It was, as one parent described it later, a "love fest" - people waving signs and declaring their support of Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

The outpouring came at yesterday's School Reform Commission meeting, where a state representative and several parents spoke glowingly of Ackerman, who in the last month has taken heat for her handling of racial violence at South Philadelphia High.

"We all need to follow your leadership," Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D., Phila.) told the commission. "I'm very satisfied with the direction that you're taking the school district in."

Parent Autumn Hall was unequivocal.

"I will tell anybody that's getting in your way that they're either going your way, or get out of the way," Hall told Ackerman in her testimony. "I believe that you have done a remarkable job. You need to be rewarded for accomplishing many things that others did not do."

Commissioners took no votes at the meeting, held for planning purposes, and the parents spoke during the public portion.

About 10 held signs that said, "We support our superintendent" and "There is only one leader: Arlene C. Ackerman."

Many of the speakers said they had taken classes at Parent University, which offers free courses to district parents as part of the superintendent's Imagine 2014 strategic plan.

"Not to turn this into a Dr. Ackerman rally, but . . . I do love Dr. Ackerman," testified Hydiya Brown, whose son attends Lea Elementary.

Brown credited Ackerman with making schools much more accessible for parents and giving them new opportunities to get involved.

"We were just sick of the rumors and the negativity," Brown said in an interview after the meeting. She said she was referring to speculation that Ackerman was on her way out of the district. "Dr. Ackerman has built a bridge between the parents and the schools. I'm proud of her."

Ackerman has denied rumors that she will soon depart Philadelphia. She has said she plans to stay at least five years.

Some have criticized Ackerman for being slow and defensive in responding to the Dec. 3 beating of about 30 Asian students by groups of mostly African American students.

The conflicts at South Philadelphia High sparked a call for more diversity training for staff and students. The commission yesterday heard details of a proposal it will vote on next week to spend up to $225,000 on diversity awareness training.

If approved, the contract will go to Prime Directive Consulting Group, a Philadelphia management consulting firm run by Yvette Hyater-Adams.

The money would pay for a pilot program for district employees and at South Philadelphia High. Eventually, all district employees would receive the diversity training.

Accompanied by their principal, three members of the school's Student Ambassador group spoke out at the meeting, angry, they said, by the media portrayal of their school.

"I've been a student at Southern all four years," said Evan Riddick, a senior. "From my experience, it's not a bad school."

Riddick defended South Philadelphia principal LaGreta Brown, who has also taken heat over the racial incidents. Brown is the school's third principal in four years.

Brown stands outside the building every day, welcoming students, Riddick said. She has helped students bond.

"The faculty as well as the students refuse to let one incident derail our momentum," said Riddick.

Amina Velazquez asked reporters to leave her school alone.

"You guys have made our school and our students sound like a bunch of wild kids running around, and that's not the case," Velazquez said.

The scrutiny of her school hurts, Velazquez said.

"We haven't been able to concentrate on our classwork," she said.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or