Philadelphians have to step up and make sure the city’s students — particularly Black students — get the education they need to compete in the global economy, schools Superintendent William Hite told a gathering of the city’s leadership and educational stakeholders.
“If your mission is to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights — and if we know that none of these come without education, then I implore you to join us as we work to provide opportunity and access for all,” Hite said. “This means we must call for more opportunity for our students — regardless of their background or ZIP code.”
Citing a dropout rate near 50 percent, and noting that less than one fifth of Philadelphia students graduate from high school, enroll in college and persist in college for more than two years, Hite was particularly worried about Black students.
“If education is the means to equality, access and opportunity for employment, we can no longer accept an educational system that allows Black children to lag behind all others,” he said. “This will practically eliminate our students from careers in growth areas.”
The new superintendent, who started in September, gave his speech at the Urban League of Philadelphia’s Whitney M. Young Empowerment Awards Luncheon at the Loew’s Hotel in Center City. More than 400 people attended the annual banquet. This year’s theme was “Educate, Employ, Empower — Preparing for Tomorrow Today.”
Though Hite’s speech, which included a number of anecdotes about his own rise from a poor youth, was not an outline of district policy, he sketched for his audience the changes in the nature of education — noting that in America the calendar and often the curriculum are based on the nation’s agrarian past.
But, times have changed.
“By in large, the jobs of the future are STEM jobs,” he said. “That’s science, technology, engineering and math. And, while there will always be a need for the arts, business and communications, our nation is putting its resources behind more training in science, more training in technology and engineering and mathematics.”
Education officials need to work to help teachers help students hone their most basic skills — reading, writing and math — but also help them provide a broader range of experiences and skills that will prepare them for a job market that is more challenging than it has ever been.
“Our education interaction with [students] must start earlier … and last longer,” Hite said, telling the crowd that education starts before schooling begins and extends to apprenticeships, continuing education and job training.
“It is clear that we are losing too many of our young people who do not have the skills that are required for today’s jobs, much less those of the future. That should shock all of us who claim to care about our legacy,” he said.
The speech came at time when the school district has been forced to borrow upwards of $300 million to cover its deficit. The loan caps several years of financial turmoil within the district which has left school officials faced with a number of stark decisions - including a recent announcement that it will close dozens of schools. The final list is expected next week.
In addition to Hite’s speech, the Urban League also gave awards to: Monica Burch, Vice President and Underwriter, PNC Bank, who received the Urban Leader Under 40 Award; Darryl Anderson, Consulting Associate, Lee Hecht Harrison who received the Volunteer Award; Harold Epps, President and CEO, PRWT Services who collected the Business Leader Award; State Farm which received the Community Service Award; and United Bank of Philadelphia, which got the Community Leader Empowerment Award.
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