Philly schools superintendent reflects on pandemic 1 year later, discusses summer learning

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the first students within the School District of Philadelphia return to in-person learning, Superintendent Dr. William Hite is looking back on a challenging year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced major changes to education.

The initial days of the pandemic had uncertainty and optimism.

"While we are not talking about shutting down the whole system, if in fact, we had circumstances that suggested we need to look at this by a school-by-school basis, we are prepared to do that," said Hite on March 13, 2020.

"We are ready to manage the effects of this global pandemic here at home," added Mayor Kenney that same day.

Then 10 days later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a full state closure.

"Stay at home and don't leave your home unless someone's life depends on you leaving," said Wolf.

EMBED More News Videos

This is the One Year of Covid reflections of reporter Chad Pradelli

The directive shut down in-school learning in the state. Hite said he went straight into crisis mode.

"There was no playbook for this," he said.

In a one-on-one interview with Action News, Hite said there was little time to spare.

"I was immediately concerned that individuals who rely on schools for things like shelter, medication, nutrition, safety and care were going to be left without," he said.

The goal was to also get an already underserved student body up and running virtually.

"Computers had to be acquired," said Hite. "Internet access established for scores of families and vital needs secured."

SEE ALSO: Back to school: Hybrid learning starts for select Philadelphia School District students
EMBED More News Videos

Although things look much different, the principle is the same: learning is underway despite challenges posed by the coronavirus.

With the help of private donors, the city's emergency management team and Hite's staff, virtual learning emerged a month later.

More than 100,000 Chromebooks were given out to the student body, and city access centers opened for families who needed to get back to work.

Some students have thrived, but sadly others struggled, especially the young.

"I worry more because this is a critically important time when children are learning to read. And if in fact, you don't learn to read at that age then you know, everything is stacked against you moving forward," said Hite.

The impact on future education is still uncertain and more challenges remain. Hite says extending school into the summer is likely.

"We have four grading periods, now we are going to add a fifth grading period. That fifth grading period will be through the summer," he said. "And naturally, you can't compel anyone to come to that, but it's going to be made available."

RELATED: Vaccine Trackers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Hite said this year's first graders missed a third of kindergarten last year and were virtual almost all of this year.

"And that is the first two years of school, so those young people will need a lot of additional support," he said.

As for next year, despite a massive effort to make sure all teachers and staff are vaccinated, Hite says there is still a ways to go.

"It may be in a hybrid type of model where they're coming in on some days and they're virtual other days," he said. "I would like to think they can all be there together but I still think we have a ways to go."
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.