And then there were two.
After a diligent public and private vetting process that lasted several months, the School Reform Commission has narrowed down to two finalists for the coveted — and controversial — position as the next School District of Philadelphia superintendent.
Both Pedro Martinez and Dr. William R. Hite Jr. are accomplished, esteemed educators who bring a good mix of traditional educational practices and cutting-edge methodology and arrive without any of the questions that surrounded predecessor Arlene Ackerman.
The SRC, under fire for its budget and five-year reorganization plan, which has caused several rounds of layoffs and furloughs, wanted to make sure it got this decision correct, regardless of how painstaking the process turned out to be.
“In January, the five SRC commissioners put together a [superintendent] search team, and put together the job description of the best qualities we thought were important,” said SRC Commissioner Wendell E. Pritchett, the point man for this process. “We then engaged in month-long community meetings, where we put the job description out there. We had facilitators at those meetings who created a final report.
“As a result of that final report [from the stakeholders], we expanded the search team and narrowed [the search] down to 15 people,” Pritchett continued. “We brought in 11 for formal interviews, talked to them about the job description and the specific criteria that the community listed, and judged them on that merit.”
After that, Pritchett said, last month the SRC brought back five of those interviewed, where they met with the search team and with the SRC commissioners; four names were then chosen.
“The SRC search team did more investigation, and talked to them yet again,” Pritchett explained. “Then the SRC decided to bring forward these two.”
It would be hard to argue the qualifications of either Martinez or Hite Jr., one of whom will doubtless become the next leader of Philadelphia’s public school system.
Martinez, currently serving as deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada, already went through a public vetting of sorts during yesterday’s public forum. Hite Jr. will go through a similar probing today at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 440 N. Broad Street.
For better or worse, fallowing Ackerman will be a daunting feat, but given Martinez’s background, it seems he has the qualifications for the job. The Clark County School District is the 5th largest in the nation, serving 308,000 students while operating a portfolio that contains 257 schools and academic departments. Martinez is credited for the creation of a program which targeted at-risk seniors, earning the district a 65 percent graduation rate while each of that district’s 49 high schools made significant gains.
Martinez’s academic career is extensive.
Martinez began his life’s work as the director of finance for the Archdiocese of Chicago before leaving to become regional superintendent with Chicago Public Schools, where he later served as chief financial officer, overseeing a $5.2 billion dollar budget; of particular interest, while with CPS, Martinez managed to increase its financial reserves from $200 million to more than $450 million. Student proficiency almost doubled during Martinez’s stewardship of CPS.
Before joining Clark County, Martinez served in a similar capacity at Washoe County School District in Nevada, where he controlled 102 of its schools. Martinez also led aggressive academic initiatives there as well, including the implementation of K–12 college and career readiness program, which considerably increased WCSD’s graduation rate.
Like Martinez, Hite Jr. is a career educator hailed for his turnaround skills.
Hite Jr. currently serves as superintendent of the Prince George’s County Public Schools system in Maryland, where he oversees the nation’s eighth-largest school district, one that educates 135,000 students and contains 200 schools in its portfolio.
Hite Jr. served as assistant superintendent for Atlanta’s Cobb County School District before his PGCS appointment, where he was responsible for 15 schools and the academic adequacy of 18,000 students. But Hite Jr. had his greatest successes in Maryland, where he previously served as interim superintendent before officially being named its leader. Hite Jr. is known for his work on the Intensive Support and Intervention Schools to support the most needy schools and at-risk students, while forging a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
Of import, Hite Jr. also led PGCS through a massive reorganization, a skill Hite Jr. will need to rely heavily upon if he is chosen as Philadelphia’s superintendent.
“Their bios speak for themselves. Hite Jr. is a superintendent of a complex school district with a high minority enrollment and led his district through a very difficult time,” said Pritchett. “Martinez is a deputy school superintendent in a district that also has a large minority enrollment and has been a leader in moving their agenda, increasing high school graduation and increasing proficiency.”
If either Martinez or Hite Jr. becomes the next superintendent here, it will continue a long trend of hiring outside the city for its leader. Neither former SRC CEO Paul Vallas nor Ackerman had ties to Philadelphia before their respective appointments. But the search team — and by extension, the SRC — weren’t giving a hometown slide to any candidate.
“Locality was an issue, as five of the candidates were from Philadelphia,” Pritchett said. “Choosing a candidate with Philadelphia connections was important, but in the end, we wanted the best candidate, and [Martinez and Hite Jr.] are the best candidates, given what we are facing.”
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.
