BY JONATHAN VALANIA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF This week the Philadelphia Inquirer is running an amazing seven part story called ASSAULT ON LEARNING detailing how lawless and out of control Philadelphia schools are these days, how they have become thuggish battle zones where violence and brutality — against both teachers and students alike — have become the new normal:
By June, the district’s total of violent incidents had grown to 4,541. That means on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn’t even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year. And those are just the incidents that are reported; teachers, students, and administrators interviewed by The Inquirer during a yearlong investigation say many are not. During the 2009-10 school year alone, 183 cases came to the district’s attention only after the city police made arrests.
Meanwhile School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who presides over this Lord Of The Flies re-enactment we call a school district, seems unable or unwilling to stop to the madness. And yet, she recently sicked the police on a reporter who had the unmitigated gall to call her at home, according to an op-ed that appeared in Monday’s Inquirer entitled HOW I LEARNED NOT TO CALL ARLENE ACKERMAN AT HOME. The reporter, Dwight Ott, dialed up Ackerman at home to vet a rumor that her car and house had been vandalized. She declined to respond and told him he could interview her in person the following day. A few minutes after hanging up with Ackerman, the police called and wanted to know if he had threatened Ackerman’s life.
He told them there must have been a misunderstanding and explained the situation. The next day, two plainclothes detectives from the Philadelphia Police Department came to his house in South Jersey and interviewed him about the incident for the better part of an hour. They even asked to check his computer’s hard drive. All because he called the School Superintendent at home to ask a question.
That sounds more like a monarch than a public employee. In another time it would be OFF WITH HIS HEAD. And isn’t it interesting that Ackerman lashed out at this reporter because she felt he had violated the sanctity her personal space and yet she presides over a school system where no student or teacher is guaranteed a personal space, that at any given moment a fellow student could get in their face and beat, rob or rape them. As happens an average of 25 times every day — 4,541 times a year — in the Philadelphia school system. Something is wrong here. Terribly wrong.
Now, a superintendent of schools can’t be expected to get every student into Harvard, or even get 100% of them to graduate, but the one non-negotiable job requirement for the person holding the School Superintendent position is providing a safe and secure environment for learning for all those who want to avail themselves of it. And if Arlene Ackerman can’t or won’t do that job, she should step aside and make way for someone who will.