Internal Commotion (on #phled hiring)

I don’t normally dwell on news analysis. For one, it’s usually boring. Second, there are significantly smarter people than me who do this sort of stuff.

So when the District plans to spend a couple million on suits at their Headquarters, I can count on some intrepid reporters to do good work. However…

The beef: Our District is broke, but still beefing up bureaucracy. This is certainly compelling; it’s hard to argue a six-figure “director of external relations” is more important than 10 nurses. Compelling, but a bit disingenuous. Important people were highly excited for Action Plan 3.0. Hiring more administrators in lieu of nurses was a clear goal in that plan. When Superintendent Hite said he needed more “flexibility” in staffing, what did people think would happen?

Though plenty of good people are dealing with this, there are two issues I don’t see being tackled. Prepare for tackling.

The Philadelphia Student Union1 did yeoman’s work in researching the new hires. They focused on the candidates’ void of experience in public schools, or their active role in kneecapping them. That’s important and worth reading.

But let’s assume the best of Hite. Perhaps these people are highly qualified professionals who want to help our kids. They also have a long and well-documented history of jumping ship.

James Harris, the new executive director of operations, has gone from Dayton to Springfield to Philadelphia in the span of 5 years. I applaud Christina Grant for leaving the simmering sycophant swap on which CAN network sits, but her resume also speaks of hopping from school to school.

These people were not hired in a vacuum. They came after the majority of the brain trust ran for the exit.

There’s nothing morally wrong with people who move jobs. But Hite is trying to execute a long-term plan by recruiting people who have never stayed in any position for 5 years.

In 9 years at Robeson, I’ve seen at 3 principals and roughly 6 different assistant superintendents2. Instead of planning for the future, we spend time figuring out who is in charge and what they want. That’s not good for kids.

I have a fix. And my fix is also a problem, which sums up my thinking these days.

Besides spending a lot on moving trucks, what all the new hires have in common is they are not from the Philadelphia school district. Hite did some reshuffling – moving people already in his cabinet around, up, and sideways. But, aside from new assistant superintendent Chris Lehmann, all of the hires are from somewhere else.

That’s the worst part of all this. Yes, it’s even worse than the prospective wasting-of-money. Great organizations – including the charter networks we’re supposed to imitate – promote from within. Plenty of talented teachers want to work in District HQ. I don’t understand either. But they do, and the message being sent to them is clear: “Leave”.

This isn’t just about promoting teacher voice. There is too much enmity between the people in HQ doing their job and people in the classrooms doing their job. We can break that. It’s difficult (although, conceded, not impossible) to screech at the “pencil-pushing six-figure suits” if those people were teaching down the hall last year. Promoting people from the classroom creates a sense of shared purpose, and we need a lot more sharing and purpose.

By only going outside, Hite is ignoring leaders and leadership incubators. Woe to PhillyPlus, a group that trains future leaders on the importance of aligning your philosophy with whatever the boss says. Even less obtuse groups like Philly Core Leaders or the terrific Teachers Lead Philly can’t get a foot in the door.

Say what you want about Mastery and KIPP3, but they do an awesome job making sure talented people have a ladder to climb. I’m 120% for promoting within the classroom, but some people want to go to administration. They live here. They work here. What’s the hold up?

Agitating against nepotism misses this crucial element. Great organizations make promoting stable, long term leaders a priority, not an exception.


  1. They need a home. Find them a home! 

  2. most notable is Mr. Shirley Gilbert, who was fired on Christmas 

  3. and prepared to be swarmed by their social media support group 

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