Philly schools name two finalists for CEO post

And then there were two.

After six months of searching for a new superintendent, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission revealed Friday the names of two finalists for the school district’s top job:

Pedro Martinez, the deputy superintendent for instruction of the 311,000-student Clark County, Nev.. School District, and
William Hite, the superintendent of the 135,000-student Prince George’s County, Md., School District.

Martinez’s candidacy was announced Friday afternoon, but an announcement about Hite was delayed several hours by Hite’s concern over prematurely making his candidacy public.

The public will have the chance to meet and ask questions of the candidates at public forums at district headquarters, 440 N. Broad St., next Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Both finalists for the top job have a “passion for education” and experience running large school districts, qualities that School Reform Commissioner Wendell Pritchett said were foremost in the minds of the superintendent search committee formed six months ago.

Both are also graduates of the influential and controversial Broad Superintendents Academy.

Served under Arne Duncan

Martinez, 42, is also one of five finalists for the superintendency of Washoe County (Reno), Nev., where he previously served as deputy superintendent.

A 2009 graduate of the Broad Academy, Martinez also served as chief financial officer of Chicago Public Schools under current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

During that time, he dealt with significant district budget deficits, in part caused by what Chicago officials said was insufficient state aid.

He also led a project for the Council of the Great City Schools to help urban districts develop and adopt best practices for their non-instructional operations.

Born into poverty in Mexico, Martinez grew up in Chicago and is the first in his family to graduate from high school. He has never served as a teacher or a principal. He is a certified public accountant and holds a master’s degree in business administration from DePaul University in Chicago.

In Clark County, Martinez led a district organization plan that grouped schools into “performance zones.” They included an “autonomous zone” for consistently high performing schools and a “turnaround zone” for low-performing schools.

At the school level, Martinez has focused on raising district graduation rates through dropout prevention initiatives such as “Reclaim Your Future.” He has also worked to improve student achievement through the implementation of a new student tracking system, the Nevada Growth Model, and district-wide adoption of the Common Core Standards.

Experience with decentralization

Hite has been superintendent in Prince George’s County, Maryland since 2009. He began his work there in 2006, when he was hired as a deputy superintendent. A 2005 graduate of the Broad Academy, Hite previously served as area assistant superintendent and director of middle school instruction in Georgia’s Cobb County School District.

As deputy superintendent of Prince George’s County, Hite oversaw a district reorganization plan that decentralized resources into regional school zones to reduce cost and increase autonomy for high-performing schools.

During his time as superintendent, Hite has focused on strengthening the district’s principal leadership pipeline and overseen the implementation of the district’s first pay-for-performance program. At the school level, he has worked to improve student performance byreorganizing high schools around career themes and extending the school day for middle school students.

Pritchett declined to list the qualities that drew the search committee to the two finalists, saying he preferred to allow candidates to present themselves to the public.

Pritchett did elaborate on the process by which finalists were identified. The search committee winnowed a pool of more than 100 applicants and nominees down to 15 candidates, four of whom were from Philadelphia. From there, the search committee passed a shortlist of “four or five” candidates on to the School Reform Commission, which zeroed in on the two finalists.

Asked whether he felt the last two candidates standing were the best among the pool, Pritchett was direct and unequivocal:

“Yes.”

Meetings with public set

In addition to the two “public engagement forums” at District headquarters on Monday and Tuesday evenings at 6:30, the candidates will also meet with groups of business leaders, parents, students and teachers during their visits.

Ultimately, said Pritchett, the decision on whom to hire will be made the SRC. An offer could be made as soon as the end of next week.

The Broad Academy, founded by philanthropist Eli Broad, for the past 10 years has trained dozens of school leaders from both education and other backgrounds. Many of them now run or hold influential posts in top urban districts, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The program has come under criticism by some as favoring corporate-style school reform, but Broad says that its trainees both leave the program with a variety of viewpoints and strategies around improving education.

Benjamin Herold is a reporter for both WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.  Katie McCabe is an intern for both organizations. Dale Mezzacapa is an editor and writer with the Notebook.

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