The School District of Philadelphia announced Friday morning that Tony B. Watlington Sr. will become its next superintendent.
Watlington, currently superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School District in North Carolina, is set to begin his five-year term in June. He’ll replace William Hite Jr., who is leaving after a decade at the helm to become CEO of the education nonprofit KnowledgeWorks and to lead a program for superintendents at Yale University.
“The board is proud to have selected a leader whose almost-30-year career in education mirrors what the board heard during most of the community and our input sessions,” Joyce Wilkerson, Philadelphia School Board president, said at a press conference announcing the hire. “Tony is an individual who boasts classroom experience success in instructional leadership, closing student achievement gaps, organizational efficiency and fiscal management, and working in partnership with diverse communities, and who can deliver equity in education.”
Watlington, 51, was chosen over two other finalists: John Davis, Baltimore’s current chief of schools; and Krish Mohip, the deputy education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education. Watlington comes from a school district that educates about 20,000 students with a budget of $190 million – a stark contrast to the 115,000 students and $3.9 billion budget he’ll oversee in Philadelphia – and the transition to an exponentially larger district dealing with a myriad of facility, staffing, and funding issues isn’t something he is taking lightly.
“We deal with any number of those issues in a lot of school districts in North Carolina,” Watlington said. “Over the next few months, I’ll be taking the time to do a listening and learning tour. I’ll be partnered with Dr. Hite to fully understand the depth of every issue … We won’t solve all those problems tomorrow. But we sure are going to address them with a sense of urgency, and I’m looking forward to spending some time here in advance of my start date in June.”
The announcement also comes a day after the School District of Philadelphia revealed plans to hire an additional 900 teachers for the 2022-2023 school year. According to the district, the number of teachers quitting between mid-December and Feb. 15 was up 200% – to 169 – over the same period last school year, and 93% over the same period of the 2019-20 school year.
Despite the ongoing staffing issues, the teachers union is confident that Watlington will be up to the task.
“In our November survey of nearly 2,000 members regarding the next superintendent, our members prioritized characteristics including the following commitments: transparency, inclusivity, equity, communication, collaboration. Further, members felt it critical that the next superintendent have experience in public schools as an educator; is able to connect with families, students, and staff; and is able to address facilities concerns,” Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “After meeting with the three candidates, it is abundantly clear that Tony Watlington is the best choice.”
Watlington has a five-year contract with a one-year renewal option and a base salary of $340,000. The school board will take up the approval of his contract at a meeting on April 7.