Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced Wednesday that the School District had filled 99 percent of its teaching positions and was on target to have all filled by the start of the school year.

"These classrooms are empty right now for the summer, but come September, they will be full of teachers," Hite said at a news conference at Roxborough High School.

"Last year there were too many vacancies in our schools," he said. "We recognized the problem; we took action with an aggressive recruitment and hiring strategy. We made a commitment to fully staff all of our schools by the start of the school year, and we plan to meet our goal. Families can rest assured that schools will be ready and completely staffed to welcome students in September."

Hite said the district expected to have only 45 vacancies left by week's end.

He said he was thrilled Wednesday to be joined by a few of the new teachers "who could have gone anywhere" but chose to teach in district schools.

"For me, coming back to Philadelphia to teach is about service, it's about giving back to my community," said Courteney Jones-Moody, who will teach at Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia, where she had been a student in the 1990s.

"I think it's important for students to see someone who comes directly from the neighborhood they come from in the classroom teaching them."

Schools spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district had filled 1,940 vacant positions for the fall. He said the district had hired 531 new teachers. The rest of the slots were filled through transfers of existing staff.

There are approximately 8,100 teachers in the district.

In March, Hite announced an ambitious early hiring strategy to ensure there would be a teacher in every classroom in the fall. He wanted to avoid overcrowding and other problems that occurred last fall, when 190 positions were still vacant in October.

When Hite announced the aggressive approach aimed at solving what has been a long-standing problem in the district, he said his goal was to have every vacancy filled by June 30.

"This problem goes back several years, and we're thrilled to be at 99 percent," he said.

At Wednesday's briefing, Hite said the district had received applications from nearly 1,700 candidates. A total of 1,150 were eligible to be considered for district positions.

He said that although the district had hired 531 teachers, about 600 candidates remained eligible. He said the district would tap those applicants to fill vacancies that occur over the summer or early in the fall.

In addition to publicizing the early hiring campaign, Hite credited the effort's success to the fact that the district had begun the process for schools to select teachers earlier and had allowed school committees of principals, staff, and others to interview transferring teachers and new applicants at the same time. In the past, he said, outside candidates were not interviewed until after the internal transfer process.

He also said the district had held a series of evening and weekend hiring fairs that gave principals opportunities to meet prospective teachers.

Roxborough principal Dana Jenkins said that the hiring strategy had enabled her school to hire the 12 teachers it was looking for by mid-June.

"It's going to make a world of difference," she said.

Jenkins said the new teachers would replace instructors who had retired. And she said that Roxborough had added a few positions because the school's enrollment was growing as a result of its popular academies that train students for careers.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda