While slain civil rights leader Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often dreamed that his nonviolent crusade would lead to racial equality, he also envisioned the arrival of housing and economic fairness that would lead the downtrodden out of sub-human living conditions.
If alive to see the transformation of the decrepit Hawthorne Square housing project and its immediate surroundings, King himself would be proud.
That was the overriding sentiment when city and housing officials on Wednesday unveiled a plaque at 13th and Fitzwater streets, renaming the vicinity Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. Symbolically, the renaming of the plaza brings to a close at least one of the chapters of public housing in the city; planners decided to name the new plaza after King to memorialize his famous visit here in 1965, when he addressed hundreds of Hawthorne residents and demanded fair and equal housing for them.
“We continue to feel the ripple effects of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was a direct result” of King’s work in that arena, said Philadelphia Housing Authority Commissioner Karen Newton Cole. “So it is really important that, moving forward, we commemorate what Martin Luther King did, especially as it relates to housing.”
King visited what was then known as Hawthorne Square for a two-day visit, August 2–3, 1965, and more than an estimated 2,300 people gathered on that corner to hear him speak. In 1970, longtime politician James Tayoun — then the councilman for the district that included Hawthorne Square — petitioned PHA to change its name. Tayoun was also one of the earlier supporters of King’s visit to Philadelphia — a notion that wasn’t all too popular at the time.
“We are standing on hallowed ground,” the veteran politician said, joining the ranks of Council members Jannie Blackwell and Kenyatta Johnson — who grew up in the neighborhood — who made stirring remarks about the neighborhood’s transformation. “It’s hallowed because I remember the faces of the young men and women who died here because they couldn’t get affordable housing. It’s my pleasure to have a small part in his role here.”
PHA Administrative Receiver and Executive Director Michael P. Kelly echoed the sentiment of many when he said that Dr. King, “on this spot, held a rally that addressed economic injustice and housing for the poor. Those ideas are still valid today.”
The negative impact of the housing policy to warehouse the very poor in high-rise dwellings that lack the necessary social infrastructure cannot be overstated. Dr. William Tucker, president of the Philadelphia MLK Center for Nonviolence said King should be commended for bringing attention to the housing disparity, noting that the late leader spoke out when authorities began “substituting horizontal slums with vertical slums,” Tucker said. “Now, Philadelphia is ahead of the curve in eliminating housing projects.”
Mayor Nutter, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and a host of other city and state politicians also praised the works of King. The dedication also commemorates the 40th anniversary of his assassination.
MLK Plaza joins Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as two of the city’s most prominent renaming initiatives, and joins a nationwide trend of cities embracing King with major renaming moves. CNN reported that more than 900 cities have streets named after King, and Memphis, Tennessee — where King was slain while on the balcony of a downtown hotel — is finally dealing with its past and renaming a one-mile stretch of Linden Avenue in King’s honor.
Departing, Blackwell was reminded of King’s overriding compassion.
“Nothing is more important when we think of Dr. Martin Luther King than love,” Blackwell said. “During a time when people were deathly afraid, King stood up for them, and loved them.”
Queen Mother Falaka Fattah marked her 80th birthday with a special celebration.
Politicians, community and business leaders, and clergy turned out on Wednesday evening to celebrate the occasion at the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall.
Fattah and her husband David Fattah are known for founding the House of Umoja, a safe haven for gang members. Umoja was established in 1968, at a time when gang violence was claiming the lives of young Philadelphians.
During her birthday celebration, Fattah was lauded for impacting the lives of more than 3,000 young men who, at various points, lived at the house, located in the 1400 block of Frazier Street.
“She took it upon herself to take gang members off the street, invite them into her home and change their lives,” said Manwell Glenn, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“People in life cause ripples. Everyone’s life causes a ripple. Queen Mother Falaka Fattah — your life has created tidal waves and tsunamis.”
Celebration host Councilman Curtis Jones said if it hadn’t been for Fattah, he would not have become a politician. Jones was one of the young men whose lives were touched by Fattah back during the early ’70s. He gave an overview of Fattah’s tactics in bringing peace between the city’s warring gangs.
“Today it is my job to acknowledge a living legend — a living legend who made a difference in the history of the city of Philadelphia,” said Jones.
Jones noted that in 1973, two-thirds of the homicides that occurred in Philadelphia were attributed to gang violence.
Flanked by his children, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah gave a tribute to his mother.
“We are here to thank this woman for what she’s done while she can smell the roses — while she can hear and see the appreciation of a grateful community,” said Fattah.
“We’re here to say happy birthday. It’s not so much about her birth, but more about her life,” said Fattah.
“We all are born, and we are all going to expire. It’s what is done with that dash in between that date of birth and the date of expiration. For these 80 years, this is a woman who did so much that we all have to just pause and say thank you.”
