With the situation becoming increasingly untenable, Ackerman faced it head-on Thursday in a speech to district principals. She publicly challenged school board members to "sentence me ... or set me free" in what many saw as an unannounced farewell speech.
She entered the room to Sade's song "Is It A Crime?" – which became the theme of her remarks. She also read Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise": "You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I rise."
Ackerman then referred to the past year as "full of lots of challenge and controversy for me" and said her crime was to put children first.
That must have been some show.
She seemed to be a constant lighting rod for controversy but:
She is credited with continuing the district's rise in test scores – a streak now at nine years – as well as lowering class sizes in primary grades, creating a parent-outreach program and launching an initiative to transform chronically failing schools through staff overhauls or conversion to charter schools.
But critics called her "Queen Arlene," saying she was polarizing, autocratic and overpaid; her $348,000 salary was twice what Nutter makes. The district's $664 million budget gap this year – due in part to massive reductions in state and federal aid – led to thousands of pink slips and program cuts.
She drew criticism for a no-bid contract for school surveillance cameras, for her bungled handling of racial violence at a high school and for a high-profile dispute with a teacher who questioned Ackerman's decision to turn a district school into a charter.
That bungled handling of racial violence at a high school led to a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department against the district, saying the district had acted with "deliberate indifference."
So what's so spooky? There are a large number of parallels to MGJ and SPS:
- Ackerman worked in SPS under John Stanford as some kind of administrator.
- Both MGJ and Ackerman were said to be involved in racial politics.
- Both had their contracts bought out under stressful conditions.
- Both alienated the teachers unions.
- Both had their contracts extended before things blew up. (A point here is that while MGJ surely could have been exited for "just cause", it would not have helped any court case if the Board had just extended her contract.)
- Both had issues with contracts for minority companies.
- Both were criticized for their autocratic management styles.
- Both were gone when things turned sour. (At least Ackerman did end up being there when it ended unlike MGJ who made her exit early and didn't have to face anyone.)