Analysis: A look at Watlington’s 5-year plan for Philly schools

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. has released a summary of his strategic plan.

First-year Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr., ahead of a presentation to the Board of Education, released a summary of his long-awaited strategic plan – a document expected to shape his tenure as head of the city’s public school system.

The five-year proposal, which includes five priorities and 63 action items, is set to be put up for a BOE vote on Thursday, June 1.

Initially, the plan, dubbed “Accelerate Philly,” was going to be considered May 25, with little-to-no time for the parents, teachers and others to review the details. But board members decided to delay a decision to allow for a more public vetting.

Watlington’s goal, as stated in the plan, is to make Philadelphia “the fastest improving large, urban school district in the nation and prepare all students to realize any future they desire.”

His 12-page summary incorporates few specifics, though the district has promised to publish a comprehensive plan with implementation timelines. Here’s a look at what’s included in the initial plan, separated by priority area.

Improve safety and well-being

Included here is Watlington’s promise to form a facilities project team – composed of internal and external stakeholders – to develop a plan to respond to asbestos, lead and other building issues.

Another goal is to replace analogue security cameras at 150 schools and pilot a weapons screening system at middle schools. The plan also calls for expanding the Safe Paths program, which places adult monitors outside schools in the mornings and afternoons.

This section also recommends providing an in-person or virtual nurse at every school and offering breakfast to students after classes begin.

Partner with families and community

Watlington wants to launch a two-way communication system that allows district employees to respond to the concerns of parents. In addition, the plan endorses creating a host of superintendent advisory committees.

There is also a recommendation to revive Parent University, an initiative which offered classes teaching a variety of skills to caregivers. Watlington’s plan also endorses paying parents to serve as school ambassadors.

Accelerate academic achievement

Perhaps the most eye-catching proposal – and one that has been supported by Democratic mayoral nominee Cherelle Parker – is piloting year-round and extended-day calendars at up to 10 schools.

Other pilots in this section include sending tutors into six to eight schools and opening a learn-to-swim program.

The plan also proposes purchasing and implementing new curriculums for reading, math and science, and hiring an administrator to improve access to career and technical education programs.

Another new administrator would be tasked with lowering drop-out rates, and all high schoolers would receive financial literacy lessons.

Recruit and retain diverse and highly effective educators

The summary recommends piloting recruitment and retention incentives for teachers at hard-to-staff schools and developing innovative strategies to keep employees in those positions.

In addition, the plan calls for working with colleges, universities and the Center for Black Educator Development to recruit more Black and Latino men as teachers and principals.

Deliver efficient, high-quality, cost-effective operations

Action items in this section include streamlining the on-boarding process and forming a team to develop a remote learning strategy.

Watlington also wants to institute an evaluation system for those working at the district’s headquarters, and a separate recommendation would measure performance metrics against other large city school systems.

The plan also proposes reviewing the school selection process – which has recently drawn scrutiny – on a yearly basis.