Mayor Michael Nutter was also on hand to acknowledge Fattah. He recalled the difficulties of navigating the streets of Philadelphia during the ’60s due to gang violence.
“It took a strong woman to have to stand in the middle of the street to tell these growing — getting stronger, getting bigger — young men to stop doing what they were doing, to calm things down. She was a stand up person then who saved lives — and she’s been a stand up person ever since,” said Nutter.
After thanking various individuals for assisting her over the years, Fattah took the occasion to highlight Umoja’s “Think Green Peace” initiative. Under the initiative, Umoja residents and volunteers have turned vacant lots near its West Philadelphia compound into thriving “peace gardens” of growing vegetables.
Fattah said the peace gardens are places where people can come to bury their grievances.
“This is what I see for the future — these gardens all over Philadelphia — burying grievances so that people don’t feel like they have to fight it out,” said Fattah.
During the celebration, City Council members Bill Green, Jannie Blackwell and Jones presented Fattah with a city citation.
The third day of Kwanzaa was also marked during the celebration. Guests were entertained with performances from singer Denise Tisdale and the Universal African Dancers and Drum Ensemble.
Philadelphia has lost has a tremendous basketball player and a great person. Linda Page, a former Dobbins Tech basketball star, has passed away. Page was 48 years old.
Page was certainly a special player. She could score from anywhere on the court. In 1981, she received national attention for scoring 100 points in Public League game. That contest, a 131-37 win against Mastbaum, broke Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring mark of 90 points, set when he played at Overbrook High School in 1955.
That was her senior year. She led Dobbins Tech to the Public League championship game that year. Despite her scoring prowess, West Philadelphia High defeated Dobbins Tech to win the league title. Jadeane Daye, an All Public League point guard, played for the Speedgirls along with stars Audrey (Lee) Bowles and Linda Hester. Daye is still trying to get over the death of Page, who was a close friend as well as a competitor.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Daye said. “We were close. We played together in the Sonny Hill League. We played on the Philadelphia Belles together. I remember before the championship game, we spent the whole day and evening together. Then, we came out and played the championship game. After the game, we got together. We were good friends.
“She was the best shooter. I remember she was shooting against Doug Collins (Philadelphia 76ers head coach) when he played (for the Sixers). I don’t think he realized how good a shooter she was. He had to shoot some deep shots in order to beat her in the game.”
Bowles hadn’t spoken to Page in more than two decades. A year ago, Page wrote a book titled “Love, Pain & Passion: The Heart of a Champion.” Bowles remembers attending her book signing.
“It was 23 years since I actually seen her,” Bowles said. “She had a book signing at Harlem Restaurant in Yeadon. I remember going there. Before that, we had played on a team together in 1987. It was after our college careers. We had a team with players mostly from our West Philly team that played in the Sonny Hill League. We had Linda, Jadeane, Vincene Morris, Michelle Washington, Debbie Lytle, Theresa Govens and Freda Gibbs. That was the last time I was actually with her.
“It was good reconnecting with her. We talked about the things she accomplished. I think what’s important is that Linda knew the Lord. You know, we were all part of a good era of women’s basketball in the Public League. I know I had a good foundation with my mother (Lois Lee), my high school basketball coach Bernie Ivens, softball coach Paulette Bolton and Eleanore Johnson (volleyball coach).
“We all went to college. Linda went to North Carolina State. Jadeane went to Syracuse. Linda Hester went to La Salle. I went to Temple. We all had good people around us who provided a good foundation. We’ll never forget that.”
Marilyn Stephens, former Simon Gratz and Temple basketball standout, is the head women’s basketball coach at Cheyney University. Stephens attended Page’s book signing. She wanted her players to know about her legacy.
“Right now, one of my players is reading her book,” Stephens said. “Linda signed her book to Cheyney women’s basketball. I was devastated when I heard the news that she had passed. She was a great player.”
They called her “Hawkeye,” and she could really put the ball in the basket. Page was raised in Southwest Philly. She scored 2,383 points in her scholastic career.
She was a big time player for North Carolina State. She was one of four women to score more than 2,000 points for the Wolfpack. She scored 2,307 points, ranking second all-time at the school. She was named first-team All Atlantic Coast Conference twice. She was chosen three times on the ACC all-tournament team. In 1983, she was named MVP of the ACC tournament. In 1985, Page averaged 21.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game while leading NC State to the ACC championship.
“She was the best player in Philadelphia,” said Hester, who had a magnificent college basketball career at La Salle. “Her skill level was phenomenal. She wanted to be the best and she accomplished that. Excellence was always her standard. It all started in high school.”
