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Hite leaving Prince George's schools for top job in Philadelphia

Prince George's school board to begin search for interim superintendent

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

3:59 PM EDT, July 6, 2012

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After four years at the helm of  Prince George's County schools, Superintendent William Hite is leaving the system for a new position in Philadelphia.

On June 25, the School Reform Commission for the School District of Philadelphia announced Hite was finalist for superintendent of the eighth-largest system in the nation, made up of about 200,000 students in chartered and district-run schools. By the end of the week, Hite, 51, had been offered — and accepted — the position.

"This announcement comes after weeks of discussion with the SRC," Hite said in a release after he was announced as a finalist. "While I have not sought out other professional opportunities, I have been approached on numerous occasions and have turned them down."

However, Hite said, he and his wife, Deidre, believed this was an opportunity they "must explore."

In Philadelphia, Hite will take the reins from Thomas Knudsen, who is serving the system as chief recovery officer — a combination of chief financial officer and superintendent. Knudsen has held that position since August 2011, when Superintendent Arlene Ackerman left the system.

InPrince George's County, Hite has overseen the state's second-largest school system, with nearly 125,000 students and a $1.6 billion budget, through several years of fiscal turbulence.

"(Hite) has ledPrince George's Countyschools with vision and innovation under financial challenges that might have broken a weaker superintendent," Board of Education members said in a release. "We appreciate the stability, progress, transparency and accountability that accompanied his tenure. The foundation for future success is firmly in place thanks in large part to his efforts."

Hite's tenure added stability

Hite has been a part of Prince George's County Public Schools since 2006, when he was hired as deputy superintendent. Prior to that, Hite was an assistant superintendent in the Cobb County School District in Georgia, and a director of middle school instruction in Henricho County in Virginia, where he also served as a middle and high school principal.

Two years after first joining Prince George's schools, Hite became interim superintendent in December 2008, after the departure of John Deasy. Hite was named superintendent in April 2009, and is currently in the fourth year of his contract with the system.

"The biggest thing Dr. Hite provided with his tenure was stability," said David Murray, who was a student member of the Board of Education and is now a candidate for the District 1 seat on the board — the district that includes Laurel. "He had a longer tenure than most, and it was a blessing to have that stability from year to year."

Zabrina Epps, another candidate for the District 1 seat, described Hite's legacy as one of growth for the school system — which is why she said she wasn't too surprised about Hite's departure.

"We've experienced gains under his tenure, and it's gotten the attention of other school systems around the country," Epps said. "Philadelphia is also seeking reform in its schools. ... We incrementally did better in terms of testing, and we led the state in that regard. I think that the students have been getting better educational experiences around the county. That's not to say there's not room for improvement, but the framework that he laid out, profiling what a graduate should look like and following through with high school reform, that got the county moving in the right direction."

Epps and Murray both said the next challenge is ensuring Hite's work is continued by the next superintendent.

"The most important thing is to find someone committed to staying here," Murray said. "We have to make sure we can hold onto the person who comes here. We can get a super-sized superintendent, but if they keep moving up the ladder, it doesn't do us much good. ... In terms of quality, we need someone who can look at what we're doing well, and what we're not doing well. We need an evaluation of the programs and people that are succeeding and those that need replaced."

Hite's contract stipulates he gives the system 120 days notice before leaving for a new position if he wants to receive severance. A written agreement between Hite and the board would relieve him of this obligation, which would extend his stay in the county until October.

Hite's salary and start date in Philadelphia have not been finalized. He is currently earning $250,000 yearly as Prince George's superintendent.

According to a statement from the Prince George's County Board of Education, the board will work with Hite over the next four months on a transition plan for a smooth start to the school year, and that in the coming weeks, the board will choose an interim superintendent and announce plans to work with the community to select Hite's successor.

Epps expressed hope that the schools' next superintendent would be one with a vision, and a plan to execute that vision.

"We need someone who can not only articulate a vision (for the schools), but someone who can also lay out a road map to do that, and to issue a rallying cry among parents, students, teachers and administrators," Epps said. "There is an opportunity for that to happen, for Prince George's County Public Schools to have one message and one voice."