Do You Know How the School District is Run?

By: Aden Gonzales

May 29, 2020, 1:30 pm

It’s obvious that schools are an essential facet to the Philadelphia community. But who makes decisions regarding the schools of more than 203,000 Philly public school students? We all know Dr. Hite, but who else controls our schools? Who does Dr. Hite report to? Who is holding who accountable to ensure that our educational experience is the best that it can be? Read more to learn the inner functions of our School District and how you can maximize your voice to make changes. 

Let’s start with Dr. William Hite, the current Superintendent of Schools. According to Alfredo Practico, former Student Representative on the Board of Education, Dr. Hite “runs the School District on the day to day level. He's also the public face of the school district. So, a lot of his job has to do with meeting with different heads of departments … to make sure that everything  

in the district is flowing well -- that it's working for the students and working for the staff…. So he's very central to the things that are going on in the district. And then he'll also go around to different schools and just kind of pop in and say, you know, ‘Hey, how's it going?’”

While Dr. Hite sees through the day-to-day operations of the district, the Board of Education “really engages around policy,” according to President of the Board, Joyce Wilkerson. 

The Board Members are nominated by the Educational Nominating Panel, which is a group of thirteen Philadelphians, nine of whom are “the highest ranking officers of their organizations.” The panel, at the beginning of each mayoral term, accepts applications for the Board of Education, and selects twenty-seven “finalists” to give to Mayor Kenney, who then appoints nine of them. City Council has the power to approve or veto any appointee, but aside from that, the decisions are entirely in the hands of the Educational Nominating Panel and the Mayor. 

So, what does the Board of Education do? Well, they “ … oversee all major policy, budgetary, and financial decisions for the School District… appoint and evaluate the Superintendent of Schools, adopt the annual operating and capital budgets, authorize the receiving or expending of funds, and authorize charter schools.

To summarize, the Board of Education is responsible for all long term issues in the district. One of the largest responsibilities of the Board is to oversee Dr. Hite, and to make sure that he is doing his job well. 

Within the Board of Education, there are Board Committees, which are smaller groups made up of four to five Board members. There are four different Board Committees: the Student Achievement and Support Committee, the Finance and Facilities Committee, the Policy Committee, and the District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee. 

The Student Achievement and Support Committee meetings are, according to Practico, “for students, the most important meeting.” During these meetings, issues such as “investments that support schools and classrooms,” are discussed. They talk about “all of the academic things like extracurriculars, clubs, sports, how to promote testing, do we want to look at new textbooks.” This committee meets monthly during the regular school year at 440 N. Broad Street, is currently holding virtual meetings via Zoom. More information regarding testifying at the Student Achievement and Support Committee is forthcoming.  

The Finance and Facilities Committee is responsible for the budget of the school district. This means that issues such as school improvements regarding asbestos and lead paint, are largely under their control. This time of the year is very busy for the Finance and Facilities Committee, as they are the first to read the budget and make changes, deciding which programs should get funding, and which shouldn’t. This committee, according to President Wilkerson, “is the only time [The Board] gets close to day-to-day kind of issues.” They also meet once a month. Students can register to testify at these meetings on the school district’s website.

The Policy Committee only meets four times during the school year. They are the final read on all new policies, ensuring that policies are inclusive of all students. Lastly, the District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee also meets four times during the school year. They go to various community centers in the city and engage in dialogue with community members about things that can be improved.

Almost every decision made by the Board, with the exception of personnel and disciplinary matters, are discussed in public, as mandated by Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act. Consequently, there are many opportunities for students to speak about problems within their schools and regarding the district as a whole. 

Students can testify at all Board Action and Committee meetings, and are strongly encouraged by the Board to do so. According to President Wilkerson, “the Board really takes [student] testimony seriously because … you guys are our customers … we exist in order to provide an education for students and when you come to us and say that we’re not doing the job… as effectively as we should… it really does matter to us.” 

Likewise, Practico explains that “if you are a student and you’re presenting… cogent, concise testimony to the Board of Education, honestly, nine times out of ten, what you’re advocating for, they’re going to adopt.” 

You may register to speak at these meetings by visiting https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/speaker-request-form/.