Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ackerman sets course, names aides

Incoming Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman got right down to business yesterday, outlining the priorities for her first 100 days and naming two executives to her team.

Incoming Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman got right down to business yesterday, outlining the priorities for her first 100 days and naming two executives to her team.

Appearing at a meeting during which the School Reform Commission adopted a $2.3 billion budget, Ackerman introduced Michael Masch as her chief business officer.

Masch, who will earn $220,000, is the state's budget secretary and a former commission member. Gov. Rendell has long advocated Masch's appointment, but Ackerman said the deal was sealed when she met with Masch herself.

"You couldn't find a better person to deal with the numbers," Ackerman said.

She also named Tomas Hanna to the $180,000 post of chief of school operations. Hanna, who had been a teacher, principal, and vice president for human resources in Philadelphia, will return from Providence, R.I., where he was a deputy superintendent.

Ackerman, who is shaking up the organizational structure of the district, said she would wait to fill her third cabinet post, that of chief academic officer. With her background in instruction, she plans to do the job herself for about six months, until she finds the right person.

Cassandra Jones, interim chief academic officer, recently announced her resignation.

Ackerman also announced that the district regional superintendents would report directly to her, and that the number of those superintendents would expand from eight to 12 so each one can focus on fewer schools.

Ackerman disclosed the moves in announcing her early priorities as the district's chief executive officer, a job she officially starts on Monday.

In a presentation she titled "Reclaiming Our Youth . . . One Student at a Time," Ackerman said she wanted to flatten the district's bureaucracy, put more focus on schools, promote fiscal accountability, and hold all adults accountable.

"Everybody will have performance targets they have to meet," she said.

She also intends to streamline the district's bureaucracy and make offices more customer-friendly.

"In just the short time I've been here, I've found it's really hard to get things done. That's not OK," she said.

Between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., parents and members of the public should be able to call the district and talk to a real person, not get voice mail, she said. They should be able to come into district offices before or after work.

Ackerman, who comes to Philadelphia with experience leading the Washington and San Francisco school districts, said she would also pay attention to resource allocation, making sure funds are distributed equitably.

"Equitable doesn't mean equal," she said. "Some schools need more than others."

She said she would also focus on ensuring that members of the public got their say.

"I am committed to making sure that there is transparency, and that people get a voice," Ackerman said. "That doesn't mean you always get what you want."

At her request, the commission passed resolutions to spend $70,000 to hire a firm to lobby Harrisburg on the district's behalf and lay out $60,000 for professional development for the commission over two years.

Rendell praised Ackerman's appointment of Masch, calling him a "key player" in the five years he has served in the governor's administration. Masch, 57, also served as budget director from 1991 to 1996, when Rendell was Philadelphia mayor.

"No large urban district can achieve progress without strong fiscal discipline and a creative approach to seemingly intractable problems. Mike has these qualities and more to offer to the school district," Rendell said. Rendell has not named a replacement. Masch will remain in his state post through the end of June to oversee state budget negotiations.