Dr. Hite’s Departure is an Opportunity
It’s so completely unacceptable. School meals not available for hungry children. Parents bribed to drive their children to school as school bus drivers sit on the sidelines waiting for more pay or more virus protection or both. Mold climbing the walls of schools despite a full year when empty classrooms should have been scrubbed clean. It seems that the School District of Philadelphia is in free fall.
On the other hand, we’ve heard from students that they’re thrilled to be back in school. They are happy to see their friends…happy to be taught in person. We’ve talked with teachers who are overjoyed to interact and teach their students even if their students’ quizzical looks are veiled by their masks. For tens of thousands of Philadelphia students, the return to school is the best thing that’s happened for them in nearly two years.
While the systemic breakdowns make the news, the return to status quo – now considered an inspiring experience for students and teachers alike – remains unreported.
Nevertheless, the coup de grâce came this week with Superintendent Hite announcing his resignation at the end of this school year. Sadly, it feels like the public education infrastructure in Philadelphia is fraying in front of our eyes and with it goes the hope of the city’s economic rebound from the pandemic shutdowns.
A growing chorus of critics blame all the district failings on the man exiting the building. But in fact, the problems are more systemic.
It was just last year that the state restored the district’s funding to 2011 levels. But in the intervening decade, the district faced soaring pension, charter, and operational expenses that forced it to balance the budget on the backs of students.
Dr. Hite’s incredible public persona lulled us into believing that this shipwrecked school district could right itself all by itself if only the state would stop slashing its support. In fact, the restoration of state funding is in large measure due to him walking the halls of the state capital demonstrating to state lawmakers that Philadelphia public schools merit support. Without question, his powers of persuasion and the actions he took showed he meant business, and the state funding spigot began to flow with funds, ever so slightly.
In the only school district in the state without local taxing powers, Dr. Hite’s ability over nine years to attract new resources for the schools from City Council and the Mayor has been a boon to the students, forestalling some cuts and dramatically expanding social services in many schools.
Dr. Hite’s vision for moving the needle on student outcomes remains elusive. The landscape he inherited of a hostile state government, turf-minded local politics, and a school system that relied on so many outdated information systems for operations that paper timesheets were considered a modern tool of management. He changed those conditions, and those changes did not come easy.
Now Dr. Hite must more effectively assemble his team to remedy the appallingly rocky start of the school year and focus on making school better every day. And now he can – and must – take the gloves off internally and externally to make the school district great.
At the same time, the Mayor and School Board who have the power to choose the next superintendent have the opportunity to turn the palpable frustration among many parents into a vision for the next great leader of the most important institution in this city. Children First stands ready to be a voice in that process and we hope that all Philadelphians set their focus on how Dr. Hite’s successor can build on the firm foundation that he put in place to take our district to the next level.