All these challenges, while daunting, are nothing compared to his biggest challenge of all — our expectations.
We're a tough town and harsh judges, especially when it comes to public education. Consider: The last superintendent that people respected retired 18 years ago. Pretty much everyone who has followed Connie Clayton in the job has been run out of town on a rail. And while there may have been good reasons for that, we haven't exactly been committed to helping our superintendents succeed.
This time has to be different. There's both more at stake and less time to turn things around. Hite comes with an effective track record for Prince George's County, Md., but it's about two-thirds the size of the Philadelphia school district.
Here's how we can adjust our attitudes to help him succeed:
We don't suck. Nearly every battle this city's public-education system fights is also being fought around the state, if not the country, by school systems whose budgets have been cut in the face rising costs. There are nearly 25 districts in the state that might end up on the "distressed" list, and right now, more than one is considering shutting down kindergarten. Meanwhile, we have the highest ranked high school in the state, a huge charter-school system, and slow but steady inroads on test scores. Bottom line: As troubled as our district is, plenty are in worse shape.
We shouldn't be waiting for Superman. The last few superintendents have come to town with big salaries, big personalities and big expectations for transforming public education in the city. We expected magic despite the erosion of confidence in and support for public education. We encouraged hubris, which, in the end, contributed to their undoing.
No one can do this job alone. Hite is going to have build an effective team — and from a greatly reduced central-office staff.
We should have high expectations, not impossible ones. High expectations mean that we should expect him to raise test scores and achievement, to build a team around him that can help him lead, that he's accessible to parents and other constituents, but not the only public face of school district. In fact, he should consider keeping a lower profile than his predecessors because otherwise, he'll never get anything done. We should also expect that he'll be doing a hard job that requires him to work around the clock and that he should be paid accordingly — but not obscenely.
We should let him make a few mistakes. That may be the toughest thing of all for this famously intolerant town.
We'll start by giving Hite credit for taking on one of the most thankless jobs in the state, if not the universe. But it's also one of the most important. We wish him success.