AS WE BEGIN a new school year and a new era of district leadership under Dr. Arlene Ackerman, the School District of Philadelphia has an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the academic progress of its 205,000 district and charter-school students.

The stars are aligned as Dr. Ackerman, an experienced and progressive educator, is flanked by strong public education advocates - Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter, pro-education members in City Council and our state delegation, skilled and committed employees, along with energized parent, corporate, philanthropic and non-profit stakeholders. The School Reform Commission is excited by the potential to catapult this district forward through strategic partnerships that bring resources and support to our children.

When the SRC selected Dr. Ackerman last spring, we embraced her core beliefs that children come first and victory is in the classroom. During the 6 1/2 years of the SRC's tenure, we have learned that progress is possible.

By investing in a rigorous curriculum, targeted supports and diverse educational options for students, quality instruction, and upgraded facilities, test scores have risen significantly for our students. Math scores have risen 29.5 percentage points and reading scores rose 20.9 points since 2002.

We are making progress, but many challenges remain:

Providing a safe environment in and around schools for students and staff, closing the achievement gaps and recruiting and retaining qualified and effective teachers in our classrooms.

Dr. Ackerman and her leadership team, in partnership with the SRC, are creating a strategic plan that attacks these critical issues while continuing and accelerating the successes of the past six years. What is most important now is that we take the time to do it right.

For this reason, the SRC fully supports Dr. Ackerman's decision to seek one-year contract agreements with the district's five labor unions.

We thank the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA), the School Police Association of Philadelphia (SPAP) and Local 1201 (Building Engineers) for their cooperation.

These agreements, each of which provides employees with a wage increase, are fair to our employees and give our new leadership team the time needed to identify the critical operational, educational and financial opportunities that must be addressed in a multi-year contract.

Can we make schools safer if we require that school staff are on hand before students arrive and after students leave? How do we get more planning and training time for teachers? How do we bring effective and experienced teaching teams to our lowest performing schools?

How do we create pay and benefit packages that are both affordable and competitive for our employees, especially teachers and administrators?

How do we hold adults accountable for the academic success of our children?

Naming the problems is easy. Agreeing on the solutions is much more difficult, but also more important.

SECURING ONE-year agreements with our remaining two employee unions, the PFT and our cafeteria workers Local 634, will provide an environment for collaborative labor and management teams to work through these issues during the upcoming months.

At all levels of public engagement locally and nationally, people are calling on their public institutions to shift to a new paradigm - shared responsibility and real results. We cannot disappoint them. Success for our students is our only option. *

Sandra Dungee Glenn is chairwoman of the School Reform Commission.