Let me make this very clear: There is no unofficial confirmation — and certainly no official confirmation — of what is, essentially, nothing more than speculation. However, it's speculation shared by virtually — heck, maybe literally — every source CP's spoken with for weeks now. That, we think, makes it news.
When the schools open back up this September, say these sources, they expect that Superintendent Arelene Ackerman will be long gone.
Even as the District prepares to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, and even as the city is poised to vote tomorrow on funding that may set the stage for other, bigger political decisions about the schools — amidst all this, no one in the know seems to believe Ackerman will stick around.
If she were to leave, it would mean that she wouldn't herself oversee the implementation, or potential consequences, of hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the District's budget — cuts she's nonetheless apportioning now, and which, at least to some extent, seem aimed at preserving some of her own initiatives.
Prior to taking over Philadelphia's schools, Ackerman spent three years as the superintendent of Washington, D.C.'s schools, and six years in charge of San Francisco's school district. She left that post amid controversy over her leadership, with the Board of Education approving the invocation of a "compatibility clause," — she and the Board were incompatible, in other words — which allowed her to walk away with an additional $375,000.
Notebook writer Helen Gym points out on Young Philly Politics that the Districts budget sets aside $8M in contracts that don't need School Reform Commission approval — a scenario that, she argues, gives Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman non-transparent powers over school funds, despite the recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between the District and the city administration.
It’s pretty stunning to me that the District continues unchallenged with this type of behavior and rhetoric. No one wants to micromanage, but $8 million is an amount equal to the base salaries of more than 100 teachers. In a week where thousands of District employees lost their jobs, it's hard to imagine the District would have the decency to ask for an $8 million set aside without any sort of review.
One would think that the crippling deficit, a federal IRS investigation and outcries from city and state officials about the District’s poor financial management would put a stop to such shenanigans. But apparently not.
That's just the beginning of her critique, which goes on to list several resolutions on the docket for Monday that involve unspecified and vague contracting expenses.
Ackerman named "top urban school leader," one day after students testify, again, to growing patterns of school violence
Schools Superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman was presented last night with the Richard R. Green award by the the Council of Great City Schools, a nonprofit of which â as Philebrity points out today â she formerly served as Chair of the board.
Executive Director Michael Casserly called Ackerman "one of the best big-city school superintendents in the country, and ... most worthy of the nation's highest individual award in urban education."
The news comes the day after students from West Philadelphia High School testified before the School Reform Commission that they've seen violence increase in their school over the past three years - since, they say, Ackerman reassigned a popular principal. The school has had three new principals this year.
This isn't, by a long shot, the first time the District's response to school violence has come under fire. There was, of course, the District's response to attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School â and its subsequent attempts to pin some blame on one of the victims; there were the recent attacks on Asian students at Bok High School â in which the District was quick to dismiss racial motivations; and there was the issuing of a vague report by the District's Racial and Cultural Harmony Task force â a task force convened under Ackerman's leadership â which included such suggestions as having students wear "dresses/costumes native to their cultures."
On Wednesday, the Notebook's Benjamin Herold reported that some students and teachers now fear reprisals for speaking out about violence and leadership at West Philly High. He cites one anonymous teacher saying:
âI would characterize [District officials'] tone regarding speaking to the press as threatening and their follow-up actions as vindictive,â said one veteran teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
Asian students and activists held a press conference in Chinatown today to discuss their reaction to the reported findings by the U.S. Department of Justice that their claims of systemic racial injustice at South Philadelphia High School had merit.
They also used the opportunity to talk about aspirations and concerns for the coming year at SPHS, after last year's episodes of racial violence directed mainly at Asian immigrant students, who make up about 17% of the school.
"What we don't want to see is a lot of broad proclamations," said Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United and (among other things) a member of South Philadelphai High School Asian Student Advocates (SASA).
In particular, Gym mentioned Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's recent announcement of a "zero tolerance" policy toward violence at SPHS.
Such a policy, Gym argues â "Simply to expel [students] if they break the rules," doesn't make up for what the group really wants: ongoing dialogue between District and school officials and community members (Ackerman initially refused to meet with students or their advocates following last December's attacks, and former principal LeGretta Brown failed to appear at meetings before the incident to discuss racial violence).
And one wonders: is a "zero tolerance" policy really the best tool for a District that handled the last outbreak of violence by punishing a student who was himself the victim of an attack?
