Superintendent Tony Watlington lays out priorities, hires deputies

Tony Watlington
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Jr. speaks to reporters Tuesday, Oct. 4, at district headquarters.
Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia’s new public school superintendent, after just over 100 days on the job, is shaking up his leadership team and outlining the district’s priorities.

Tony Watlington Sr. repeatedly said Tuesday that his goal is to make the School District of Philadelphia one of the fastest improving large urban school systems in the country.

He also spoke about a potential partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia to bring certified librarians to the city’s schools — most of which have not had one in years.

Watlington unveiled the new hires, who will start Oct. 17, and his top objectives following an extensive campaign that reached 2,700 people through outreach sessions and surveys, officials said.

During a news conference at the district’s headquarters, Watlington praised his predecessor, William Hite, but said changes would need to be made to accelerate academic progress.

“Proficiency rates, though we’ve made improvement, are still not where they need to be,” he said. “And we’ve got significant improvements to make.”

Last school year, about 30% of students in grades 3 through 8 scored at or above grade level on district reading assessments, below the Board of Education’s 50% target. In math, only around 19% of students in those groups reached grade level in testing conducted in the spring.

Watlington said the district’s communication — both internally and externally — needs to be improved, as does the school system’s transparency and customer service.

Too many school buildings are not conducive to learning, he added, a problem that has long plagued the district.

As far as school libraries, Watlington told reporters that he could not release many details about a possible agreement with the Free Library. Reports in recent years indicate that the district has had less than 10 certified librarians.

“Right now, it’s kind of in the beginning stages,” said Free Library Director Kelly Richards, who noted that he is dealing with staffing challenges of his own. “We’re just discussing.”

Free Library of Philadelphia Director Kelly Richards is recognized during a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 4, at School District of Philadelphia headquarters. Jack Tomczuk

Watlington said he is reducing the number of administrators reporting directly to him, from 14 to between 9 and 11.

He is promoting Uri Monson, the district’s chief financial officer, to deputy superintendent of operations and hiring former district principal and administrator ShaVon Savage as deputy superintendent of academic services.

Having deputies will allow Watlington to spend more time in schools and lobbying lawmakers at City Hall and in Harrisburg, he said, adding that he hopes to spend 50% of his time outside the office.

Among the other hires is Monique Braxton, a former NBC10 reporter and anchor who will become the district’s next spokesperson.

Watlington said his transition team will present a report with recommendation to the Board of Education at its Oct. 20 meeting and will spend the next several months developing a five-year strategic plan.