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American Federation for Children Celebrates the Life and Achievements of Education Reform Leader Arlene Ackerman

Posted on Monday February 04, 2013 | National

Dr. Ackerman, a supporter of expanded educational options, died on Saturday at age 66

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 4, 2013)—Arlene Ackerman, the former superintendent of school districts for three major American cities, a pioneer education reformer, and a strong supporter of educational choice, died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday. She was 66.

The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for educational choice—today mourned the death Ackerman, who for more than four decades served hundreds of thousands of students, first as a teacher, then as a principal, and finally, as the superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, the San Francisco Unified School District, and Philadelphia Public Schools.

Ackerman, who was a featured speaker at the Federation’s 2012 National Policy Summit, made headlines in October 2011 when she forcefully endorsed educational choice for children from low-income families.  In an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Enquirer, Ackerman wrote about a “realization” she’d had about the importance of educational choice.

“Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school,” she wrote in the piece.

Ackerman earned a bachelor’s degree from Harris-Stowe Teachers College, master’s degrees from Washington and Harvard Universities, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard.  She began her teaching career in 1968, working in public schools in St. Louis, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco.  She also served as a professor at Columbia University Teachers College before taking over the reins of the Philadelphia public school system.

“The education world lost one of its greatest and most committed leaders,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to American Federation for Children and friend of Ackerman’s.  “Arlene consistently demonstrated a love for her students, and believed that each and every student deserved a chance to realize his or her full potential, no matter how much their family made or where they grew up.”

When she was named superintendent of San Francisco’s public school system in 2000, she became the first female superintendent in the city’s history. She’s widely credited for significantly improving achievement for students in the city’s lowest-performing schools.

In addition to siblings and granddaughters, Ackerman is survived by her two sons, Anthony and Matthew Antognoli.