Dawn Staley, head women’s basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, played at Dobbins Tech after Page. Like Page, Staley was a high school All-American. She also played her college basketball in the ACC at the University of Virginia. In addition, she had a great career in the WNBA.
“I think Linda Page put Dobbins on the map,” Staley said. “I didn’t meet her until afterwards. She was very articulate. She loved basketball. She paved the way for a lot of players. She’ll be missed by the Philadelphia community.”
Page played for two legendary coaches, Dr. Tony Coma (Dobbins Tech) and Kay Yow (North Carolina State) during her career. Lurline Jones, former University City head coach and Alison Eachus, ex-William Penn High head coach, will always remember Page for her contributions to the game.
“I was shocked and saddened with the news of Linda’s passing,” Jones said. “Ever since her book was published, I had the pleasure of planning a book signing and reception at Dobbins her. In early August we discussed her appearance at the SRC and City Council. It was on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 4th, at a meeting with Councilwoman (Jannie) Blackwell that she would get the ball rolling for such an appearance. She will be missed. I am thankful that I was able to spend some quality time with her as she told her story. I hope that the family and those of us in the basketball arena will keep her legacy alive.”
“Linda Page played basketball for our AAU team, the Philadelphia Belles,” Eachus said. “I also coached against her while she was at Dobbins and I was at William Penn. I have hundreds of Linda Page stories, each a fond memory of a special character. Philly has lost another legend; the basketball community has lost a great player and those who knew her lost a friend. She will be missed by many.”
Page graduated from North Carolina State with a degree in criminal justice. She was a retired juvenile probation officer. She had the Linda Page Shooting Clinic. Page also played professional basketball in Sweden and Spain.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalized.
Barely a week has passed since the School Reform Commission publicized its controversial, “Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” and charter school leaders are letting it be known they will fight any plan that attacks per-pupil funding or forces charters schools to adopt an enrollment cap.
Specifically, charter school educators are taking umbrage with the SRC’s plan to slash $149 million from charter school funding, which represents a whopping seven percent drop in per-pupil funding. The plan also calls for a three-year freeze on per-pupil payments, and finally, the enforcement of a mutually agreed upon growth schedule. SRC officials believe it can balance its budget in five years if these and other cuts are implemented.
“In my view, the [budget] issue should not be balanced on the backs of charter schools. The reality is, I don’t go along with that, and it’s not acceptable,” said state Representative Dwight Evans, who was among the leaders of the charter school movement nearly two decades ago, when he introduced legislation supporting the charter model. “First, let’s be clear, this is supposed to be about kids and parents, and there’s nothing in the law that gives the SRC the legal ability to [arbitrarily reduce payments]. There is nothing in the act, one way or the other, for the district to do this.”
Evans was referring to the Act 22 Charter School Legislation of 1997, and most charter proponents point to subsection 17-1723 (d), which states that, “enrollment of students in a charter school or cyber charter school shall not be subject to a cap or otherwise limited to any past or future action of a board of school directors … or any other authority, unless agreed to by the charter school or cyber charter school as part of a written charter.”
“We fought 15 years to get that law passed; 15 years we fought for the parents to have options, and we won’t let the school district mess with the kids,” Evans said, crediting longtime educator and attorney Dr. Walter D. Palmer as being an early leading protagonist of the cause. “The school district has its own ineptness, but we will not let them do this.
“Politically, they must not think of bringing this through Harrisburg, because I wouldn’t support it,” Evans said.
Palmer, at the forefront of the charter issue for almost three decades and who served as major supporter of the mid-’90s legislation, recently took the school district to court over the district’s attempts to cap enrollment at his successful Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School. According to Palmer, the school district has unfairly targeted the charter school system while ignoring both the achievements and gains made by the charters — and the district’s own mismanagement of resources and funds.
“The district has been repressive to charter schools for at least ten years,” Palmer said, placing much of the blame of the perceived public school — charter school friction at the feet of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman and former SRC chairman Robert Archie. “All of this is really an all-out assault on the charter school movement, but [the SRC] cannot circumvent the court.”
Palmer has defied the SRC’s cap measure by continuing to accept students, and billing the state directly. Twice, Palmer said, the courts have agreed with him, and ruled the district must reimburse Leadership Learning more than $1.3 million in outstanding per-pupil payments. The district is currently exhausting its appeals in that matter and Palmer expects a ruling sometime next month.
Palmer recently testified in a City Council hearing helmed by City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who is also the chair of Council’s education committee. There, Palmer made a series of suggestions to the SRC that he believes would help correct the problem.
“I suggested one of the things they do is completely dismantle renaissance schools, which are not charters. They are failed public schools that are reconstituted by the district and controlled by the district, but they then ask a charter school operator to come in and operate them; they are not charter schools,” Palmer said. “Then, I suggested they take those schools and turn them into promise academies. I also said they need to consolidate the mothballed schools; you have William Penn High School on Broad Street that’s sitting empty and costs a fortune to maintain.”
