- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

Arlene C. Ackerman resigned last night as District of Columbia schools superintendent despite a strong last-minute effort by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to retain her. She accepted the position of superintendent of the San Francisco school system.

"After careful thought and heartfelt deliberation, it is with regret that I tender this letter of resignation," Mrs. Ackerman said in a letter to D.C. financial control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin.

Mrs. Ackerman listed more than a dozen achievements of her two years as superintendent, including improved academic achievement, Saturday and summer learning programs, pay raises for teachers, and the restructuring of special education.

"I will never forget the wonderful, beautiful children of this city," Mrs. Ackerman said. "They, as an inspiration to all of us, have demonstrated a will to succeed.

"Those who have worked so hard will continue to do so, because they do it for the children."

In the letter she said her resignation is effective July 17.

"I am delighted that Ms. Ackerman has accepted our offer," said San Francisco board President Mary Hernandez. "She is a great choice from an exceptional field of candidates."

The board for California's fifth-largest school system cast two unanimous votes in favor of Mrs. Ackerman on Sunday. She was one of three top contenders. The San Francisco board will formally approve the terms of her contract at its next session May 23.

Mrs. Ackerman has stated publicly that she was "frustrated" in the District by the multiple levels of micromanagement from the mayor's office, the D.C. Council, the elected school board, the D.C. financial control board and Congress.

"I don't think you can be superintendent of schools when a control board can write a letter and usurp everything that you do," said Don Reeves, Ward 3 school board member.

Once it became known that Mrs. Ackerman was being wooed by the San Francisco school system, some D.C. officials tried to persuade her to stay by promising more money and autonomy.

"I spent a lot of time and effort … with other city leaders in our city trying to get her to stay," Mr. Williams said. "There's a real track record of success, and I would have liked to see her build on that success but she's going.

"This isn't a great thing for our city," said Mr. Williams, who spoke by phone with Mrs. Ackerman last night.

School officials said Mrs. Ackerman will hold a news conference at 11:15 a.m. today at the D.C. public schools headquarters.

Mr. Williams said he has spoken with Mrs. Ackerman about the transition for the system.

"I'm over on the sidelines… . I don't have any direct involvement, but I'm going to make my views known," Mr. Williams said.

"The real focus for us now is making sure we continue on the path of reform," said Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the D.C. Council's education committee. "The mayor, the council and the control board are going to move quickly to secure an interim superintendent and establish a search party for a replacement."

Mr. Chavous said the council will go ahead with its plan to transfer control of procurement and payroll, to ensure it won't be a hindrance to the next superintendent.

In San Francisco, Mrs. Ackerman will replace interim Superintendent Linda Davis, who has led the district since Bill Rojas left last summer for Dallas.

Mrs. Ackerman's new position overseeing a system with 65,000 students offers a salary of $175,000. She makes $165,000 a year as head of the District's 77,000-student school system.

Before coming to the District two years ago, Mrs. Ackerman was deputy superintendent for instruction in Seattle.

Last night, Mr. Williams touted the successes of Mrs. Ackerman, including bringing on 1,000 new teachers, improving teacher evaluations and simply getting the schools to operate in an orderly fashion.

"Now we're going to have to figure out what we're going to do to keep the momentum going," said Delabian Rice-Thurston, president of Parents United for the D.C. Schools.

"We need to find someone to continue the academic progress she put in motion, not someone who will throw the baby out with the bath water," she said.

"This system really needs some continuity," Mr. Reeves added.

It was not clear last night whether Deputy Superintendent Elois Brooks will stay on.

Mrs. Ackerman's detractors said she often makes excuses and that they haven't seen concrete results in improved student achievement, spending or busing for special-education students.

But supporters and detractors recognized that Mrs. Ackerman faced an uphill struggle and that her attempts to reform the troubled school system were hindered by a tangled leadership structure.

The convoluted sharing of power has led to a number of disputes among the superintendent and city officials, particularly over the procurement process, charter schools, the budget and payroll.

"In the absence of a clear-cut governance situation, everybody is my boss," Mrs. Ackerman told The Washington Times last week.

"What else am I to do?"

The elected Board of Education has little power these days, and there has been no resurrection of the control board's advisory board of trustees since members resigned in March over a charter-school dispute.

Voters will decide next month how their school board should look. In the meantime, school officials said they can't look for a replacement for Mrs. Ackerman.

"It is an awkward time for us now," Mrs. Rice-Thurston said, adding that despite the June referendum, the system cannot afford to wait to search for a replacement.

• Adrienne Washington and Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report.

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