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Surprisingly, Hite wants to stay

SRC will vote Thursday to extend his contract until 2022.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

William Hite wants to stay on as superintendent of schools in Philadelphia for at least another seven years.

He wants to stay despite the constant struggle for money with the city and the state. Despite the inability to form a working relationship with the teachers’ union. Despite a few disastrous decisions, like the outsourcing of substitute teaching services. Despite a growing list of mandates from the state and city that cramp his leadership and judgment.

Why?

“All in all, the worst thing that could happen now is that we hit reset,” Hite said in an interview. “I think one of the things that is really important is a level of continuity and stability when faced with the level of challenges that we are faced with.”

The School Reform Commission will vote on Thursday, Dec. 16, to extend his contract through August 2022 – well into the next decade.

The proposed contract revision will also remove the section that allows for a performance bonus and will tie any future raise to the percentage received by teachers. They have been working without any raises under an expired contract for more than three years.

Hite said that he is encouraged, because Gov. Wolf, unlike his predecessor, Tom Corbett, is committed to increasing education aid to Philadelphia and elsewhere.

In the city, he said, District leaders signed an agreement with City Council that he thinks will improve relationships there.

“And the mayor-elect has indicated that education is a top priority for him as it was for Mayor Nutter,” Hite said of Jim Kenney. “I think the conditions are set to improve.”

He stuck to this even while criticizing legislation just passed by the State Senate that places more mandates on the District, requiring it to impose drastic turnarounds on five low-performing schools a year and turn over at least two to charter organizations.

“We are doing a lot to turn around schools in Philadelphia,” he said, citing 20 Renaissance charter conversions and several more internal redesigns.

“What is problematic for me is, this [legislation], in my opinion, is carved out just for Philadelphia.”

And while the legislation was likely a tradeoff for more funding – all the Philadelphia Democratic senators voted in favor – it doesn’t specifically provide more resources for turnaround, which is expensive.

“I’m all for turnaround, making investments in low-performing schools and creating new schools designed to serve different populations, but those efforts have to be based on the types of things we feel are necessary here in Philadelphia,” he said.

He is committed, he said, to getting a contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers this year after a three-year standoff.

Hite declined two performance bonuses he was entitled to and took a 10 percent pay cut at the height of the budget crisis in 2013, though his full salary of $300,000 was quietly restored after a year.

He said he felt the provision tying the teachers’ raises to his own is justified and the right way to go, laughing at the suggestion that this will be his motivation to finally settling the impasse with the PFT.

“I want a contract because I want to recognize the tremendous efforts teachers are making in classrooms every day,” he said. “I made a commitment to get teachers something this year … long before the negotiations on my contract extension.”

SRC chair Marjorie Neff said that she and the superintendent don’t always see eye-to-eye, particularly on the issue of charter schools. Neff has voted against creating any new charters, including through turnaround, if it results in students at District schools doing with less. Hite, while complaining about the fiscal impact on the District, has continued the Renaissance program, recommending three schools this year for charter-conversion.

But she said she shares a belief with him that children in underperforming schools deserve better. “Bill and I don’t agree on everything in terms of strategy,” she said. But “on the whole, we’re heading in the right direction, and to have someone who’s flexible enough to make changes and listen to what people are saying is valuable.”

And he has built “trust and goodwill” in Harrisburg, she said, adding that there is a need for stability.

“Moving this district is like moving a big cruise ship, and it looks like every time we have a change in superintendents we have a change in direction,” she said. “I just don’t think we want to do that at this point in time. We want to stick with the direction we’re going in, modify it, and make adjustments.”

“I think it is courageous of him to continue to do this under these conditions.”

Said Hite: “I’m happy they want me to stay.”

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