Longtime School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite will step away from his position at the end of the 2021-22 academic year.
Hite will leave his post as head of the city’s public school district when his contract runs out in August 2022, the superintendent said Monday night.
The 60-year-old Hite, who joined the School District of Philadelphia in June 2012, called the opportunity to serve as superintendent “a tremendous honor and privilege.”
“As I continue to serve the students, families and staff of the School District of Philadelphia throughout this next year, I do so with deep pride and humility,” Hite said. “We have come a long way since 2012 but there is still much more work to do. This school year will be a challenging one as we focus on keeping our schools safely open for in-person learning and helping all of our young people to heal and grow. I remain 100% committed to leading this important work in the year ahead.”
The city’s Board of Education said that it will start a community input process and public search to find a new superintendent by this coming spring. More information on the transition and search process is expected from school district officials in the coming days.
Board of Education president Joyce Wilkerson described Hite’s almost decade-long tenure as “transformational for the School District of Philadelphia.”
“We are grateful that he will continue to lead the District this year, keeping school buildings safely open for our students and helping us as we begin the search process for his replacement,” Wilkerson said.
Hite joined the School District of Philadelphia at a turbulent time for the city’s public school district.
Due to fiscal and academic issues, the school district had been under state control since 2001, according to Chalkbeat. The school district was being run by a “chief recovery officer” who sought to close more than 60 city schools and divide the rest up into cohorts that would be operated by nonprofit institutions or groups of educators.
The State Reform Commission that had replaced the local school board favored privatization and the creation of charter schools, while not increasing educational funding to the state’s largest school district.
The school district’s financial and academic crisis only worsened shortly after Hite arrived when $250 million in state aid to Philadelphia was cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett, forcing the school district to lay off all of its nurses and counselors.
Additionally, a total of 24 schools closed and five more were merged or relocated during Hite’s first two years, causing widespread outrage.
But over the past decade, Hite has been credited with bringing some much-needed stability to the school district. The school district improved enough financially that it returned to local control after being run by the state for almost two decades. However, the school district has yet to eliminate its structural deficit, meaning that annual expenses are still exceeding annual revenue.
“[Dr. Hite’s] leadership generated several years of steady academic progress and laid a strong foundation for the work ahead,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “In returning the District to local control, our goal has always been to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood school, can reach their full potential with the foundation of a quality K-12 education, and we have made meaningful progress toward that goal thanks to Dr. Hite.”
During Hite’s tenure as superintendent, graduation rates have increased and the number of high-performing schools has doubled, according to the school district. The number of charter schools in the city has increased to the point where these institutions are now educating a third of the district’s students.
This year was the first time in 30 years that the school district and the teachers union reached a contract agreement before the previous one expired.
But Hite’s departure comes as the School District of Philadelphia continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on education.
Students spent the last several months of the 2019-20 school year and almost the entire following academic year participating in all-remote learning. The school district tried several times last year to reopen schools, but in-person learning did not resume until later in the year when some students returned in hybrid phases.
All students have resumed full-time, in-person instruction this year, but many hurdles still remain. Among those issues include the frequency at which students are tested for COVID-19, the vaccination rates of both eligible students and staff and a shortage in bus drivers, classroom aides, food workers and other essential employees.
Hite’s tenure as superintendent has also been marked by concerns regarding safety in school buildings. Several school buildings have been repeatedly forced to close due to asbestos issues that made classrooms unsafe for both students and teachers.
A former teacher and principal, Hite previously served as superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.
Hite began his career as a physical education teacher in his home state of Virginia. He then became a middle school principal and spent 20 years in Henrico County, Virginia before serving as deputy superintendent in Cobb County, Georgia. He served as deputy superintendent in Prince George’s County from 2006-2009 before becoming superintendent there.