Introducing the New School District Superintendent

By: Alexandra Kerrigan (281)

On Friday, April 1, the school district’s 6-month long search for a new superintendent concluded with the selection of career educator and current North Carolina superintendent Tony B. Watlington. A team consisting of Mayor Jim Kenney, incumbent (and infamous) superintendent Dr. William Hite, and more collaborators decided that the administrator was best suited for the job based on his experience as a history teacher, chief of schools in Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury school district. He also worked as a custodian and a bus driver before joining administration. 

The Philadelphia school district is the 8th largest in the nation. While the Rowan-Salisbury school district is also relatively large- the third largest in North Carolina and the 47th largest district of the nation’s 14,000- this North Carolina school system’s demographics are markedly different from that of Philadelphia. 

With almost 6 times more students, a higher marginalized population, and greater rates of poverty than the Rowan-Salisbury district, Philadelphia schools are likely to present Watlington with a myriad of potentially unfamiliar obstacles. A couple of problems, however, stand out to Watlington. Here’s how he plans to address them.

Rapid Teacher Turnover 

Rapid teacher turnover is one of the many ills that plague the Philly school district, driven by the district’s failure to match teacher wages from nearby districts and refusal to invest in school infrastructure, leaving teachers frustrated with their workplace. It is also an issue that disproportionately targets the city’s students of color, with schools in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods possessing heightened rates of teacher absenteeism. 

The new superintendent plans to rectify the issue of understaffing by partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Cheyney University and other local universities to establish a pipeline for graduates to become educators in Philadelphia. This effort will also increase diversity within school faculty, helping mend the discrepancy between the demographics of district students and district staff. Watlington is particularly interested in getting Black males, who are often not well-represented in school faculties, interested in teaching. 

A proponent for increasing teacher wages “significantly” as well as providing recruitment bonuses and performance pay, Watlington recognizes the need to incentivize teaching careers in Philadelphia. Through these initiatives, he hopes to attract qualified and driven educators to the district, whose identities reflect those of the district’s students. 

Deteriorating Infrastructure 

School district students are all-too-familiar with aging facilities. Leaky ceilings, dysfunctional bathrooms, and pests, not to mention lead and asbestos, seem to be commonplace in Philly schools. Much of the backlash Hite received pertained to his response- or lack thereof- to these issues. 

In order to get a grasp of the district’s facilities problems as soon as possible, Watlington intends to be “on the ground fully running” before he officially takes over Hite’s position on June 16th. Once he scopes out the problems firsthand, he intends to solidify a concrete plan for fixing them.

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