ARLENE ACKERMAN hasn't officially started as the school district's chief executive officer, but her power-point presentation at this week's School Reform Commission meeting revealed her vision for the district, and priorities for her first 100 days.
We liked some of the specifics Ackerman mentioned: She plans to add regional superintendents so schools get more attention. She will allocate resources to schools more equitably. She also acknowledged how hard it is to get things done in the district, so we hope, especially on behalf of parents, that she can streamline the bureaucracy.
Her announcements that Michael Masch and Tomas Hanna were coming home to be the district's chief business officer and chief of school operations, respectively, deserve praise.
For months, it's been increasingly - and excruciatingly - clear that the district's spending needs much better oversight. Masch, secretary of the state budget, was a former city budget director and SRC member, has a solid reputation as a good numbers man. The district sorely needs Masch's expertise to bring fiscal reality and accountability to the $2.3 billion 2008-2009 budget.
During her surprise presentation this week, Ackerman outlined some of her own ideas. such as "Build a world-class school for our youth today . . . " and her core beliefs, such as "children come first" and "leadership and accountability are the keys to success." What's not to like about those? One nitpicking concern: Her 100-day priorities are cloaked in safe generalities: "Performance targets" are mentioned but not specified; the word "focus" is liberally used, as in "focus on safety issues" or "focus on reading by third grade."
We couldn't help but recall the infamous "Declaration of Education," announced by the district and SRC with great fanfare in 2004. The mission, goals and visions sounded wonderfully noble - the district would meet adequate yearly progress and 85 percent of high-school students would graduate by 2008 - but were unrealistic and unreachable. As the SRC's own Accountability and Review Council last March put it: There was "a gap between aspiration and feasibility" and the SRC needed a new roadmap to guide reform actions. Ackerman seems well-aware that this district needs decisive guidance in the face of enormous challenges. We do, too, so over the next 100 days, we'll be keeping close tabs on these goals, and how well they're being met. *