor or the Governor, who had let it be known that she would not be re-appointed, Heidi Ramirez resigned from the SRC. Now all her concerns about the failures of leadership of the Philadelphia School District have been proven correct.
And where is Heidi Ramirez now? In 2010 she was appointed chief academic officer of the Milwaukee Public Schools in Wisconsin’s largest city. Philadelphia’s loss, Milwaukee’s gain.