Three up, three down – superintendent-saviors falter in Philly

First, there was the finger-wagging professor from Kentucky.

And we ran him out of town.

Then came the hyperactive wheeler-dealer from Chicago.

And we ran him out of town.

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Most recently, we endured the divisive diva from San Francisco.

And last week a weary Philadelphia school system paid dearly to get Arlene Ackerman to take her narcissitic act somewhere else.

Three superintendent-saviors riding into town on white steeds; three skulking out not a long while later, amid recriminations.

David Hornbeck, the scold from Kentucky, had much in common, in philosophy if not style, with Ackerman. Each took as their chief task saving the poor minority children whom city schools have ritually and cruelly failed. Each was impatient, to the point of insulting, with anyone who sought to talk about any other legitimate goal of urban public education.

Paul Vallas, whose ADD and paranoia offset his innovative brio, had a fuller and, I think, wiser sense of mission. He cared about poor kids, but also was eager for educated, tax-paying parents to view the city schools as a viable option. He knew that if such people feel no stake in the city system, support and resources will dry up.

And, in the long run, that ill serves poor kids who remain stuck in that system.

Ackerman differed. She made it brutally clear that she was first and foremost the champion of poor black students, and everyone else could pretty much shift for themselves.

Now, poor black students surely need a champion, but not such a politically inept and self-aggrandizing one as Arlene Ackerman.

Just like an errant pol wrapping himself in the flag, Ackerman seeks to excuse her many blunders by styling herself as lonely defender of the oppressed.

But I fail to see how her touted reforms differed in any major way from those pursued by Vallas.

In her wake, she leaves an aroma of grandiosity and greed.

What next?

Well, why don’t we try something different?

Why not try worrying less about the personality and policy notions of the district’s inevitably overmatched top dog? Why not first ask ourselves two questions:

What are we trying to achieve with public education in this town?

How can we get the entire community to see its stake in achieving those goals?

If we don’t demand better, bolder answers to those questions, it won’t matter who the next superintendent is.

Please feel free to share your answers to those two questions in the comment space below.

You can follow me on Twitter @ChrisSatullo.

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