Some of the plans Palmer and other educators suggested — some going back years, if not decades — have finally made their way into the SRC’s reorganization blueprint, such as downsizing the central office; decentralizing certain services and generally trying to trim operations. But the decision to make these cuts came years after continual warnings.
Palmer said the school district really doesn’t have an excuse; the charter school legislation has been in place since 1997, and instead of working in conjunction with charter schools, it seems to him the district is bent on destroying them.
“Stop trying to bash charter schools,” Palmer said. “What we are experiencing now is a white hostile takeover of Black education in America. Folks have realized there are millions and millions to be made [in corporate education] right in the heart of the Black community, and this is happening in urban Black districts with Black folks on their watch.”
The issue of capped enrollment is very real; and doesn’t just affect Philadelphia and its stable of charter schools, as the Chester Upland Charter School recently won the right to uncapped enrollment. Basically, if a charter school is allowed uncapped enrollment, it can then theoretically build other schools to house the added enrollment, provided they meet staffing, safety and academic guidelines.
“They’ve gotten to a point where the school district is bankrupt; why should charters have to pay for the school district’s inability to manage its budget?” said Dr. Veronica Joyner, founder and chief administrative officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia. “And now, [the SRC] is giving us less. Are they expecting the charters to fail, since they are taking money away instead of rewarding us?”
Like Palmer’s school, MCSCS has made Adequate Yearly Progress in consecutive years, and both its financial and academic records are strong. Joyner, like Palmer, is worried about the possibility of working with fewer funds.
“I am totally concerned about that,” said Joyner, who also serves as president and founder of Parents United for Better Schools, Inc. “The school district already takes almost 30 percent of the allotment given to us by the state. Now they want us to contribute more money when it’s not our failure. Charters are doing good, and there should be more support, not less.”
Joyner said she has a waiting list 7,000-plus students’ strong, which points to the academic prowess of her school. She believes that charters are a unique educational necessity that warrants saving.
“We’re talking about a school district that has failed,” Joyner said. “That budget didn’t just creep up on them like that — it’s been creeping up on them for years, and I am appalled no one saw that and did anything about it. We are already operating on much less than the public schools do. Now they are going to cut us, and expect us to do a better job with less.
“This is not fair to charter school operators, or the families we serve,” Joyner continued. “Because we are expected to do a better job than public schools — and we’ve shown that we are capable of doing that — we should have more support.”
Instead of aiming at charter schools, Joyner said, more attention should be paid to the district’s hierarchy and its plans for a new leader, since direction will no doubt come from on high. Joyner has been in education for more than 40 years, and senses a recurring pattern by the SRC.
“The district usually goes outside of Philadelphia to find a superintendent, and that has always been its first failure,” Joyner said. “My concern is we keep getting people who, on paper, can do these things, but come in and leave the district in a worse state. There are people right here in Philadelphia who can lead the district. I question [the SRC’s] motives.”
Michael P. Kelly, administrative receiver of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, resigned Friday, which he said is due to family responsibilities.
“Franky, I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Kelly told the Tribune Friday afternoon. “Believe me, it has nothing to do with politics, or with the public officials and the citizens of Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter has been very gracious, and I’ve had positive experiences with city council. I’m thankful for my time here in Philadelphia, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. The Tribune has been especially gracious and fair with us, and I really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from the community.”
Pressed on the reason for his resignation, Kelly said he won’t elaborate, but promises more information next week.
“It really was a personal, painful decision for family reasons,” he said. “I know that sounds like a typical politician’s line, but it happens to be true.”
Karen Newton-Cole of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted Kelly’s resignation Friday during the monthly board meeting.
Additionally, HUD announced that Estelle Richman, a senior adviser to the HUD secretary, would replace Cole and return to her role as the one-person authority board commissioner and receiver. Richman served as the PHA board when HUD took control over the agency last year.
“It has been my pleasure to serve you as the commissioner of the Philadelphia Housing Authority,” Cole said.
Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA’s current director of audit and compliance, was appointed by Cole to be the provisional executive director of PHA. Janea Jordan will have Jeremiah’s position.
“We are going to launch a national search in terms of identifying an executive director,” Cole said.
While at the helm of PHA, Kelly was credited for many sweeping reforms. He re-established the Office of General Counsel — which manages PHA’s legal affairs, and he created the Office of Internal Audit and Compliance to ensure business transitions were compliant.
Kelly headed PHA’s Transition Plan — which aims to establish a culture of respect, accountability and transparency at the agency. A zero tolerance policy was instituted, and employees were held to new ethic policies and procedures.