Looking poised and confident, Pedro Martinez, who hopes to be Philadelphia’s next school superintendent, met concerned residents, educators and parents at the School District of Philadelphia 440 N. Broad Street on Monday evening.
During the event moderated by broadcaster E. Steven Collins, Martinez had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience about his history, educational philosophy and vision for the Philadelphia school district.
A line of people gathered at the microphone placed in the center of the auditorium for their chance to ask the would-be superintendent pointed questions about his ideas to reform a school district plagued by high dropout rates, insufficient funding and political divisiveness.
“What is your process or plan to engage parents, youth and community and how does it differ from the current plan?” asked Fred Ginyard of Youth United for Change. “How do we reform education in Philadelphia?”
“I feel the direction is clear, but there is a vacuum in details,” answered Martinez, who went on to recall his experiences reforming educational systems as deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada.
“How can you be sure that families and children are effectively engaged?” asked Sylvia P. Simms, founder and president of the group Parent Power.
“It’s not negotiable that families be a part of the process,” answered Martinez, who said that such engagement starts with conversations with both teachers and students and said that during his career he visited hundreds of schools and spoke with thousands of teachers, school principals and students.
It is through such ongoing dialogue, said Martinez, that we can get an idea of what needs to be done.
“You are walking into a dysfunctional situation,” said Timothy Hannah. Hannah went on to describe what he considers some of the problems faced by the beleaguered school district, which Martinez would inherit if he was to become the new superintendent.
Martinez pointed to his history in both Washoe County School District as well as Chicago Public School districts where he said he increased graduation rates from 56 percent to 76 percent in a two year period in Washoe County and increased student proficiency rates from 40 to 70 percent in Chicago.
One woman, who identified herself as a retired school teacher, said she attended several of the meetings leading to the public interview and, despite differences among those in attendance, one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the new superintendent should be an educator.
“Your training is as an accountant and a fiscal manager,” said the retired teacher, who said that she did not question Martinez’s passion or commitment, merely the fact that his educational background was in finance, not education. “How are you qualified to serve the school district when you have no degree in education?”
Martinez, who has a bachelor degree in accounting from the University of Illinois and a Masters from DePaul University in business management, assured that that the question was valid and that he was suitable for the position.
“I been in public education all of my life,” said Martinez, who said that all parts of the educational system, finance, educational standards and performance, go hand in hand.
“There is not a day that goes by where I’m not talking to a principal, or talking to a teacher about the issues.”
While officials with the School District of Philadelphia have been relatively transparent so far about their search for a new superintendent — having whittled the search down to two finalists, Dr. William Hite Jr. and Pedro Martinez — one thing remains unclear: the details of the contract of the new hire.
That decision could be made within a week, prompting the non-profit, non-partisan watchdog organization Committee of Seventy to inquire about the contract package, which, if compared to that of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, will be very competitive.
“The public has a right to know the costs of bringing and keeping the new superintendent here, said Committee of Seventy President and CEO Zack Stalberg, via a statement released by the organization. “Maximum transparency and full deliberation is especially important given the School District’s grave financial situation and past history of secrecy surrounding deals made with ex-superintendent Arlene Ackerman by the former School Reform Commission.”
Stalberg alluded to what he termed the “overly generous” contract given to Ackerman, alleging that her base salary of $325,000 was about $70,000 more than that of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who is now the city’s highest paid employee.
Ackerman also received a buyout package worth close to $1 million.
In his statement, Stalberg made several suggestions for the SRC to consider when formulating this contract. In particular, Stalberg suggests the new contract include language that ties performance bonus to objective criteria with public input, publicizing the new superintendent’s performance evaluation, establishing modest caps on future buyout packages, limiting to five years the superintendent’s initial contract and the elimination of retention bonuses.
School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said his office hasn’t received any official requests from the Committee of Seventy yet, but said the District will release the details of the contract after the selection process is over, and the contract offered and accepted.
“Our regular process is to make contracts public after they have been signed, so releasing the details of the contract is something we will absolutely do, without question,” Gallard said. “The SRC is committed to making sure that a superintendent contract is fair to the children of Philadelphia and the city’s taxpayers. The SRC will make the contract public right after it is finalized.”
That would seem to satisfy the Committee of Seventy.
“While revealing all the specifics of the contract while it is being negotiated may not be required or even desirable, the SRC can help diffuse a potential firestorm by providing some general information about the discussions with the two finalists for superintendent rather than risk the details leaking out in bits and pieces,” Stalberg said. “Confidence in the public schools is very fragile and the circumstances are unusually complicated. The public is entitled to know the carrots being offered to persuade someone to give up a secure job to come to Philadelphia.”