How to Not Get Fired From Philly’s Most Important Job
New Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite inherited a school system that’s broke and broken. If history is any guide, he’ll be run out of town before this year’s first-graders graduate from middle school. However, he could end the steady turnover and constant failure if he just does a few things well:
● Balance the books. Regardless of state cuts, a nearly $2.5 billion budget is enough to operate good schools if the money is spent properly.
● Close outmoded schools. There are about 70,000 empty seats in a district with an enrollment of some 160,000 and dropping. Hite must close outmoded, underused and failing schools and use the savings to refurbish, reward and replicate successful schools. Ditto the charter schools.
● Stop school violence. On an average school day in 2009-2010, about two dozen students, teachers and staff were beaten, robbed or sexually assaulted, or became victims of other violent crimes. Kids can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in a climate of fear. Until the widespread violence and bullying is stopped, no amount of money or reforms will fix the schools.
● It’s the libraries, stupid. Less than half of the city’s high schools have a library. Three out of four schools lack a librarian. Nothing says failure like a school without a library. Installing libraries in every school would generate wide support, make a big statement about what matters most, and secure Hite’s legacy.
● Fire bad teachers. In a district where roughly a third of the students don’t graduate, it’s stunning that administrators, principals and teachers essentially have jobs for life. Reward good teachers and principals; weed out the incompetents.
● Don’t be a jerk. Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman was an arrogant diva with a tin ear. A big part of the superintendent’s job is public relations. Hite needs to be the salesman-in-chief at every turn. He must be visible and accessible and avoid backroom meetings with political hacks looking for contracts or favors.
This article originally appeared in the September issue of Philadelphia magazine.