On June 28, Prince George’s County Superintendent William Hite attended the regularly scheduled meeting of the school board, making his report and fielding questions. Less than 24 hours later, he announced that he was leaving the school district to become the new chief administrator of Philadelphia public schools.
Hite was named a finalist in the Philly search on June 22. He was offered the position when first place candidate, Pedro Martinez, took a position as schools chief in Washoe County, Nev., authorities said.
“I was very impressed with Dr. Hite’s passion and commitment to educating children, support for the professional development of teachers and principals and his dedication to working with the broader Philadelphia community,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement. “He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia.”
As speculation began to surface that Hite might be on the short list in Philadelphia, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L.Baker III and County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison said that they wanted to keep him in his position. Their efforts ultimately proved fruitless.
Theresa Saunders, president of the Prince George’s County PTA Council, said the system’s children will suffer from the continued flight of superintendents.
“This is what, the fourth one to leave in 10 years?” she asked. “This is too much change for our children to be able to learn. The learning curve can’t be developed if it is changed every two years. That’s like a parent getting a new husband or wife every two years. It’s going to create quite a bit of inconsistency for a child.”
Hite’s departure comes a month after his second-in-command, Bonita Coleman-Potter, left to take a position in Mississippi. She had been a candidate for a position in Atlanta last year. His successor will be the school system’s fifth superintendent in just over a decade. Hite, in 2008 succeeded John Deasy, who had taken the helm after serving as superintendent in Santa Monica, Calif. Deasy came under fire after questions were raised about his doctorate. He left to take a position with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Deasy was hired to replace Andre Hornsby, who left under a cloud after questions were raised about his awarding of a contract to a former girlfriend and other actions. In 2008, he was convicted on six counts in connection with taking money from associates in exchange for granting them school contracts. In 2002, the school system was taken over by the state after the school board drew fire for attempting to fire then-Superintendent Iris T. Metts. Hornsby eventually replaced Metts.
Prince George’s County community activist Arthur Turner Jr. called it “unfortunate” that the school district is again without a chief. He said that Hite’s experience in Prince George’s—“working with a diverse student population, dealing with labor unions, negotiating with various levels of leadership”—made him an attractive candidate.
“I’m sorry to see him go,” Turner said. “I was impressed with him—his outreach, his professionalism. He was getting results from the system that he put in place.”
Hite, in a statement, said he has not set a leave date yet, but claimed he would make sure that the school system would be able to have a smooth transition into the next school year. He’ll have to hit the ground running in his new position as Philly schools are looking at a $270 million budget deficit, officials said. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the group charged with overhauling the city’s struggling school system, may have to make deep cuts to ensure the school system can make ends meet, officials said.
Saunders said the school search team needs to consider longevity as a factor in hiring the next superintendent.
“We have got to find a way to maintain consistency for our system to have the time to continue an upward spiral of improvement,” she said.
Executive Editor Avis Thomas-Lester contributed to this report.