It wasn’t total chaos at a School Reform Commission meeting Wednesday at School District of Philadelphia headquarters. But it was pretty close.
The commission approved that allowed former district Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to receive made up of both public and private money.
But it didn’t do so in a particularly peaceful environment. It was clear the meeting wouldn’t be a particularly orderly one when SRC members walked into a full auditorium to loud booing.
“We want to vote you out,” someone yelled. When SRC Chairman Robert Archie said that the body’s main focus was the children, another person spoke up. “That’s a lie,” they said. “I’m going to keep my children home,” said another.
Archie received the most boos at the meeting’s outset, while Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery, who took over Ackerman’s job after her Monday departure, received a mixed reaction.
Nunery, who spoke at the meeting’s outset as well and introduced dozens of members of the district’s leadership team, wasn’t interrupted too often as he talked about his background. He called himself a “God-fearing, intellectually curious, entrepreneurally minded, technologically-able and pragmatic African-American man.”
“I want to do work of significance,” he said. “No matter how long my tenure as acting superintendent is—one day, one week, one year or longer—I am dedicated to the ideals of education and advancement.”
He also told the crowd that schools would open on time and said they will be “fully staffed and ready to roll.” There are still hundreds of vacancies in schools throughout the district.
Members of the public, however, mostly focused on Ackerman’s departure as they spoke and interjected throughout the meeting. A racial undertone began to dominate the gathering soon after community activist Novella Williams spoke.
Williams, who sat in a wheelchair as she addressed the SRC, decried its actions.
“(Ackerman) deserved not to be lynched by three or four black men,” she shouted as the crowd roared.
She said she fought long and hard to see a black superintendent educate the city’s children and was beyond dismayed to see her go. And she criticized Mayor Michael Nutter for being “a disgrace to the black race.”
When her three minute time limit was up, Williams kept talking as the crowd encouraged her to continue speaking. Her daughter, Pamela Williams, who spoke right afterward, said the SRC’s attempts to silence her mother demonstrated a lack of respect.
Pamela Williams said Nunery and Archie—who are both black—wouldn’t be in leadership positions if it weren’t for people like her mother.
“If anybody should have talked outside of procedure, she should have been allowed to talk!” she boomed.
She—and others, including activist Emmanuel Bussie—criticized Nutter and others for using public funds to buy out Ackerman and demanded to know where $405,000 in private money was coming from.
Elected officials like state Reps. Curtis Thomas and Ronald Waters—the latter is the chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus—also said they didn’t support the resolution allowing Ackerman to go.
“The superintendent was doing what I want to see done for my child,” Waters said.
But the SRC didn’t make any comments as it voted to approve the Ackerman resolution, much to the crowd’s chagrin. “Archie must go,” the crowd yelled, as security officials walked over to implore people to stop talking out of turn. They also demanded the resignation of others, including Nunery.
The racially charged language—attorney Leon Williams also used the word “lynched” as he addressed the SRC—continued for the duration of the meeting.
According to the Inquirer, SRC members left quickly once the meeting was adjourned and members of the public and media members were barred from asking questions afterward.