Under Kelly, PHA reached a new contract agreement with Building and Construction Trades Council regarding workers pensions. He is also given credit to his ability to maintain focus and provide uninterrupted service at PHA during the Greene controversy.
In 2008, accusations of sexual harassment against PHA director Carl Greene surfaced. Greene was fired in September 2010 after the board of directors discovered that Greene used approximately $900,000 of federal funding for multiple harassment settlements.
Using his architecture, urban planning and 30-year housing authority experience from other cities like San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., Kelly arrived to PHA in December of 2010 in the midst of the internal turmoil.
As the interim executive director, Kelly was on loan to PHA from the New York City Housing Authority, based on agreements that he serve both roles while maintaining duties as general manger of NYCHA. It wasn’t until August 2011 that Kelly was named permanent executive director at PHA.
HUD asked the five-member PHA board to quit, thus gaining control of the agency. Philadelphia City Council member Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding, Debra Brady, wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), tenant leader Nellie Reynolds, and former Philadelphia mayor John Street eventually stepped down from the board.
“Mr. Kelly came to PHA at a very difficult time and he immediately focused on getting back to basics in property management and resident services and making PHA accountable and transparent in business practices,” Richman said in a press release. “We will miss his energy and his ability to connect with the community.”
“I do love this work,” Kelly said. “I do love this housing authority. I do love the residents that I have been honored to serve. I love the colleagues that I had an honor to serve with.”
City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is a sharp critic of the suggestions put forth by the Boston Consulting Group, the firm the School District of Philadelphia hired for a top-down assessment of the district’s operations — and to formulate recommendations to remedy the district’s ills.
In fact, Blackwell is so concerned about the district implementing BCG’s proposals that she has called for a series of public meetings with Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan — also a vocal critic of BGC’s plans — to discuss and properly inform parents and caregivers of the coming changes.
“As chair of the City of Philadelphia City Council Committee on Education, I am, of course, committed to providing superior educational opportunities for our students. I have and will always advocate for the highest standards and best practices that will enhance the quality and substance of education for all our young scholars,” Blackwell wrote in a letter to Jordan, and subsequently released to the media. “As you are aware, the Boston Consulting Group’s report to the School Reform Commission titled, ‘Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools: Key Findings and Recommendations,’ promulgates practices, objectives and outcomes that will significantly impact the City of Philadelphia entire; each student, each parent, each teacher and each bus driver now stands on the proverbial edge of change, not knowing what the future holds.
“And so, I believe, and I’m sure you will agree, we need to reach out to the public in order to ensure that they are being informed and thus, better prepared for the coming changes,” Blackwell continued in her note. “Therefore, as chair of the City Council Committee on Education, I do hereby formally proclaim the necessity for public hearings to be held as soon as possible concerning the aforementioned report.”
The BGC report includes various cost cutting measures that, if acted upon, will further diminish the district’s programming. The report suggests the district should shift to a portfolio management model; expand the charter school program; decentralize headquarters and operations, and move forward with a privatization plan which has the potential to alter the look and feel of every non-mandated program or service the district offers. Only approved businesses enrolled in the district’s Achievement Network will be able to bid on contracts to provide those services.
One such service would be busing. The BCG report suggests the district could save $22 million annually if it enacts a three-phase plan — which includes bringing in a management team to operate the buses.
BGC’s report also states the district could save upwards of $40 million annually if the SRC closed 50 schools; this is in line with suggestions included in the Facilities Master Plan.
Jordan was unavailable for comment as of Tribune deadline, but Jordan assailed BCG’s findings and recommendations on a recent blog posting, calling into question BCG’s merits of making education-related decisions, and for the plan’s silence on giving back to the students and district employees.
“The BCG’s plan is quick to point out schools’ low student performance (by the standards of the district’s rather unreliable Student Performance Index), but ignores key contributing factors. There’s no recommendation for a strategy to address the extreme poverty many of our children are living in, and how that affects classroom performance,” Jordan wrote. “While there’s plenty of tough talk about teacher work rules and changing the compensation structure, there are no thoughts about what is needed to support, develop and retain our teachers. To be fair, the BCG didn’t actually interview any classroom teachers for its recommendations, so we shouldn’t be surprised that there are no substantive ideas to improve teaching and learning … Improving teaching and learning in our schools is a complex process that requires input from educators and communities as well as business groups.”
And then there was one.
Dr. William R. Hite Jr., is the next superintendent and CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission announced Friday.
Hite was one of two finalists for the job. The other, Pedro Martinez, has been named superintendent of Reno, Nevada-based Washoe County School District, that district’s Board of Trustees announced Friday.
However, even before the Martinez’s announcement, Hite seemed the obvious choice.
