Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. Philadelphia School District. Courtesy PSD.

In April 2022, the Philadelphia School District (PSD) announced Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. as its new incoming Superintendent.  Dr. Watlington is the successor to Dr. William Hite, who served as PSD’s leader for a decade.  The Superintendent of Philadelphia’s school system is responsible for 198,645 students in 323 schools.  Nearly 90% of those students are black, Latino and Asian, and 70% are economically disadvantaged. Impacto newspaper sat down with Dr. Watlington to get acquainted.

Dr. Watlington, you are new to Philadelphia.  Tell our Impacto readers a little bit about your background.

I started my career as a bus driver and a custodian. Then I became a high school history teacher, before becoming the principal of an elementary school and then two high schools in North Carolina.  I eventually became the regional superintendent, then chief of schools, in Guilford County, North Carolina – a district with 73,000 students. So, I’ve done a few jobs in this profession, and it makes me understand all the important roles that people play. I believe our people are our most valuable resource. And I try to lead with that at the forefront.

What are some of the similarities and differences that you’ve encountered coming to Philadelphia from North Carolina?

From the time I was named as the new superintendent in April, I spent at least a couple of days per week either traveling to Philadelphia or working remotely for the district. I came aboard officially on June the 16th, and I’ve learned a lot about the city.

We’re all working hard to figure out how to close achievement and opportunity gaps between white students and black and brown students. We have to be very intentional about that work. Talent and potential are equally distributed in the population. What’s not equally distributed are the levels of poverty, and implicit and explicit racism and discrimination. I’ve had a lot of success in narrowing performance gaps, or as I like to call them, opportunity gaps. Another similarity is our work to figure out how we build stronger, trusting partnerships between families and people who work in the school district. It’s just a larger scale here, in a larger city.

Certainly, we have a very high level of diversity here in the city that’s not too different than in North Carolina. Just like in North Carolina, the fastest growing population is Latinx students. But in North Carolina, there was a bit stronger recruitment apparatus to get more black and brown teachers into the classroom. The number of people going into universities to become teachers is down by 50% nationally.  The last report I looked at suggests that the percentage is even higher here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with a 67% reduction over the past 5 to 7 years. That’s really significant, because one of the greatest imbalances I see is Latinx students versus Latinx teachers, particularly male teachers, which some urban districts have been more successful at recruiting. We’ve got to do more work in that area.

Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. Philadelphia School District. Courtesy PSD.

You’re taking on this role as we’re coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.  What are some of the challenges related to that?

First and foremost, we have to attend to significant learning loss across lots of student populations. The New York Times recently reported that the learning loss across the country is much greater than it was originally projected to be. We have to double down on how we provide really strong core instruction, and more tutoring both during the day and outside of school. And we’ve got to figure out how to extend the learning time beyond the traditional school hours. How do we remain connected to kids, and have after-school support for students? We also have to continue to address safety – and not just physical safety. There is a great increase in kids who are suffering from anxiety and depression.  We’ve got to be focused on meeting their social and emotional needs as well as their physical safety needs.

Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. Philadelphia School District. Courtesy PSD.

We appreciate you getting to know our communities.  Philadelphia is a town with a lot of great energy.

I’m very open to your readers and want to get to know them. I’m paying close attention to the fact that our district currently is about 22% Hispanic or Latinx. We have to affirm diversity. It’s a great thing for the city, and the school district of Philadelphia. In fact, one of the schools I visited on their first day of school was Gloria Casarez Elementary. It really exciting to spend time in that school. There was a lot of energy, passion, commitment, and pride there. And so, just know that you have a superintendent who wants to affirm our diversity. I’ll never forget what the principal of Gloria Casarez school said in her speech: She said, “Repeat after me: I see you and you matter.” That is the statement I will stand behind as Superintendent in Philadelphia.


Por favor ingrese su comentario!
Por favor ingrese su nombre aquí