August 27, 2008
The story goes like this. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev hands his successor two letters and tells him to open them when he, the successor, encounters a tough situation. The first such situation arises, the first letter is opened, and it reads, "Blame everything on me." Works like a charm. Another tough time arises, and the successor opens the second letter, which instructs him, "Sit down and write two letters." Arlene Ackerman, the new CEO of Philadelphia's schools, seems to have ambitiously torn open the first of these hypothetical envelopes (which would have been sealed by Paul Vallas, who is now running schools in New Orleans) before any crisis even had a chance to fester. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "Ackerman said the 167,000-student system she inherited lacked cohesion and follow-through." She told the newspaper, "We're causing our own problems by not thinking in a systemic way." She went on to call the small schools championed by Vallas "fiscal drains," to decry the functioning of the central office, and to say, in an unveiled rebuke of her predecessor, "Innovation for the sake of innovation is not something I'm interested in." Perhaps Ackerman is playing politics (there is no love lost between the City of Brotherly Love and Vallas), or perhaps she really did inherit a mess. Regardless--now she has only one letter left!
"New city schools chief outlines her to-do list," by Kristin A. Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 22, 2008