Now comes the hard part.

After announcing plans to close about one out of every six schools in the city, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. can expect an onslaught of opposition.

Hite has to stand firm. But he needs the School Reform Commission, City Council, and Mayor Nutter to stand with him. Some adjustments may be in order, but they all know closing schools is a necessary ingredient in making the financially struggling School District healthy.

The largest contraction of schools in the city's history would impact 17,000 students and 2,000 employees. Closed would be 22 elementary, four middle, and 11 high schools, but the plan announced last week by Hite could be revised before the SRC votes on it in March.

Whether Hite, who has been on the job only a few months, can stand his ground will be the first major test for his administration. He deserves credit for making an unpopular but necessary decision to shutter schools, relocate programs, and reconfigure grades.

An anticipated $28 million in savings from the changes would help the cash-strapped district. Hite has rightly promised those funds would be invested heavily in academic programs and safety.

There undoubtedly will be stiff opposition to the closures, not only from students and parents who want to keep neighborhood schools, but also union leaders trying to protect members' jobs.

Whatever adjustments are made in the plan must be rational. Too often in the past, the district has let emotions dictate school-closing decisions. As a result, Philadelphia school buildings are only 67 percent occupied. The district has 70,000 vacant classroom seats. More than 50,000 students have fled to charter schools. Hite's plan will raise occupancy to 80 percent, but the ideal rate is 85 percent.

The school-closing recommendations are part of the district's first comprehensive facilities plan in 15 years. With dwindling resources, the district can no longer afford to maintain and staff excess buildings. But Hite's plan considers not only the financial rewards of school consolidation, but the academic benefits in a system where most students cannot meet federal benchmarks for reading and math.

Most of the schools targeted for closure have too few students for their size and are not doing well academically. Shaw Middle in Southwest Philadelphia, for example, has only has 193 students in a facility built for 1,071. Attending a half-empty school isn't good for students who could be benefitting from programs and activities at schools with more staff.

One particular concern that must be addressed as students are assigned to schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods farther away from their homes is their safety. That's not just a School District issue; it's an issue for the Police Department. Student safety, however, can be achieved, even if it means deploying officers differently.

No obstacle should stand in the way of right-sizing the district so it can provide the best possible education for Philadelphia's children.