This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
When the Notebook welcomed Arlene Ackerman in 2008, our editorial was called “The stars are aligned.” It seemed the District was poised to move forward.
In contrast, the circumstances Superintendent William Hite confronts as he takes his new post are exceedingly grim.
He has to implement an austere five-year financial plan that calls for a 16 percent cut in the District payroll next year, address an expectation that he will close 40 to 50 schools in 2013, and handle a cheating scandal potentially implicating many administrators. He must manage all this with a central office that has been cut back to a skeleton crew.
For the first time in a decade, the District has had to borrow to cover its operating costs. No financial relief is in sight from Harrisburg. Rather, the state legislature is exploring adoption of charter legislation that would wreak havoc on District efforts to manage its charter expenses.
It’s encouraging that Hite wants to spend his first 90 days listening and fact-finding. This troubled school system does have a huge reservoir of knowledge, talent, and commitment to children that past superintendents have rarely tapped. People who deal with schools every day are often the experts. But educators, school staff, parents, students, and community organizations are typically asked to sign off on plans – not to develop them.
On a knotty issue like school closings, it is counterproductive to bypass real community input about specific schools until the plans are all drawn up. And instead of foisting unpopular cuts on educators and parents, why not ask them to help find genuine savings?
Hite bills himself as a good listener. If he and other District leaders can live up to that promise and be transparent with their plans, perhaps we can see less infighting and more momentum for positive change.