Sayre High freshman Tykia Hicks says she has no textbooks to take home, and that troubles Arlene Ackerman, Philadelphia's schools chief.

At a School Reform Commission meeting last night, Hicks asked officials to help.

She said the books she does have are marked up, and because each class has only one set, she can't take the texts home. That makes homework and projects tough. Sayre's library, shuttered for two years, was recently reopened, but its book supply is poor, she said.

"We respectfully demand our books and materials," said Hicks.

A frustrated Ackerman said she would look into the matter beginning today, asking for an accounting of how each school has spent its textbook money. One of her top priorities over the summer was making sure every school had enough books to go around, she said.

"Every year, this is a big issue," Ackerman said. "We spend millions of dollars, and where are the textbooks?"

Ackerman acknowledged that a tight budget limited what the district could spend on books and said that in some cases, a single classroom set was all schools could afford. The goal will be to work toward buying books for all students to take home.

In other business, with a nod from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission last night, the school district added two new executives.

Estelle Matthews, an executive at Wachovia Bank, will become chief talent development officer. She will be paid $180,000.

The appointment is a key one, as the district struggles with a high number of teacher vacancies - more than 100 classrooms are not staffed by permanent teachers.

Other big-city school districts, including New York and Chicago, opened their school years with no teacher vacancies.

Matthews will also be charged with teacher-retention efforts. She will report to Ackerman. Previously, the chief school executive was not directly responsible for the human-resources chief. Experts in teacher recruitment recommend such a move.

"We are happy to have someone of her caliber join the school district," Ackerman said.

The commission also approved the hiring of Benjamin Rayer as associate superintendent for charter schools.

A former president and chief operating officer of Mastery Charter Schools, he will be paid $150,000 annually in the newly created job.

Ackerman said Rayer's "wealth of experience" would help the district implement charter school oversight and support.

In other business, the district formally launched a strategic planning process that will map the course through 2014. A document is expected early next year.

The plan will encompass the opinions of thousands who will speak up in committees, community meetings and focus groups. It is meant to address things the district is doing well, and the ways in which it's failing, including problems in the fiscal accountability system, uneven supports to schools, and poor communication between departments.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-856-5146 or