Meanwhile, SASA is helping make sure incoming freshmen students feel supported: students Wei Chen, Bach Tong, and Duong-Nghe Ly (right to left above) said today that the group is holding self-styled orientations for incoming Asian immigrant students.
|Courtesy of Google Cached|
|This is a screen grab of Marc Hummel's former website, which prompted the
Hussian School of Art to sue the ex-student for $150,000.
Last week, I wrote a piece about Marc Hummel, an ex-student at Old City's Hussian School of Art who made a website negatively reviewing the school, which prompted Hussian to sue him for $150,000 (over defamation and trademark infringement charges), but which Hummel claimed was simply fair critique:
The Hussian School of Art sued Hummel, a current Rutgers student and coffee shop employee, for $150,000. On the surface, this looks to be what's known as a SLAPP suit, or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which large companies hush critics by threatening them with defense costs and court battles. Twenty-seven states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted some sort of anti-SLAPP legislation.
Hussian emphatically denies that it's a SLAPP suit, but it doesn't matter, anyway. In Pennsylvania, the anti-SLAPP law applies only to environmental cases.
(If you go to his site now, you'll see that he took down the review, and it's home to only his résumé and artistic endeavors.)
As of press time, Hummel and Hussian were still negotiating the terms of a settlement, and nothing had been signed yet. The Clog just got word from Hussian director Bruce Wartman, however, that the school and Hummel have officially reached a settlement outside of court. Though he won't go into details about it, we do know for certain, at least, that Hummel won't be owing anyone $150K.
It's probably safe to say he won't be putting his review back up anytime soon, either.
"They're tired of funerals every year, and prayer services and who they know that died. So this is taking a stand and letting our young people know this is what they got to do, they got to be about something, stand for something," Sister Nancy Fitzgerald, principal of Saint Martin de Porres, says of her students.
In brightly colored T-shirts identifying their schools, hundreds of children from the five North Philadelphia Catholic schools raised awareness of the violence that plagues their neighborhoods in a flash mob for peace this afternoon. For about 20 minutes, the children held up signs that read Peace and We want peace now, while chanting, P-E-A-C-E, and What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now! Predictable, perhaps, but well meaning.
Teachers and parents from Saint Martin de Porres, Visitation B.V.M., Ascension, Saint Hugh and LaSalle Academy cheered and smiled in support while cars driving past the area honked wildly and the police monitoring the protest sounded their sirens in a show of support. The kids chanted, "P-E-A-C-E," and "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"
This is Stand Across Lehigh, a spinoff of Hands Across Lehigh Walkathon. It's a flash mob for peace, says Fitzgerald. "We hear enough about young people maybe doing things they shouldn't be doing. This is a Catholic school flash mob for peace, along Lehigh Avenue. We're very proud of our young people. And let's have peace in Philadelphia.
The children were visibly enthusiastic, screaming and waving down passers-by. They are excited about it. They want to do something positive, and we give them a channel and they run with it. Because that's what they want, Fitzgerald says.
Says Saint Martin de Porres seventh grader Chris Nelson, Today we're really chanting for peace," Nelson says. "My grandma died and my cousin died in drive-bys and stuff like that. I don't like my family dying."
|Photo | Isaiah Thompson|
|Luu's grandmother asked the District to clear the student's name|
The Inquirer reports this morning that the School District has cleared the name of Hao Luu, the student implicated by District officials in having played a role in provoking the Dec. 3 attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School, and whose story City Paper broke Wednesday (in our cover story, Luu is referred to as "Guy").
The District had suspended and then attempted to transfer out Luu, citing a single report taken from individuals who Luu says had confronted him, and not vice-versa. Later, officials accused Luu of being in a gang.
Reports the Inquirer:
City school district officials formally acknowledged yesterday that 17-year-old Hao Luu was not connected to a street gang - an allegation that was used to ban him from South Philadelphia High.
Evelyn Sample-Oates, the district's vice president for communications, said a letter had been placed in Luu's file to acknowledge his innocence and clear his name of the charge.
"If there's any wrongdoing on the school district's part," she said, promising a full review, "we certainly will apologize to him and his family."
The district, at the request of the School Reform Commission, will examine the actions and decisions that led to Luu's suspension and ban from the school, which was convulsed by racial violence Dec. 3.
Good news to Luu and his family, no doubt and, frankly, to us here at City Paper, as well.
But ... did I just read that the District's handling of this is being examined by ... the District?