He met this week with school and city leaders and was endorsed by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chairman of the education committee, and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Hite comes to Philadelphia from the Prince George’s County Public Schools system in Maryland, where he oversaw the nation’s eighth-largest school district, one that educates 135,000 students and contains 200 schools.
His resume also includes a stint as assistant superintendent for Atlanta’s Cobb County School District before his PGCS appointment, where he was responsible for 15 schools and 18,000 students.
The Philadelphia school district has over 160,000 students.
In Prince George’s County, Hite was known for his work on Intensive Support and Intervention Schools to support the most needy schools and at-risk students, while forging a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
He also led PGCS through a massive reorganization, a skill on which Hite will need to rely heavily as Philadelphia’s superintendent.
Announcing the SRC’s selection, Chairman Pedro A. Ramos said, “Today, we take a giant step toward providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children. Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader.”
Mayor Michael Nutter stated, “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. He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia. I would like to thank Wendell Pritchett for leading this effort by chairing the search committee and to all of the members of the community who attended meetings, offered advice and were involved in this thorough process.”
For a decade, Philadelphia’s school superintendents have been lightning rods for criticism.
Hite’s immediate predecessor, Arlene Ackerman, left last year under a barrage of controversy, with criticism from parents, the mayor and City Council for her handling of items ranging from school reform to budget negotiations with the city.
The new superintendent will be faced with a growing budget crisis and ongoing reform efforts.
With a budget deficit that is now poised to jump from $218 million to more than $270 million, the SRC will either have to implement another round of cuts, on top of already deep cuts, or borrow to close its spending gap. Already the district, its students and parents are dealing with several rounds of layoffs and furloughs.
Martinez’ sudden exit from the running came early Friday with a statement from the Washoe County School District.
“We are excited to welcome Pedro Martinez to the Washoe County School District. In addition to strong leadership, Pedro brings a tremendous amount of passion for high-quality education, our 63,000 children, and this community. As we continue to move our school district forward, we know Pedro will continue the important work in our strategic plan and will do that work by talking with everyone in our schools and community,” said Board President Ken Grein in a statement released by the WCSD. “We are thrilled to welcome him, and we know our successes will continue as he assumes this critical role.”
WCSD has 63,000 students and includes schools in Reno, Incline Village, Gerlach and Wadsworth.
Martinez and Hite Jr. survived an extensive vetting process that included more than a dozen other candidates. By the time it was all over on Friday, Hite said he was happy to have been chosen.
“Philadelphia is one of America’s greatest cities, and I am excited about the opportunities that it offers. I look forward to working with the leaders and families of this city as we work to improve the lives of our youth,” said Hite.
While details surrounding the transition are still being determined, Search Team Chair and SRC Commissioner Dr. Wendell Pritchett reiterated the SRC’s commitment to an open and transparent process. “We will make Dr. Hite’s contract public as soon as it is finalized,” said Pritchett.
Celebrating the official opening of a 101-unit public housing development in West Philadelphia, federal, state and city officials gathered at Mantua Square in West Philadelphia this week for a ribbon cutting.
The $28.1 million Philadelphia Housing Authority development, which replaced Mantua Hall, a notorious 18-story tower at 35th Street and Fairmount Avenue, was lauded as an example for the city and the nation.
“This is our future right here,” said Jane Vincent, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We consider this a very successful model of what can be done.”
The stark contrast to the crumbling and dangerous Mantua Hall, built in 1960 and demolished in 2008, caught everyone’s attention.
“This is a very, very different place,” said Mayor Michael Nutter as he looked over the tidy square in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
In an attempt to give the development a suburban feel, each of the red brick units is set behind a small lawn on the street side and faces an interior courtyard that houses parking and a small park at the center of the court.
“You feel like you’re in the suburbs and you’re in the heart of Mantua,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents the district.
In addition to one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 725 to 1,441 square feet, the complex includes 10,000 square feet of commercial and community space.
But, it was the green features that caught the attention of the officials gathered for the grand opening.
Each unit has energy saving appliances, the park enhances natural drainage and 793 solar panels.
“You don’t even see solar panels in Chestnut Hill,” joked Sen. Vincent Hughes, who noted that construction of the complex involved 250 jobs and the new, friendlier complex could help renew the neighborhood.
“That’s what this is all about, the revitalization of the neighborhood,” he said.
The official opening of the project comes at a time when Congress is trying to cut funding for public housing. So, in addition to the grand opening, officials announced that October is Housing America Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of public housing.
“This is not a time to disenfranchise our nation’s most vulnerable citizens by reducing funding,” said John Bohm, director of congressional relations with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, who went on to note that 1 in 6 Americans lived in poverty in 2010.
In an interesting side note, Blackwell told the assembled crowd that she hoped to return to her position as housing authority board member.
“I’m hoping one day to get back,” she said in a remark that received more than polite applause.
