PHILLY'S new superintendent suggested Monday that the district can't solve its safety issues with zero-tolerance enforcement alone, saying that "we can't arrest or suspend our way to safer schools."

William H. Hite Jr., who is taking the helm this fall, told the district's principals and assistant principals at a school-safety summit at Lincoln Financial Field to view zero-tolerance efforts as a "preventive measure and a preventive set of strategies."

The estimated 500 educators responded with applause.

Administrators and teachers will be responsible for fostering a "new environment when we don't need to be looking at enforcement as our only tool in the toolbox to deal with student behavior," Hite said.

Zero tolerance should be used to establish a school culture "where respect is the order of the day and supports are in response to the individual needs of the students," he said.

"I'm not suggesting that enforcement is not important," he said. "It's just insufficient to deal with what we need to do with every single student."

Teaching and learning in a thriving environment requires safe schools, Hite said. "It requires safe schools. Not just the notion of a safe school, but the feeling of one."

He also said he wanted district families "to have every confidence that our schools are safe havens for their children."

According to school-district figures, violent behavior has dropped over the past five years, from 3.5 incidents per 100 students in the 2008-09 school year to 2.66 last year.

Hite later told reporters that he would soon establish a department of student services to meet the needs of students and their families.

He kicked off his address by buttering up the audience.

"I'm extremely excited to be in this great school district. Yes, I said 'great school district,' " Hite said to a round of applause. He thanked them for working "in some pretty significant circumstances."

Lisa Kaplan, principal of the Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia, said Hite "seems to truly have an educator's point of view."

"He brings an energy to the district and hopefully brings us a tighter vision so that principals will be re-engaged and feel supported by his work," Kaplan said.

She added that "it was critically important" that he was present Monday.

"To me, it was showing that he's ready to take on Philly," she said.