Superintendent William Hite will step down from the most senior post in Philadelphia public schools next year, choosing not to renew his contract after nearly a decade on the job, he announced Monday night.
Hite, 60, will resign in August 2022, after a difficult period managing education during the pandemic. In a letter to parents, Hite said he was sharing the news now so that there could be a “full and complete” search for the next superintendent and that he was “not going anywhere” in the meantime.
“The work that we do together for your children is essential and I am fully with you and I support your families during this year,” he wrote.
Hite, a former teacher and principal, led the district through a period of severe austerity and is credited with bringing some stability to a chronically underfunded district tasked with educating mainly low-income children with high needs.
Under his leadership, the district improved its financial situation enough to return to local control after nearly two decades under the leadership of the state-dominated School Reform Commission. The state took over the district in 2001 citing financial and academic difficulties.
But this month, a severe shortage of bus drivers, food workers, class helpers and other essential workers sparked a chaotic situation as schools struggled to reopen for in-person learning. . Hite said he viewed his ninth year as head of the school district as the toughest. In March 2020, he was forced to close schools for 120,000 students in the district due to COVID-19.
Hite’s administration managed to strike a contractual deal before the August 31 deadline with the Philadelphia Teachers’ Federation despite the union’s continued disagreement over school conditions, the first time in 30 years that an agreement has been reached. before the expiration of the previous contract.
During his time here, the city also saw a marked increase in charter schools, which now educate a third of the district’s students. In 2012 and 2013, the district closed 24 of its schools and merged or relocated five others, which had a heartbreaking impact on many communities and sparked public outrage.
Test scores and graduation rates rose slightly during Hite’s tenure, and the district embarked on an anti-racist initiative to address internal inequalities, including an under-representation of black and Hispanic students in selective schools. of the district. The Board of Education adopted a ‘goals and safeguards’ approach to leadership that aimed to focus on academic success and find ways to send more resources to the poorest and lowest performing schools. .
Hite is reportedly the latest in a string of major city school district leaders to resign, retire or resign in recent months, with some citing fatigue as a reason to learn their positions. Janice Jackson, Chicago Schools CEO left his role in May, following similar moves by the leaders of Los Angeles, New York City, and Broward County, Florida.
“This year has been difficult. It was difficult for everyone, ”Hite said in an interview with Chalkbeat in March. “We are navigating something that we have never experienced before. “
In the first challenge of the pandemic, the district had to move from teaching students in buildings to teaching them while they were at home, ensuring that all of its students had the hardware, software and tools available. broadband access necessary for virtual learning, such as while continuing to provide meals.
An even bigger barrier has been the return of distance learning to in-person learning. After numerous attempts to reopen the school amid the pandemic, the district opened its doors to some early childhood students in March. Students were brought back in phases as the district pushed to reopen school buildings last spring for a “blended” learning experience.
But even before the pandemic, the neighborhood was plagued by concerns about the safety of its aging buildings, especially around ventilation. And while the original plan was to open schools last September, as have most of the city’s private and parish schools, teachers protested in the freezing cold and threatened to strike over health concerns. ventilation. A third-party Chicago mediator arbitrated the dispute, and although the issue has been resolved, complaints persist about the safety of the building – not just the ventilation, but loose asbestos, the presence of mold and general disrepair.
Hite became superintendent in September 2012 at a time of historic turmoil. Prior to his arrival, the district was run by a “chief recovery officer” who planned to close 64 schools and divide the rest into “success networks” led by teams of educators or nonprofit institutions. .
Prospects for the district remained bleak despite a state takeover in 2001 to deal with its financial and academic distress. The School Reform Commission, which replaced the local school board, favored privatization and the creation of charter schools over more traditional means of educational reform. And giving more funding to the district was not part of the reform program.
The situation reached a crisis shortly after Hite took the helm when Gov. Tom Corbett cut $ 1 billion in state aid to districts after the federal stimulus funding cut off.
With a quarter of that amount – $ 250 million – absorbed by Philadelphia, the district was forced to fire all of its counselors and nurses in a bid to make ends meet.
In the years that followed, the district was strengthened financially, which enabled it to make additional investments. But he was never quite successful in eliminating his structural deficit, which means his annual income never exceeded his annual expenses. Budgets were often balanced through one-time grants from city council rather than a recurring tax hike, and the state never significantly increased its annual allocation to its largest district.
Philadelphia, like many other districts in Pennsylvania, is counting on a fair funding lawsuit due in November, which will force the state to increase education spending and allocate state dollars more equitably. , on the basis of a formula based on registrations. and the needs of students.
Last year the name of Hite was on a short list to serve as education secretary under President Joe Biden. But for the first time, Hite received a ‘need for improvement’ rating from the Board of Education for systems leadership and promoting student success, citing the botched co-location of Science Leadership Academy and Benjamin High School. Franklin and the continued closure of schools with potentially dangerous asbestos.
Prior to coming to Philadelphia, Hite, then 51, had served as superintendent of public schools in Prince George County, Maryland, another predominantly poor and underfunded school district just outside of Washington, DC. There, as he would in Philadelphia, he was forced to make tough spending choices.
He began his teaching career as a physical education teacher in his home state of Virginia. He became a college principal and spent 20 years in Henrico County, Virginia, before becoming an assistant superintendent in Cobb County, Georgia. He joined the Prince George District in 2006 as a Second-in-Command and became Superintendent there in 2009.
At the time, the president of the Prince George school board said it was “sincere to make child-centered decisions.” He described himself at the time as a “servant leader” who had the ambition to “completely reorganize the way schools are run”.
At the end of this contract, Hite will be in Philadelphia for 10 years while he pays his pension.