Blackwell has long been known as a housing advocate and served on the PHA board for nine years.
She stepped down last year in the wake of the Carl Greene scandal, a move that paved the way for a federal take over of the authority. At the time she told reporters that she was stepping down in an effort “be part of the solution.” Her departure, the first, spurred the other board members to follow her lead and eventually all resigned and the agency was placed in the hands of a federal receiver.
Blackwell said as she resigned that she hoped to return when the feds once again returned the agency to local control. Officials at HUD have said they hope to relinquish control by March.
Mayor, community groups, head of teachers union welcome new superintendent
According to early reports, the School Reform Commission seems to have gotten it right with the selection of career educator Dr. William R. Hite Jr. as its next School District of Philadelphia Superintendent.
A myriad of stakeholders unanimously hailed the SRC for its choice, giving embattled school officials rare praise.
“Today, we take a giant step toward providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children,” said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos last Friday, when the decision had been reached. “Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader.”
Hite Jr. comes from the Prince George’s County Public Schools system, Maryland’s second-largest school district with an enrollment of 135,000 and a budget of $1.6 billion.
The SRC has promised to release the details of Hite Jr.’s contract as soon as it is finalized.
Nutter, kept abreast at every stage in the superintendent search, also praised Hite Jr. for his education acumen and dedication to students.
“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,” Nutter said in a joint statement released by the SRC. “He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia. I would like to thank Wendell Pritchett for leading this effort by chairing the search committee and to all of the members of the community who attended meetings, offered advice and were involved in this thorough process.
High-ranking members of City Council were equally impressed with the new superintendent’s education acumen and his straightforward, yet affable nature. While Hite Jr. seems at ease in Philadelphia, even with taking on such a monumental challenge, veteran members of Council expect Hite to deliver on the hype.
“I am very pleased. He was my choice — and not that the other guy couldn’t do the job — but [Hite Jr.] was my pick from the beginning,” said Education Committee Chair Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, noting that Hite Jr. was very forthcoming about the problems identified in the district, including combating low morale and dealing with special education issues. “But I am interested in what he plans to do about crime and truancy, and how he wants to handle alternative education for the kids who don’t make it out of regular classes.
“We look forward to the opportunity to directly engage him.”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, co-chair of Council’s education committee, echoed Blackwell’s sentiments.
“I believe the background of Dr. Hite is important, as he has served as an educator, principal and superintendent. He faced numerous and similar challenges as the Superintendent in Prince George’s County School District that we face here in Philadelphia,” Reynolds Brown said. “That history will be vital and inform how he tackles the numerous budget and academic issues that confront the Philadelphia School District. He also seems well aware that the district cannot face the problems that it faces on an island — that it takes a community effort of all stakeholders. I appreciate that approach. I look forward to working with him as we move the needle forward for our students.”
To form that relationship with students and teachers, Hite Jr. must first form a relationship with the powerful Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union. Previous superintendents had, at best, lukewarm relationships with the union, but PFT President Jerry Jordan seems willing to start anew with Hite.
“On behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the city’s educators and staff, I congratulate and welcome Dr. William R. Hite as he assumes the role of Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. In a time of great upheaval for our schools, we are hopeful that Dr. Hite’s appointment signals the beginning of stability and clarity that has been lacking for many months,” Jordan said in a statement released by the PFT. “Dr. Hite’s background as an educator and administrator in urban school districts should serve him well as he navigates the unique challenges facing Philadelphia’s Public Schools. The PFT looks forward to collaborating with the new superintendent to ensure our students and teachers are given the support, tools and conditions that foster high quality teaching and learning.”
Leaders with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity — long a watchdog organization in the superintendent search — have yet to meet with Hite, but its leadership is looking forward to working with the new schools chief.
“I have not had the opportunity to hear or meet with Dr. Hite, however, some Black clergy, our general secretary and others, have met with him and conveyed that Dr. Hite was very charismatic, and his presentation was very good,” said Black Clergy President Rev. Terrence Griffith, referring to the recent community forum Hite Jr. attended. “It seems that he has done a tremendous job in Prince George’s County in terms of resuscitating that school district.
“I don’t know if being charismatic qualifies somebody, but it goes a long way in reaching a lot of people,” Griffith continued, “but if those people who attended the forum are correct, then the SRC has chosen wisely.”
City Council had little say about reorganization
A lack of input from the community and the city’s powerful politicians may prove fatal to the School District’s new plan to close more than three dozen schools across the city.
“I think the process is flawed,” said Council President Darrell Clarke, noting that, according to school officials, the process of selecting which schools would close has been going for more than a year. The public just learned the details in December. “You should have started having this conversation early on.”
