Dr. Bill Hite has finally gotten what he’s wanted for all these years. Yale School of Management has welcomed former School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Hite to be an inaugural superintendent in residence and executive fellow at The Broad Center for 2022-2023. Having run Philadelphia schools since 2013, we aren’t surprised; Dr. Hite has made all the right moves, for his benefit, to get here.
So, we welcome you, Dr. Hite, as graduates of the district under your leadership.
Sadly, there are few Philadelphia public school graduates here — and you’re partially at fault for that. When you closed schools, appeased the University of Pennsylvania for scraps of their massive endowment, remodeled your office while mismanaging school repairs and created an asbestos-filled environment for them, students under your leadership struggled. The predominately-Black, quickly-diversifying school district may have escaped financial instability, but students still learn in overcrowded, segregated classrooms that lack basic resources, in buildings that are unsafe to enter.
We can’t put all blame on you for our underfunded schools: The state legislature starves the poorest and most vulnerable communities. But you didn’t work to help the district the way we needed you to. You worked to climb the ladder to get to a space like Yale.
Toxic school conditions have long been a problem in Philadelphia schools. Most buildings were built before 1970 using asbestos insulation and lead paint. Today, this contributes to teachers developing mesothelioma and children ingesting lead through paint chips and drinking water. Instead of yielding the calls from public school reform leaders to address the problem before kids entered schools, Hite let the toxic schools crisis climax in early 2019. Within two weeks, seven public schools, including a neglected neighborhood school and a high-performing, generally wealthier, magnet school, shut down due to asbestos hazards, disrupting thousands of students’ learning. Hite’s disregard for neighborhood school students was evident: Their needs were on the back burner, sending them 30 minutes away for classes, while those of the more vocal magnet school were heard and accounted for immediately. In the midst of this crisis, Dr. Hite announced a $600,000 renovation to his office, which he claimed was necessary and does not regret.
Dr. Hite’s School District of Philadelphia is where cockroaches and mice share halls with students and teachers. Falling from the ceilings are paint chips and the actual ceiling. Exposed are pipes wrapped in duct tape to prevent them from falling apart. His leadership meant that in cold months, teachers told students to wear coats to class because heaters broke and classrooms were freezing. Ninety-eight percent of tested Philadelphia schools have lead in their drinking fountains. In the first week of the 2022-23 school year, dozens of schools cut the school day short due to heat waves and no air conditioning because Dr. Hite’s leadership didn’t entail funding simple building resources. This failure in leadership to provide safe learning environments shows Dr. Hite’s disregard for Philadelphia’s students.
In 2013, Hite closed 24 public schools in Philadelphia, to “reverse our enrollment declines as we create safer, more modern learning environments and build sustainable community partnerships and coalitions.” Throughout his leadership, Philadelphia public school enrollment plummeted. A two percent drop in public school enrollment from the 2020-21 to 2021-22 school year is a significant feat and the opposite of what Hite promised would occur as his tenure began. Many Philadelphia public schools remain overcrowded and are not conducive to a great learning environment. Educators are overwhelmed. Students don’t have desks to sit at. And Dr. Hite drove the district in this downward spiral.
We’ve talked a lot about problems that seem like they’re out of the Superintendent’s control. Often, Dr. Hite was between a rock and a hard place: Pennsylvania has one of the least fair funding formulas in the country for funding its public schools, causing our school district to be one of the poorest. But a true leader and champion for Philadelphia’s public schools stands up to the powers that deprive the district of funding. In 2020, after a student-led campaign demanding the University of Pennsylvania contribute 40 percent of what it would pay in taxes — they, like Yale, have a property tax exemption because they’re a non-profit — Penn announced they’d pay $100 million over 10 years. The district operates on a $3.9 billion yearly budget — would $100 million really make a dent? Dr. Hite expressed his gratitude for their donation, choosing to appease Penn instead of fighting for students’ needs.
Dr. Hite surely has valuable experience that’s worth learning from: being the superintendent of a major school district for 10 years enables you to learn the ins and outs of public education in a way that few have. He had a job that certainly wasn’t easy and one most people probably couldn’t handle.
But, we advise all those planning to learn under Dr. Hite to take what he says with a grain of salt: he’s not the champion of education that he’s branded to be. In times of need, Dr. Hite sheltered in place — in renovated district offices — instead of working with students and teachers he ignored.
So, Dr. Hite, welcome to New Haven! There are a few of us from Philadelphia public schools here – maybe we’ll run into each other! The buildings here are repaired and updated periodically, so you won’t need to worry about health safety lawsuits from lead poisoning or cancer. More importantly, don’t worry about classroom overcrowding here, like we had back home. Because of your indifference, there aren’t enough of us at Yale.
ADEN GONZALES ‘25 is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College, majoring in History and pursuing an Education Studies Certificate. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIKTOR KAGAN ‘24 is a junior in Pierson College, majoring in Environmental Studies and pursuing an Education Studies Certificate. Contact him at email@example.com.
Aden and Viktor are both proud graduates of Philadelphia’s public schools.