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Philadelphia Board of Education promises ‘robust’ process to find new superintendent

Schools superintendent stands at podium with school board members and city officials near him.
At a press conference Tuesday, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite agreed with Mayor Jim Kenney, second from left, and Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson, right, that it was time for him to move on.
Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

Philadelphia Board of Education members promised a “robust” public process to choose a successor to Superintendent William Hite, who announced Monday that he will leave in August after nearly 10 years leading the district.

Board Vice President Letitia Egea-Hinton said the search process for a new superintendent will begin immediately, and the board already has posted different opportunities for public participation. The board plans to hire a search firm.

Egea-Hinton said there will be 17 public sessions in 18 days starting Oct. 11, at least one in each of the 10 councilmanic districts, as well as a “virtual listening session” for anyone unable to make an in-person meeting. A citywide survey also will be available to everyone, she said, and the search committee will seek input from state and city officials.

Once the input is gathered, the formal search process will start in November, with final candidates vetted by an 11-member search advisory committee. The committee will include a teacher and principal, two parents or guardians of students in district schools, two students, and representatives from the charter school community, organized labor, higher education, business and an education advocacy group.

“We commit to deliver to the public timely communication throughout the search,” Egea-Hinton said. “We encourage you to take advantage of the ... opportunities available to you.”

She stressed that the process will be driven by the board’s “goals and guardrails” focus on academic achievement above all else in steering the district’s direction and seeking new leadership.

Hite made his announcement late Monday, saying he decided to share the news now to allow for a “full and complete” search for the next superintendent. At a press conference Tuesday, he agreed with Mayor Jim Kenney and Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson that it was time for him to move on.

After nearly a decade, Hite outlasted the average tenure of a big-city superintendent as described in a 2018 report and was closing in on the record in Philadelphia for longest serving superintendent. Constance Clayton served as superintendent from 1982 and 1993.

Hite, who said he doesn’t plan to seek another position as superintendent, said whoever replaces him “would have to love Philadelphia.”

“My wife and I love this city and I’ve loved people in this city whether they are complimentary [of me] or frankly, not so much.” He said he plans to stay in the area.

Wilkerson thanked Hite for “10 years of strong and stable leadership.”

Kenney cited several milestones of Hite’s tenure, including progress in early literacy and college readiness milestones, the creation of 17 “community schools,” in which social services are integrated into school buildings, and expansion of free Internet access for students through the citywide program PHLConnectEd. He also led the district through its transition from state to local control, achieved largely because it attained a degree of financial stability after years of funding shortfalls.

“This is a legacy that has benefited countless families throughout our city,” Kenney said. “His diligent leadership and service to our city’s children for nearly a decade has made it possible for Philadelphia schools to begin a new chapter.”

Egea-Hinton said that the board is currently talking to search firms that specialize in superintendent searches and will have a decision “within the next few weeks.” She said there has not been a decision on how many candidates will be considered.

“We’re looking to cast a net across the country and look for people locally as well,” she said, adding that there is “no prejudging” on whether an inside or outside candidate would be preferable.

The plan is to present a list of five finalists to the search advisory committee, which will convene in December. She said the board will reach out to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for names of teachers to consider for the panel, but offered few details on how other members of the advisory committee will be chosen.

Final superintendent candidates will be identified “by mid-winter,” Egea-Hinton said.

Both fans and critics of Hite agree that the process should be guided by input from families and the community.

Council member Helen Gym, who was not invited to the press conference but attended as an observer, said Hite was accessible and sincere in his concern for students’ welfare, but faulted him for closing schools and continuing the “privatization agenda” of the state-dominated School Reform Commission, which hired him. Putting the district on a sound financial footing that allowed for the return to local control had a downside, she said, coming “at the expense of tragic understaffing that has jeopardized basic school operations.”

“We now have the opportunity to pick a leader that shares our transformative vision for public education and works to implement it in partnership with us all,” Gym said.

Council member Kendra Brooks said the announcement that Hite is leaving “comes as a relief because the community was made to feel like outsiders.”

“The district can no longer treat our students, families and school staff as if they are expendable,” she said in a statement.

Council President Darrell Clarke and Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, chair of the education committee, said Hite “earned our confidence and helped steer the path towards local control and fiscal clarity. Dr. Hite offered stability, and now will help lead the District through a critically important transition to a new leader next year.”

Clarke said he sees a search process that can be “the fulfillment of what local control actually looks like” through extensive public involvement.

Wilkerson, in an interview, called Hite’s long tenure “a gift,” and said his accomplishments, including increased access for students to Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment in college courses, have been underreported. She said that the announcement of Hite’s departure this week was not triggered by the problems with school opening — noting that similar issues plagued many districts.

No matter who is chosen to lead the district, she said, “making deep and lasting improvements around academic achievement in the district ... is going to be heavy lifting, no doubt about it.”

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