William R. Hite Jr., for nearly a decade the superintendent of city schools, has set an end to his tenure.
Hite will remain leader of the Philadelphia School District through the end of the school year, but he and the school board have agreed there will be no contract renewal. Hite’s current pact, which pays him $334,644 annually, expires in August 2022.
Hite declined to comment after being contacted by The Inquirer late Monday night, but in a video released to staff, said leading Philadelphia’s schools had been a “tremendous honor and privilege.”
“After much reflection, I have decided not to renew my contract when it expires in August of 2022,” Hite said in the video.
Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to be on hand for an announcement planned for Thursday. The aim, multiple sources said, is to ensure a steady hand at the helm for the rest of the school year as the school board and community figure out what they want in the next school leader, and who that might be.
Kenney’s office also declined to comment Monday night.
In an email sent to staff late Monday night, Hite said he wanted to share the news of his departure now “so that there can be a full and complete search process for the next leader of the district, but I want to assure you all that I’m not going anywhere before August 2022.”
His 10 years on the job mean that Hite, 60, will leave as one of the longest-tenured superintendents in the history of a district that educates 120,000 students in more than 200 schools. The decade mark is also significant because it means Hite can collect his pension through the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System.
It’s not clear what he will do after he leaves, or what potential candidates will emerge to replace him.
Hite told staff that the school board “will be leading an equitable and inclusive search for a new superintendent that will commence right away that you’ll be hearing about in the next few days.”
He said that much work remains.
“There will be several critical initiatives advancing over the next year that will focus on how equity, facilities planning, and environmental improvements can be improved throughout the district,” Hite wrote in the email to staff. “I’m asking for your continued leadership and support over this next year to ensure that these efforts and all school operations move forward successfully while the superintendent search is underway.”
The superintendent told parents, in a separate letter, that “the work we do together for your children is critical, and I am fully with you and supporting your families during this year.”
Hite was hired in June 2012 when the district was in crisis: teetering on the brink of insolvency, needing to borrow $300 million just to pay the bills. In 2013, he recommended closing 37 district schools — 23 were eventually shut.
The superintendent steered the district through the end of the 17-year state takeover and the shift to locally controlled schools, and has generally earned plaudits for his financial stewardship, professionalism and even keel; his contract was renewed early, in 2015, with the School Reform Commission eager to lock in Hite and his “strong leadership” for the long term.
His administration has been marked by a focus on early literacy and, most recently, a hard look at equity issues.
Philadelphia schools made progress, academically, during the Hite years, but it was incremental. But the district still struggles: 36% of the city’s third through eighth graders met standards as measured by state standardized tests, and 22% of children hit the mark in math. In both areas, fewer Philadelphia children are performing at the lowest levels. Graduation rates also improved during Hite’s tenure.
But he has struggled with operations — on Hite’s watch, the district has had a series of environmental crises, including a disastrous $50 million construction project at Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy that sickened students and staff and unexpectedly forced students out of their building for months.
In December, Hite’s annual evaluation, completed by the school board, showed his bosses were not as happy with his performance as they had been in other years. He received a “needs improvement,” one step above failing, in two areas, student growth and achievement and systems leadership and operations. The board has also begun putting Hite and his administration on the hot seat via monthly progress monitoring in various areas, with increased scrutiny of academics and other key issues.
The start of this school year has also been rocky for the Hite administration. Schools have been beset not just by the complications of educating students in a pandemic but also by a transportation crisis that leaves some students without a way to get to school; shortages of school nurses, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals; and irregular trash pickup at some schools.