PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Since 2012, Superintendent, Dr. William Hite has led The School District of Philadelphia. He admits, it's a tough job overseeing the largest public school system in the Commonwealth but says he's up for the task and always eager to kick off a new school year.
"Most school districts have to do an extraordinary amount of work in the summer to prepare for the beginning of the school year. There is a misconception that summer is a time to rest and relax," said Dr. Hite
There are about 19,000 employees and more than 200,000 students and the challenges are numerous.
A top priority is addressing problems like aging buildings. Many of them lack air conditioning, which has forced the district to cancel classes during excessive temperatures. This school year, Dr. Hite says 150 classroom will be getting air conditioning, but he says more work needs to be done.
"Those issues include, classroom modernization, it includes paint stabilization, it includes asbestos, and mold abatement. It also includes infrastructure improvements and some of those come in from of new schools, others come in the form of additions," said Dr. Hite.
The district says more than $400 million has been set aside to make repairs in schools across the city. Outside of aging buildings, the district also is dealing with schools that are considered to be under performing.
"I don't chose to use the terminology failing schools. I think that all schools have work to do and that we will continue to do that work and you have some that improve faster than others and those that are not improving you want to ask why they are not improving," said Dr. Hite.
Attracting and keeping good teachers is another challenge that Dr. Hite tackling head on.
"In a district that employees 9,800 teachers, the fact that there are only 62 vacancies is pretty extraordinary and we are working to fill those," said Dr. Hite.
The superintendent says there are easier places to teach but he's looking for committed teachers up for the challenge of joining The School District of Philadelphia.
"That is part of how we recruit. We say hey, it is not easy and it's hard, however, it is rewarding because it is the opportunity for us to change the dynamics in communities and you do that through a quality education," said Dr. Hite.
New this year, Dr. Hite says many schools have been modernized and there are changes to the parent portal. From text to email, you can now receive alerts on whatever platform you chose, to learn about what's happening with your child.
"About the child's behavior, whether or not their child is attending school, the child's assignments and the child's grades. Before this year, they could only look at the child's grades," said Dr. Hite.
Safety is always a priority and something the district is constantly working on. Dr. Hite believes a good way to prevent violence is for schools to have great relationships with students and identify when something may be wrong.
"That is not the thing that keeps me up at night because we plan for those things. The things that keep me up at night are the things we can't control and that is many of our young people inside their communities who don't know if they are going to be safe," said Dr. Hite.
From students, teachers to staff Dr. Hite wants everyone to be excited about this new school year and be ready for success.
"My motto for young people is always smart is not what you are, it's what you become and it is what you become through effort and hard work and access to the right opportunities and it's important to us as school district to give and provide those right opportunities," said Dr. Hite.
Here are some helpful links for more resources and information about The School District of Philadelphia:
One on One with Philadelphia Schools Superintendent, Dr. William Hite