Drexel University’s School of Education and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education kicked off Career Week on April 2 by hosting Philadelphia school district superintendent William Hite, alongside other representatives of the district, for a panel discussion with students who aspire to be educators.
Hite was joined by Louis Bellardine, chief talent officer for the district, Shawn Bird, chief schools officer for the district and Terri Rita, the district’s deputy chief talent officer. Acting as panel moderator was education student Hayden O’Rourke, who posed an array of questions that pertained to being an educator in the district, ultimately encouraging audience members to consider teaching in Philadelphia.
“I would love for you to consider the school district of Philadelphia,” Hite said to about 60 people in the audience. “We’re looking for educators that want to have an experience in an urban center … It’s a great place to live, to work and to start a career.”
Hite has served as the district’s superintendent since 2012 and is responsible for over 206,000 children in public schools in and around the city. He has worked to expand successful schools’ models and increase support services to develop student proficiency and overall graduation rates.
However, this has not been an easy task, he explained during the opening remarks section of the panel.
“I would be remiss if I said it didn’t come with all of the challenges associated with an urban center. Not true. It comes with all of those, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience and I know you would too,” he said.
Following Hite’s introduction, O’Rourke asked about maneuvering through the selection process and how candidates can choose a school that fits them.
Rita urged students to comply with the earliest application dates, adding, “The pushier you are, the more luck you will have.”
Hite said it was also important for students to consider the variety of schools in the Philadelphia area — like the performing arts schools, language immersion schools, project-based schools, technical education schools or the schools on college campuses — in addition to factoring in the overall size.
“Familiarize yourself with all the different types of unique school models that exist that would or could be very exciting for individuals starting their career in education,” he said.
The district hires about 3,500 people a year with about 1,000 of those being teachers, according to Bellardine, and he explained how Drexel has been a good partner with the school district.
The panel then addressed issues that many Philadelphia-area schools often face, particularly the high rates of poverty in the city.
“[Students] have to be ready to learn and sometimes they’re not because of things they are facing outside of school, so we have to do our part to make things right for them during those hours of 8 to 3 because those are the hours where we can influence what happens,” Bird said.
He explained how the district is working to coordinate with city-wide agencies to align school services with broader city services that already exist, which has been one of the anchor goals that has guided their work. Twenty-two schools have received social workers to work directly within the schools to foster a healthy climate across the district.
“There’s no better profession than teaching. It’s the best thing you’re ever going to do in your life. Yes, you’re going to deal with very challenging situations in urban schools but the reward is far better because you get to have a hand in helping children to build a better tomorrow,” Bird said.
O’Rourke then questioned how the district is implementing the disciplines of science, technology engineering and mathematics within schools.
“Our curriculum is constantly evolving to meet the needs of society so those are focus areas for all of our schools as we continue to grow,” Bird said, explaining how the district is constantly adapting curriculum from K-12.
Hite added that they are trying to equip kids early on so that they can be successful down the road.
After discussing general resume tips for applicants, Hite reiterated the goals of the district.
“We’re working as a whole district on mindset, really trying to get at what people believe about what our children are capable of doing and that their intelligence is something we can improve; it’s not fixed based on where they’re from or who they are or what area of the city. … We can grow their intelligence through the right type of work,” he said.
He then reminded the audience the importance of feedback as the district works on enacting continued improvement.
“We all take feedback and give feedback. We’re working hard as an organization to make sure that happens across the org and I’d be lying if I said it does right now with 223 schools with different leaders that may have different styles,” he said. “This is all about trying to make each other smarter about this work. Feedback is the best way.”
Various other representatives from several area school districts visited Drexel during Career Week to meet with students, review resumes and conduct interviews. The full schedule covered April 2-6.