TWO PHILADELPHIA School Superintendents were in the news last week: Arlene Ackerman and her successor, William Hite.
In Hite's case, the story was about his latest job evaluation by his bosses, the School Reform Commission. He got the equivalent of an A-minus, with the SRC praising him as a "strong" leader.
His one minus, in the eyes of his bosses, was the failure of the district's efforts in 2015 to outsource its substitute-teaching services to a private contractor, Soure4Teachers, which was long on promises but short on delivery.
Hite acknowledged the failure, fired Source4Teachers within a year and turned to a new outside firm, Kelley Services. The result is not perfect, but Hite said the district is filling about 70 percent of the substitute teacher slots each day, about double what it was last year.
Hite, who came to the district in 2012, has a contract that runs through 2022. If he serves until then, he will become a rare survivor among big-city superintendents, with 10 years of continuous service.
Ackerman, lasted three years and was ousted after infuriating nearly everyone who had contract with her: teachers, parents, principals and, finally, the SRC, which had hired her. Her take-no-prisoners, imperious style led her to be called Queen Arlene (but only behind her back.) She left in 2011 and died of cancer in 2013.
The actions she took are still having repercussions. Last week, federal Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg ruled against the district in an Ackerman-era case involving installation of security cameras in the schools.
The contract was given to Security Data & Technologies Inc. of Bucks County, and it had already started some work. Ackerman pulled the contract and awarded it to a small minority firm. When word of that maneuver was reporter in the Inquirer, Ackerman went on a rampage, looking for who leaked the story. She ended up firing two high-level district employees, who later sued the district.
So did the Bucks County firm. In his ruling, Goldberg affirmed a federal jury's decision to award $2.3 million to the tech company and ordered the district to pay an additional $1.3 million to cover the firm's legal fees.
At the same time, he lambasted the district for its "overly aggressive" defense of what he called Ackerman's "illegal actions." The district also has been ordered to pay restitution to the employees it fired, including one settlement for $750,000.
The district said it was unsure whether it would challenge or appeal Goldberg's ruling. We suggest the district pay up and be done with the mess. It shouldn't be in the business of defending the indefensible.
The district has come a long way from the Ackerman days. It is in a better place, but it was a long, hard journey. The district lost hundreds of millions in state aid, suffered through layoffs of thousands of its employees, had to shut down schools, and balance the tricky charter-vs.-district school issue.
Hite has led the way through the whole painful process; calm, unflappable, able to project optimism while still being realistic. Hiring that outside firm to handle substitute teachers might have been a mistake, but it was one he quickly admitted to - and moved on. Unlike Ackerman, he did not declare war on those who dared to oppose him.