Grandmother tesifies that School District officials unfairly painted Hao Luu as an aggressor - when he was in fact a victim.
|Suong Nguyen wants Hao's name cleared.|
At Wednesday's School Reform Commission meeting, Suong Nguyen, the grandmother of Hao Luu or "Guy," as you might know him from this week's cover story testified before the Commission that her grandson had been unfairly accused of being a gang member and aggressor in the events culminating in the Dec. 3 attacks on Asian students, and was pushed out of the school after complaining that he himself was attacked the day before.
You can read the details of Hao Luu's case in this week's cover storty, "It's Your Fault." In a nutshell: Shortly after the Dec 3 attacks on more than twenty Asian student by mostly black students, District officials began casting the whole thing as "retaliation" for a prior incident, in which a disabled black student was allegedly beaten up by an Asian student. They also announced that four Asian students had been suspended, giving further credence to the idea of a two-way conflict. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman also said that gang influences may have been involved.
But the bulk of this alternative version of events rests on the disciplinary action taken against one Vietnamese student, Hao Luu, who reported that he himself was attacked after school, by mostly black students, the day before. The day his grandmother reported the attack to school officials, Luu was suspended on the basis of an incident report based, in turn, on the testimony of two students who were detained by police after, Luu says, confronting him in the hallway earlier that day.
When his suspension ended, the school attempted to transfer Luu to a disciplinary school - on the same charges. When Luu's family appeared for a transfer hearing, District officials did not, and the transfer was overturned - only to be replaced by another transfer request, which the school later dropped. Hao's family finally enrolled him in a private school.
Nguyen asked the board yesterday that "Hao's reputation be restored."
Interestingly, the accusation that Hao Luu might be involved with gangs seems to have come (based on my own reporting) primarily from one school official, Community Coordinator Wali Smith, who also advised District officials that Luu would not be "safe" at SPHS.
Smith declined to talk to me at the SRC meeting a week ago, but gave the Daily News an interesting quote yesterday:
"[Luu] is playing this part that he's an innocent guy," he said.
"Everybody knows if he went in there tomorrow, they would go after him."
But what does that mean? In one sentence, he seems to question Luu's "innocence" even though no evidence has been produced linking Luu to any attack, let alone the alleged attack on a "disabled" black student (Several SPHS kids told me outside the school that the attack had occured, but that it had taken place on the subway platform. There are no accounts of Hao Luu's having anything to do with any incident in the subway).
In the next sentence, though, he suggests that "they," black students? "would go after him."
Maybe it's just one of those funny quotes, but it almost seems as if Smith is saying, "Maybe he's guilty, or maybe he's a walking target, but either way, he doesn't belong at SPHS."
An odd way of looking at things for a school community liason, no?
|Asian-American Community Advocates comfort a tearful Suong Nguyen|
In this week's A Million Stories, we explored the messy Webcam scandal that's going down at Lower Merion School District. The district insists that it only peered through students' Webcams in order to find lost or stolen laptops, and did so using a security software called LANrev. Insanely enough, Douglas Young, the district's spokesperson, told us that it wasn't the only school district using such software: "The software feature isn't just utilized in this school district," says Young. "It's utilized by other school districts and organizations." (He said he couldn't name any offhand.)
Dude wasn't kidding. Young might be onto something. In the thoroughly creepy clip above from the PBS documentary Digital Nation, the assistant principal of Bronx's middle school IS 339, Daniel Ackerman, shows exactly how he can watch kids through their Webcams what software or application he does it with, though, is unclear. Just wait for the part where he says, "They don't even realize that we're watching." Oy. Also: "I always like to mess with them and take their [Photo Booth] picture."
Now, it's unclear if Ackerman watches students from their homes, which is what Lower Merion is accused of doing, but still the students don't even realize he's watching them? Seriously, he thought that was OK? Be sure to watch this clip on PBS' site, too (it's under part four). Not only is the doc great in general, but the reporter (whose face is obscured in the YouTube video) has an absolutely stunned, unamused look on her face as Ackerman is laughing about the whole thing.
UPDATE: I wasn't clear enough earlier about whether or not Ackerman was using LANrev to view these students indeed, from this clip, it's impossible to know.
RELATED: Inky: Laptop family lives in Main Line mansion, doesnt like to pay the power bill
RELATED: So, um, did the kid make it up?
RELATED: Breaking: Lower Merion School District admits it's used Webcam "security feature" more than once
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