THERE ARE MANY GOOD reasons for the School Reform Commission to extend the contract of Superintendent William Hite for another five years, and we strongly recommend the SRC approve the extension at its meeting today .
We can boil down all those reasons into six:
* Continuity: Frequent turnover in leadership has been the bane of every urban district. The average life expectancy for a superintendent is a little over three years - and Philadelphia mirrors that fact. The names Hornbeck, Vallas and Ackerman come to mind. All of them came with bold plans, all of them exited after a few years. The school district now has a plan and has a leader and there is good reason to continue with him at the helm.
* Competency: It would make no sense to seek continuity if the district were led by an incompetent superintendent. But, this superintendent is a strong leader who has proven himself capable of handling the crises he inherited when he arrived in 2012. It hasn't been easy, but Hite has had to deal with the financial collapse of the district, the downsizing of its workforce, the closing of many half-full schools and the district's rocky relationship with City Council and the state Legislature. He has made enemies in the process. Some critics try to cast him as the problem. We disagree. We see Hite as a big part of the solution.
* Consistency: Whether he is addressing a group of parents or children or city council members or hostile legislators, Hite remains consistent in his measured tone and his message: We need to make shared sacrifices, we need to be unafraid to make changes. The children of this district are not living up to their potential and we must change that. We must put the children's interest first. The message hasn't changed from Day One.
* Creative Leadership: With his focus on children's needs, Hite has been creative in meeting them. No one has paid much attention to his Action Plan, mostly because of the continuing crises in the schools, but Hite has come up with ideas that people should embrace: The belief every child can learn and that we must be open to anything that helps us achieve that goal. Leaders in Philadelphia usually don't get many points for being creative and for trying to make change.
* Courage: There are any number of times when the wisest course would be for Hite to retreat. One of them was when the SRC implemented his plan to close schools, an idea met with community outrage. People pressed him to back down. He did not. Whenever it came to a tough decision, Hite persevered - even though it could and did anger community members, legislators, Council members or powerful union leaders. It takes a lot to stand up to those accumulated forces.
* Compassion: William Hite is a compassionate man. It doesn't come out in the formal proceedings that make up a lot of his public life. But it is more than evident whenever he visits a school or a classroom. He delights in the presence of children and has a teacher's desire for them to do their best. It isn't fake. It isn't just for photo ops. It is real.