Maryland superintendent named finalist to lead Philadelphia public schools

The superintendent of Maryland’s second-largest school system has been named a finalist to lead the School District of Philadelphia.

William Hite Jr., superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, is one of two candidates for the job, along with Pedro Martinez, a deputy superintendent in Clark County, Nevada. Both are vying to replace Arlene Ackerman, who left in August after three rocky years.

Hite and Martinez will get an opportunity to meet the public at community forums Monday and Tuesday at the school district’s headquarters. The district plans to make a selection in the next few weeks and have the new superintendent start next month.

Since 2009, Hite has served as superintendent in Prince George’s County, which is the eighteenth largest school system in the nation with 135,000 students and 200 schools. Hite had served as interim superintendent since December 2008 and deputy superintendent since June 2006. He also has experience as a middle school and high school principal in the Henrico County Public School System in Richmond, Va.

Hite said he has declined other offers, but that he and his wife had to consider Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press.

The Philadelphia job would offer a significant step up for Hite with 249 schools not including charters and nearly double the $1.6 billion budget for Prince George’s County. The district is also facing major financial problems that may force officials to close up to 40 schools to cut costs. It also negotiating with the union representing blue-collar workers in hopes of averting 2,500 layoffs.

The search process has had mixed results in recent years. Ackerman, hired in 2008, implemented several reforms, including the Renaissance Schools initiative to turn around low-performing district schools either through charter management or district-led turnaround teams. At the same time, her tenure was marked by conflicts with elected officials and the School Reform Commission and ended with the now-infamous $905,000 buyout.

Ackerman’s runner-up, Leroy Nunery II, was hired as deputy superintendent and named interim superintendent upon her departure, but failed to keep the job due to the district’s budget woes and perceived mismanagement.

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