Hite was kept under wraps

Posted: July 04, 2012

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission didn't do its choice for schools superintendent any favors by locking the public out of much of the selection process.

William R. Hite Jr. could very well be the best person to take on what already was likely to be the toughest assignment in his 26-year education career.

But the SRC has created a layer of mistrust that he now must overcome by being overly secretive about the finalists it was considering to replace Arlene C. Ackerman.

The SRC had up to 100 candidates under consideration during the six months it spent choosing Ackerman's successor. But it never hinted it was even close until it had winnowed the field to two, including Las Vegas, Nev., deputy superintendent Pedro Martinez and Hite, superintendent of the Prince George's County, Md., schools.

It's understandable that job applicants don't want their current employers to know they're thinking about leaving. But considering how much more Philadelphians wish they had known about Ackerman's temperament and methods before she was hired, it was important that the SRC give the public greater access to the candidates.

Within days of last week's announcement of the two finalists, Martinez announced he had decided to instead take a job in Reno, Nev. Then came Hite's appointment by the SRC. It all seemed carefully orchestrated.

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said it only released the names of the two candidates the SRC believed met the qualifications to be superintendent. Not knowing whom the other candidates were, the public has to accept his word for that.

Hite, 51, has been a teacher and a principal, which should help him understand the challenges faced every day by teachers and administrators in the trenches. He had previous jobs in Cobb County, Ga., and Richmond, Va. Hite came to Prince George's County as a deputy superintendent in 2006, became interim superintendent two years later, and shed the interim status in 2009.

The district still must negotiate a contract and start date for Hite. Given the nearly $1 million severance package it shelled out to get rid of Ackerman, the SRC cannot afford to be overly generous with Hite. He currently earns $250,000 a year.

With his background in urban education, Hite should be able to continue reforms already under way. He must be flexible and politically astute to succeed where Ackerman, who was canned after three years, failed.

Hite had to make tough budget choices in Maryland, so he knows that drill. He inherits a 155,000-student school system that is on the brink of financial insolvency. The district must borrow at least $218 million for the upcoming school year, and there are other unresolved funding issues that could require more budget cuts.

Besides the money issues, Hite must do a better job than his predecessors to make Philadelphia schools safe environments where students can learn and teachers teach without fear. Improving student achievement and boosting the graduation rate must be priorities.

A new superintendent means a fresh start for Hite, his students, teachers, and parents. Here's wishing them success.

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