School District issues call to action for public education funding

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite speaks during a news conference Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at City Hall. — Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman

Following the national reckoning over racism this summer and criticism from staff and student advocates over its commitment to providing equitable opportunities, The School District of Philadelphia launched a multi-year effort Tuesday to confront inequality.

“As a district, there are things that we can do to ensure that, at least when children are in schools … they have every opportunity to achieve,” Superintendent William Hite said at a press conference. “We want to disrupt or eliminate all those systems that have disadvantaged some individuals.”

The ‘equity coalition’ will be housed in the Office of the Superintendent, and consist of subcommittees made up of administrative staff, principals, and teachers.

Long term, the coalition plans to come up with a systemwide “equity lens” that will be used to change policy around things like educator diversity, racial disparities in achievement, and underrepresentation of Black and Latino students in advanced courses.

In the short term, though, the coalition’s goals are modest: over the next year, the coalition will conduct a districtwide equity audit and a needs assessment to develop priorities the coalition plans to accomplish in year two.

The launch of the equity coalition comes as Hite is under fire from some school staff and advocates. A petition for a vote of “no confidence” in Hite started by the principal’s union calls out Hite for turning down ‘repeated requests” to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office within the school district, among other complaints including mishandling toxic school buildings and slow district-wide academic growth.

The Commonwealth Association of School Administrators President Robin Cooper said Tuesday the equity coalition is a good step, but doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“A coalition has no real oversight,” Cooper said. “We are looking for an office like the Inspector General’s Office that really ensures diversity is respected throughout the district.”

The principals’ public petition has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

On Tuesday, Hite, whose contract runs through 2022, dismissed the criticism.

“I can’t get hung up with those types of things,” Hite said. “I do think it is critically important for all of us to stay focused on what we are trying to accomplish, because it’s hard enough already on our families.

This article first appeared on WHYY.org.

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