William Hite tapped to run Philly schools

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

By Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/Newsworks

Former teacher, principal, and Prince George’s County, Md., schools chief William Hite is the new superintendent of Philadelphia schools.

“Philadelphia is one of America’s greatest cities, and I am excited about the opportunities it offers,” said Hite in a statement released late Friday.

“I look forward to working with the leaders and families of this city as we work to improve the lives of our youth.”

The hiring comes at the end of a six-month search process in which roughly 100 potential candidates were winnowed down to two finalists. Each of them was introduced to the public during whirlwind tours earlier this week.

School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos praised Hite in a statement.

“Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader,” Ramos said.

"Today we take a giant step towards providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children.”

The start date for Hite in Philadelphia and other details of his transition from Prince George’s County are yet to be determined. Hite has a 120-day-notice provision in his current contract there.

School Reform Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, who chaired the District’s superintendent search committee, said Hite’s contract will be made public as soon as it is finalized.

Immediate reaction to Hite’s hiring ranged from joy to thanks.

"I was very impressed with Dr. Hite’s passion and commitment to educating children, support for the professional development of teachers and principals, and his dedication to working with the broader Philadelphia community," said Mayor Nutter in a statement.

The Rev. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, the city’s largest African-American congregation, expressed gratitude at Hite’s selection.

Like many in the city, Waller was drawn to the 51-year-old former reading teacher’s extensive background as an educator.

"As at the top of a church should be a theologian, at the top of a school system should be an academician," Waller said.

During a public forum and daylong series of meet-and-greets on Tuesday, Hite delivered a strong performance, showing a deft personal touch and demonstrating his experience both in the classroom and at the helm of a large school district plagued by poverty and budget woes. Community and civic leaders quickly lined up to endorse Hite as their preferred permanent successor to controversial former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education issued a statement late Friday about Hite’s pending departure. He has led the district there since 2009.

“Dr. Hite has served Prince George’s County Public Schools with distinction over the last six years and it is with deep disappointment that we greet the news of his departure,” reads the statement.

“He has led Prince George’s County schools with vision and innovation under financial challenges that might have broken a weaker superintendent. We appreciate the stability, progress, transparency and accountability that accompanied his tenure.“

The local teachers union earlier also expressed disappointment at his potential departure.

Hite began at the district, which has a budget of $1.6 billion, as deputy superintendent in 2006.

Earlier Friday, Pedro Martinez, Hite’s final rival for the Philly schools’ top job and deputy superintendent in Clark County (Las Vegas), Nev., was named superintendent of Nevada’s Washoe County (Reno) School District.

"My ties to education in northern Nevada are strong, and I look forward to working with this dynamic team of professionals to further the education of every child in Washoe County," said Martinez in a statement.

After his high-energy performance during a public forum Monday night at District headquarters, Martinez acknowledged that he was also a finalist in Washoe County, but said Philadelphia was his first choice.

As the city’s new superintendent, Hite steps into a school system beset by budget woes and in the throes of a radical overhaul. The District is planning to borrow at least $218 million to cover operating costs next year. A variety of major initiatives, including a push to expand the number of “high-performing seats” in the city and a controversial “transformation blueprint” calling for dozens of school closings and a dramatic decentralization of the District’s operations, are already on the table.

Hite said Tuesday that he will prioritize trying to “synthesize” the various plans, but only after he goes on a “listening campaign” to hear the concerns of a city that has been traumatized by months of turmoil in its public school system.

“I think that it creates an opportunity to begin to heal,” Hite said.