Arlene C. Ackerman, 66, Former S.F. Schools Chief

Arlene C. Ackerman

Arlene C. Ackerman, who served as superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools from 1998 to 2000 and later led the school systems in San Francisco and Philadelphia, died Feb. 2 in Albuquerque, where she had lived for the past year. She was 66.
She had pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Ackerman came to Washington in 1997 as an assistant to schools chief executive Julius W. Becton Jr., at a time when much of the district’s government and finances were overseen by the federally mandated D.C. Financial Control Board.
Dr. Ackerman was credited with increasing student test scores and reducing administrative costs from 15 percent of the budget to 6 percent. She also instituted a new set of standards for teachers and administrators.
She resigned in 2000 to take over the top schools job in San Francisco.
Dr. Ackerman served six years in San Francisco until 2006 as the city’s first African American and first female superintendent.
“I think her tenure was enormously important to San Francisco,” said Jill Wynns, who was president of the city’s Board of Education when Dr. Ackerman was hired. “The truth is that Arlene was treated badly by many people.”
Dr. Ackerman was credited with strengthening district finances after uncovering widespread corruption in the district’s facilities department under previous Superintendent Bill Rojas.
She recouped more than $50 million for the district after calling in the FBI and city attorney’s office to investigate companies and individuals involved in the fraud.
Dr. Ackerman also tried to address racial disparities in test scores by creating initiatives to give more money and resources to the lowest-performing schools. But teachers’ union President Dennis Kelly said, “She wasn’t as inclusive as she could have been and ran into more difficulty because of that.
“Her dedication to children was admirable,” Kelly said. “When she first came we welcomed her with open arms, but by the time she left we knew it was time for her to go.”
Arlene Randle was born Jan. 10, 1947, in St. Louis. She was part of the first integrated class at a St. Louis high school.
She graduated from Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and received a masters degree in educational administration from Washington University in St. Louis. She also had masters and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard University.
Dr. Ackerman was a fifth-grade teacher early in her career before becoming a principal outside St. Louis. She was an assistant superintendent in Seattle before coming to Washington.
Her two marriages ended in divorce. Survivors include two sons and several grandchildren.