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Dr. Arlene Ackerman, former Superintendent of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), died Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M., at the age of 66. Her son, Anthony Antognoli, told the Associated Press that his mother had been battling pancreatic cancer.
A St. Louis native who held master's and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard, Ackerman came to the District in 1997 as an assistant to then-schools chief executive Julius Becton Jr. A year later, Ackerman became superintendent and established a reputation as a housecleaner, dismissing dozens of principals, department heads and administrators.
Ackerman's tenure in D.C. was marked by frequent clashes with City Council members, the teachers union and charter school advocates. However, she was also praised for her efforts to improve schools in D.C.'s poorer neighborhoods, as well as for working closely with parents. In 2000, Ackerman resigned to take over the same position in San Francisco. In 2008, she became the superintendent of schools in Philadelphia, where her leadership style moved her critics to dub her "Queen Arlene." She left that position in 2011.
DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson released the following statement late Saturday:
"Arlene Ackerman was a staple and a leader in urban education reform. Her work helped thousands of children across the country, from DC to Philadelphia to Seattle and San Francisco. The education community lost one of its dear friends today.
"My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies, and those of the entire DC Public School system, are with Dr. Ackerman’s family today."