Several members of City Council made similar arguments — chiding the district for its handling of the plan. Council members faulted the plan on several grounds, worrying that the closings didn’t take into account the impact those closings would have on the surrounding neighborhood, or how students would be affected when moved to different neighborhoods, or by the distance some will be required to travel.
“There are a lot of questions about how this was done,” said Jannie Blackwell, head of Council’s education committee. Eight schools in her district are expected to close. “It’s just not tightly enough put together.”
Despite repeated attempts, Superintendent William Hite could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Blackwell said she hopes to hold hearings on the plan next month. The dates are still up in the air but she told the Tribune she wanted to schedule them on the first or second Tuesday of February.
Every council member polled by the Tribune agreed that some schools will have close.
“I certainly understand the School District’s position and financial circumstances,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “We all know that they have been bleeding for many years.”
But, all three said they’d like to see the plan delayed.
Clarke, speaking as a representative of his district, and not council president, said he didn’t oppose “right-sizing.” And, Blackwell acknowledged that some schools will have to close.
No one blamed Hite, who has been in the District’s top position only since September.
School District officials, last month, released a list of 37 schools they expected to close due to falling enrollment. The plan would shift about 17,000 students to different schools. School officials contend it’s necessary for the cash-strapped district to close schools in an effort to save money.
However, the council president is not particularly pleased that Council was not part of the conversation as school officials drew up the proposal.
“They needed to have conversations outside of the School District family,” he said.
Doing so would have helped the District look beyond its present circumstances, said Clarke. As an example, he spoke about plans to close L.P. Hill Elementary and Strawberry Mansion High School because the number of students there has been dropping. However, he said, at least 194 new houses are being built near the school, which could bring a minimum of 200 students to the neighborhood.
“They had no idea about that,” he said. “This decision was made in a vacuum. There was a bean counter behind it.”
His sentiments were echoed by others on Council.
Blackwell said the plan didn’t seem to take into account the reality for many students in Philadelphia.
“Kids in this district can’t just go anywhere. We’ve got enough crime now — we don’t need that kind of crime,” Blackwell said.
“They have not given adequate thought or preparation to those closures,” she said, adding that she hopes to see a one-year moratorium on implementing the plan.
As an example she cited plans to close T.M. Pierce Elementary School and move students to E. Washington Rhodes Middle School.
“Walking from Pierce to Rhodes will be quite a challenge for young people,” she said, noting that the area between the two buildings was troubled by crime and blight.
Though he expected a broader discussion among council members, Clarke said this week, there has been very little group discussion so far.
Nearly a third of the schools expected to close are in North Philadelphia.
Ten of the 37 schools targeted for closing are in Clarke’s Fifth District. Two are in the adjoining portion of the Eighth District, represented by Bass, who has a total of five targeted schools in her district.
Clarke wondered why so many closings were planned in such a small area.
“There is a disproportionate number of schools to be closed in North Philadelphia,” he said.
That could seal the fate of an already troubled area.
“Realistically, the likelihood of a re-use of some of those buildings is extremely limited,” he said. “They close these schools down, and they walk away.”
That adds to blight and steers families away from the neighborhood.
“The first question always is ‘where are the schools?’” Clarke said.
The council president said that Hite briefed him personally on details of the plan the day before it was released to the public in a brief telephone conversation. Bass and Blackwell said they too had been briefed the day before the public announcement but none were consulted during the process of putting the plan together, they said.
Council’s options when it comes to influencing School District policy and SRC decisions are limited. Members can, and often do, give their opinions — but beyond that there is little they can do, aside from slashing school funding.
Council approved more money for the district in each of the last three years though in the last two budget cycles the city has sought to increase its power by first instituting a cooperative agreement with the district and then, last year, by awarding a portion of school funding as a grant, giving Council the opportunity to withhold funds.
Clarke said he expected the tug of war over money to intensify this year.
“We have no ability to influence operations,” he said. “The conversation, as to their ability to get more tax revenue out of the city, is going to be extremely limited.”
Blackwell was more explicit.
Noting that the SRC will not vote on the proposal until March she pointed out that Council will be heading into budget negotiations at the same time and the issue would be fresh in members’ minds.
“I am hopeful that we get some of this stuff worked out because if we don’t — you’re doggone right — we’re going to have a real problem here,” she said.
Clashes between city politicians and school officials are not new.
Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman left the District after several high profile battles with the administration and City Council. Ultimately, she lost the support of many elected officials including Mayor Michael Nutter and several members of City Council, a fact that led to resignation.
Clarke urged residents to continue to oppose the plan.
“I think the community should continue to show its displeasure,” he said, adding that he too supports a moratorium on closings.
“We are hopeful that in the end, we can have not all of these schools close,” Blackwell said. “We’re hopeful the District will reconsider and have community input because they know what works in their area and what doesn’t.”