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February 15, 2013 - Fresh out of a grueling City Council hearing on impending school closures, School District of Philadelphia (SDP) Superintendent Dr. William H. Hite took the time to address a friendlier crowd at Penn on Tuesday night. Hite, who took the helm of SDP in October 2012, delivered Penn GSE’s 15th Annual Constance E. Clayton Lecture to an auditorium packed with teachers, administrators, and other members of the education community eager to learn more about his plans for saving the struggling district.
Dr. Hite’s address, simply titled “Leading Through Change,” reviewed the organizational and cultural approaches his administration is taking to address the challenges – many of which are shared by large urban schools around the country – facing Philadelphia’s education system.
Hite paid particular attention to the “persistent and pernicious achievement gap,” which he described as falling along racial lines and being a very real threat to Philadelphia’s children. For example, he linked a lack of educational achievement to poverty, incarceration, crime, and poor health, explaining that tackling the achievement gap is the best way to “save a life.”
“Smart is not something you are, it’s something you become,” Hite said, arguing that access and opportunities – not inherent traits – are the seeds of student success. He cited Penn senior Haywood Perry, who graduated from high school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, when Dr. Hite was superintendent there, as an example of what students can achieve when schools are successful. Perry plans to graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences in May and is pursuing an internship at the White House.
Dr. Frances Rust, director of GSE’s Teacher Education Program (TEP), attended the lecture along with several of her students and fellow GSE professors. “Dr. Hite showed his deep understanding of how children learn and of the complex work of teaching,” she said. “As he has gone around the city, I am sure that with his ability to listen and the openness that he demonstrated, he has won the confidence of many parents and teachers in Philadelphia.”
Hite’s lecture marked an important milestone in a “collaborative and fruitful partnership” between Penn GSE and Philadelphia’s school system. When Hite first arrived in Philadelphia in October, Dean Andy Porter hosted a special dinner at his home for Dr. Hite, his senior staff, and other members of Philadelphia’s education community. Penn GSE also partners with SDP on the Penn Alexander School, and most students in the Teacher Education Program student teach in Philadelphia’s public schools.
In fact, many TEP graduates seek employment in the district despite teacher layoffs and budget shortfalls in recent years. Current TEP student Jake Frumkin raised this issue during the question and answer portion of Dr. Hite’s lecture, saying he was eager to teach in Philadelphia public schools but felt it was impossible because of a hiring freeze.
“We still have to hire about 900 teachers a year,” Dr. Hite responded. “Don’t give up on us. Send me your résumé.”
The Annual Constance E. Clayton Lecture honors Dr. Connie Clayton, who earned her Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Penn GSE in 1981. Dr. Clayton, who began her career in Philadelphia as a teacher, went on to serve as Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia from 1983 until her retirement in 1993, where she was known for tackling the district’s difficult budget without cutting student services, attracting local businesses to help equip schools with better resources, and establishing schools the center of their communities.
To see photos from the 2013 Clayton Lecture, click here.