Hundreds of people gathered at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia on Sunday to remember former city schools chief Arlene Ackerman.
Ackerman, who died -of pancreatic cancer last month at age 66, was remembered by politicians, parents, district staff and others for her "warrior heart," as former School Reform Commission Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn said.
Dungee Glenn recalled how she begged Ackerman, who in 2008 was a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Education, to come to Philadelphia. After six weeks, Ackerman, who also worked as superintendent in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, finally agreed.
"She would say, 'Sandra, I'm only here for the babies,'" said Dungee Glenn.
Sylvia Simms, a district grandparent who now sits on the School Reform Commission, grew emotional as she remembered Ackerman to the assembled crowd. Ackerman pushed hard for programs for parents, launching a Parent University and hosting popular monthly superintendents' roundtables where she would talk for hours to the hundreds of parents who gathered to tell her about their childrens' schools.
"She gave us hope, love and wisdom, and opened doors for us to see what a quality education for our children would look like," said Simms, founder of the Parent Power parent empowerment organization.
Colorful and controversial, Ackerman's three-plus year tenure in Philadelphia ended bitterly in 2011, when she departed the Philadelphia School District with a $905,000 payout. She also took heat for her management style and for her fiscal policies.
But Rev. Kevin Johnson, the pastor of Bright Hope, Ackerman's congregation in Philadelphia, reminded those who mourned - and celebrated - Ackerman that she never apologized for who she was and how she ran the district.
"I thank God," Johnson said, "that she came to Philadelphia and they couldn't take her out. She kept on rising."
See tomorrow's Inquirer for more.