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The search for a new Philadelphia superintendent begins almost immediately as Hite announces end-of-year exit

Though it will cast a national net, candidates from Philadelphia will also be sought out and considered.

Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. speaks during a news conference at school district headquarters. He will be leaving his post in August, after 10 years in the job.
Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. speaks during a news conference at school district headquarters. He will be leaving his post in August, after 10 years in the job.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

The search for Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s successor begins almost immediately, will pull from both a local and a national pool, and hinges on the input of parents, teachers, students, and community members.

“We do need to hear from you, Philadelphia,” said Leticia Egea-Hinton, school board vice president.

Details about the superintendent search — and about Hite’s departure — came Tuesday afternoon during a news conference at district headquarters.

A decade is an eon for a big-city school superintendent, and Hite said that once he got children back into school buildings this September after 18 months of COVID-19-interrupted learning, he knew it was time to think about new leadership.

“Ten years is a long time to be doing this type of work,” Hite said, adding it was “my choice” to step down as Philadelphia schools chief in August 2022. “I remain 100% committed to leading the important work ahead in the next year,” the superintendent said.

Hite, 60, said he would not seek another superintendency and hopes to remain in Philadelphia, a city he has grown to love.

“I love the people in this city, whether they were complimentary, or quite frankly, not so,” he said.

Hite announced Monday night he would be leaving the 120,000-student district, one of the nation’s largest, in August, when his current contract expires.

Mayor Jim Kenney and members of the school board gathered to praise Hite and outline what the search for his replacement will look like.

Kenney thanked Hite for his partnership and service to children, and said the superintendent “has made it possible for Philadelphia schools to begin a new chapter.”

School board president Joyce Wilkerson hailed Hite’s “strong and stable leadership.”

Wilkerson said the board will soon engage a search firm and begin the work of looking for a new schools chief. Though it will cast a national net, candidates from Philadelphia will also be sought out and considered; she said she was agnostic about whether the next superintendent had ties to the district.

Public engagement around the superintendent search begins almost immediately. The board in October will hold 18 listening sessions, both around the city and virtually, to inform its work, said Egea-Hinton. The first session will be Oct. 11, and the formal superintendent search begins in November.

In mid-December, a panel of 11 members, with parent, teacher, student, principal, organized labor, and other voices, will be announced to help shape the superintendent choice, which ultimately belongs to the Kenney-appointed board. The search advisory committee will conduct interviews with final candidates and provide feedback to the board, which hopes to name a new superintendent by Feb. 1.

Egea-Hinton promised “timely communication throughout the process.”

Hite said this school year would not be a lost one; he promised that staff, students, and parents would be engaged around how improvements might be made on equity, facilities planning, and environmental issues.

“My commitment to you is that my full attention and support every day throughout the next year will continue to be in service of the young people,” said Hite. “Let’s make this last year together an amazing one for our students.”

With COVID-19 and a host of operational and facilities problems, the start of the 2021-22 school year has been among his greatest challenges as superintendent, Hite said.

“It’s been a tough year. It’s been a tough 18 months. It’s been a tough three weeks of school. And we knew it was going to be tough,” he said.

Hite said he was most proud of student accomplishments during his tenure — more students graduating, more students enrolled in Advanced Placement and honors courses, more collaboration with the city.

Asked what he would change about his superintendency, Hite said he felt a little like the Eagles coach after game day.

“I don’t try to second-guess a lot of things; everything that we did was with a view toward making conditions better for young people,” Hite said, adding that “sometimes the urgency created actions that were not as thorough as they probably could have been.”

Steering through 10 years of what is arguably the toughest job in the city, Hite said he was hampered by funding challenges, which he hopes will be addressed in a landmark lawsuit set to go to trial in Harrisburg in November. But he also expressed frustration — a rare move from a public figure who is typically unflappable — by the way he and the district are scrutinized in the media, suggesting an inequity between that coverage and coverage of better-resourced districts.

“Where it’s eight years of work that is compared to three weeks after returning from a pandemic, not understanding that the guidance changes every day, the circumstances change every day,” Hite said. “This is something that is impacting school districts around the country.”

Hite also suggested the media largely ignore positive Philadelphia news, such as the recent announcement of two district schools being named National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, and the fact that the system and city managed to distribute 11 million meals during the pandemic.

In the wake of Hite’s announcement, praise came from some corners of City Hall.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said, in a joint statement, that Hite arrived during one of the darkest times in the district’s history.

“He earned our confidence and helped steer the path towards local control and fiscal clarity,” the statement said. “Dr. Hite offered stability, and now will help lead the district through a critically important transition to a new leader next year.”

Others were less laudatory.

Yes, Hite was the first superintendent in years to reach an on-time contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, president Jerry Jordan said.

But overall, he said, Hite’s administration has meant “10 years of turbulence” — including the School Reform Commission’s 2014 attempt to unilaterally cancel the teachers’ contract, a move that was ultimately ruled illegal. Jordan said that was the “worst day of my professional career.”

Hite did inherit a mess of epic proportions in 2012, but his attempt at fixing it was through school closures and mass staff layoffs, which still have echoes today, said City Councilmember Helen Gym.

“The rough start to this school year demonstrates the underlying failures of the current administration to fulfill their basic roles — it’s clearly time for new leadership,” Gym said in a statement.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks said that the end of the Hite era “comes as a relief to many of our school community members who have been repeatedly failed by the district’s leadership over the past decade.” Brooks cited facilities problems and the privatization of some school operations and services as low points.

Brooks said she hopes the leadership change sparks real change: “This district can no longer afford to treat our students, families and school staff as if they are expendable.”