This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Below is the transcript of Superintendent William Hite’s remarks on the announcement that the Philadelphia School District was recommending dozens of schools for closure or relocation.
Dr. William Hite Statement Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. This is an historic moment for The School District of Philadelphia. There are changes on the horizon, but there is also opportunity. As we navigate this journey, we are guided by the belief that all students in this District can and will be successful, and that public education is an institution worth saving. Our commitment today and going forward is to achieve two goals: One, we will improve academic outcomes for all students, resulting in greater opportunities and success beyond graduation day. And two, we will ensure the financial sustainability, stability and survival of the Philadelphia School District. Combined, these goals comprise the measuring stick by which we will gauge each one of our decisions in the days and years to come. We are about to embark on the difficult process of rightsizing the School District, a tough but necessary decision that will more closely align our school buildings and resources to enrollment numbers and trends, and most importantly, student needs. Specifically, the plan that the District will recommend to the School Reform Commission significantly improves the overall building utilization rate from 68 percent to around 80 percent. To accomplish this objective, we are recommending the closure of 37 buildings and changing the grade configurations in 18 schools. At the same time, we will be investing millions of dollars towards safety, climate and academic enhancements, and renovations in receiving schools to accommodate new and expanding programs. We also plan to expand efforts to turn around chronically low-performing schools by using strategies that have already proven successful. These recommendations were not formulated lightly. A team of more than 40 people within the District has been working for more than a year – starting with a view of buildings, usage, and academic performance, and moving to a much closer look at specific spaces and specific programs. I and the team carefully examined the needs of the whole district, large planning areas, clusters of neighborhood schools, and individual schools before arriving at our recommendations. We deployed specialized teams for CTE, Special Education, ESOL and early childhood to make specific assessments and recommendations. And we have been collaborating with the police to ensure we will be able to guarantee the safety of every child. These recommendations will result in the movement of 17,000 students, or more than 10% of our total student population. As an educator and parent, I realize that the recommendations will be shocking, painful and disruptive for many communities, not least of all our students, families and staff. We are committed to working through this transition with everyone involved. We are undertaking this process now because we have few options, but we also believe that at the end, we will have a school system that is better run, safer and higher performing. Over the next few weeks and months, we will provide more details about how we plan to improve schools with additional programs, staff and support; how we plan to work with our local law enforcement community to ensure safe corridors and safe schools for all. This is the time for us to re-establish a system of public schools that is successful for each student in this District, and valued by parents. I am confident that as a community, we can deliver on this commitment together. Thank you.