With the School District of Philadelphia ready to begin its latest search for a superintendent, a key question is whether the next leader should come from the business world or the classroom.

The city has had its share of both in recent years, without much success. Paul Vallas, credited with turning around Chicago schools and billed as a disaster-recovery expert, saw himself as a CEO; but he left after five up-and-down years.

Then, in 2008, the district hired lifetime educator Arlene Ackerman. While standardized test scores continued to improve, Ackerman’s tenure ended after three rocky years and a massive deficit. Before she left, Ackerman oversaw massive cuts to close a $629 million deficit that was a result of poor planning on the district’s part. Oddly, her greatest effort before the budget problems was in the area of planning — namely “Imagine 2014.”

Officials have said interim superintendent Leroy Nunery II will be considered, but he has not exactly received a strong vote of confidence.


Wendell Pritchett, a School Reform Commission member and head of the search committee, said the committee is casting a broad net.

“We don’t have a specific list of things they have to have done in their past. When we get further down the road we might narrow that and have some specifics,” he said. “In a perfect world we have somebody who has both. Not many of those people exist.”

Mayor Michael Nutter has made education his top priority. He has talked about finding the right “leadership team” to turn around the district, still trying to balance a $3 billion budget. While management experience is key, finding someone familiar with the classroom is paramount.

“The expertise is how to make better teachers and learning at schools, so you need somebody who knows that,” said Lori Shorr, the city’s chief education officer.

Hiring timeline

Some key points in the search committee’s timeline:?

Jan. 10 through Feb. 24: Series of community engagement meetings

Feb. 24: End community engagement process

March 7: Advertise position to potential candidates

May 15: Make offer to candidates

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