School & District Management

Former Philadelphia Superintendent Vallas Fires Back at Negative Portrayal

By Christina A. Samuels — September 06, 2011 1 min read
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Call this A Tale of Two Philadelphia Superintendents. Was it the best of times, or worst of times?

After Arlene Ackerman resigned as superintendent of Philadelphia schools earlier this year, she launched a Youtube channel that included a laudatory video she said was meant as an opening to her back-to-school rallying speech for school principals.

Ackerman ditched that video, instead deciding to enter the auditorium to the strains of “Is It a Crime” by soul singer Sade and delivering a defiant speech. “Is it a crime to stand up for children instead of stooping down into the political sandbox and selling our children for a politician’s victory?” she told the crowd Aug. 18. Five days later, she was out.

But now former Superintendent Paul Vallas, Ackerman’s direct predecessor, said he takes exception to the idea that Ackerman walked into a district in disarray in 2008 and turned everything around. In an emailed letter to Education Week, he lists his own record of achievement.

“I’m not making comments about one person’s record. I just feel an obligation to defend mine, and that of my team,” Vallas told me before he was to board a plane to Haiti. He served in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2007 and then worked as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana before resigning early this year to work on rebuilding schools in Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from last year’s earthquakes

Some choice quotes from the letter, which claims the video takes “major liberties with the truth":

Ackerman inherited a budget that was balanced, and had been for two years prior to her arrival." "In addition to leaving the district financially healthy in 2007, my team left the district with a fully funded $1.7 billion school construction program." "Dr. Ackerman inherited a district where high school test scores had risen for five consecutive years upon her arrival." "Dr. Ackerman inherited a system that included the nearly 60 new charter schools we opened and provided with unprecedented support."

Today was the first day of school in the 155,000-student district, and it’s safe to say that there is some controversy fatigue, particularly after Ackerman launched a media offensive after her resignation that included an interview with Education Week and Philadelphia media outlets, blaming political maneuvering for her ouster.

But Vallas said he’s not trying to stir up any more problems. “This is the age of the Internet. When something goes out unresponded to, then it kind of takes on a life of its own.”

I have a call in to Ackerman for her comments.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.