Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. received a warm welcome Thursday night from a group of teachers and concerned residents who gathered in Mt. Airy to hear about his vision for the city's beleaguered school system.

The intimate event, organized by The Philadelphia Alliance of Black School Educators, welcomed folks from across the city.

Observing what happens when Dr. Hite meets with educators rather than civic leaders is what brought Sylvia Simms to the event. "It's a different conversation," noted Simms, a North Philadelphia resident who runs Parent Power, an advocacy group.

Margaret Mullen, principal of The Promise Academy at Germantown High School, said she came to find out more about Dr. Hite's intentions for the school district.

"It's a little bit personal," she disclosed, noting that recent consolidations and closures have her concerned for her school's future.

'Smart is something you become'

Hite told attendees, assembled inside 7165 Lounge on Germantown Avenue, that students should be viewed through a lens of high expectations for their future, irrespective of their background.

He said thinking about his 10 month-old grandson's future plays a part in shaping that view and his larger one of the role of public education.

"He's going to grow up, he's going to become a black boy, then he's going to become a black man," Hite said in a sobering tone, as he explained to a rapt audience how important it is to ensure that each person who comes into his grandson's life have his best interest in mind.

Hite said he feels the same about the nearly 150,000 children in the school district. "I need to think about every last one of them just like I think about my grandson," he stated.

The school district's top administrator also spoke of how vital it is to expose children to opportunity and create an environment conducive to learning. Every person can become smarter when given the right tools and motivation, he said.

"Smart is something you become, it's not something you are," he stressed, noting that educators play a key role in teaching students respect, high expectations and a passion for learning.

Hite said his duty is to establish conditions where such lessons can be imparted.

"We are responsible for the mandate" of access and opportunity for every student, Hite asserted.

Millennium scholars

Hite, who spoke for about 15 minutes, also took time to assure attendees that the Philadelphia School District will increase its number of Gates Millennium Scholars.

The scholarship program, established in 1999 by Bill and Melinda Gates, rewards students with an un-weighted GPA of 3.3 who demonstrate community service and leadership by providing full scholarships to the university of their choice.

"We're going to at least do better than Prince George's County, and then we're going to begin targeting Chicago," he exclaimed.

Hite, the former superintendent of Prince George's County School District in Maryland, stated that about 30 students there have been awarded the scholarship.

Chicago leads nation in recipients with over 100.

There have been 14 Philadelphia's School District students who have earned the scholarship.

PABSE is part of a city-wide initiative to assist students in applying for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, free of charge, through writing coaches and walking them through the scholarship process.

A lifetime of educating youth

During the evening event, PABSE also presented a certificate of appreciation in recognition for the achievements of educator Cred Dobson.

A math teacher for 47 years, Dobson is an ambassador for the First in Math online education program. He told attendees that his goal in life is for the Philadelphia School District to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

He expressed hope that with Dr. Hite in charge, his dream may finally become reality.

Others seemed equally as impressed with the new superintendent.

"Very promising,"  said Connie Bullock, a retired teacher from West Philadelphia.