After a six-month national search, Tony B. Watlington Sr. will be the new superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.
The search — which was led by Mayor Jim Kenney, current Superintendent William Hite, and other officials — concluded when the board announced its pick on Friday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Watlington, the current superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School District in North Carolina, beat out 400 candidates to sign a five-year contract, which includes an optional one-year renewal. He will be paid $340,000 with no incentives, starting on June 16.
Watlington's current district is comprised of 35 schools and 19,500 students with a $190 million budget. It is significantly smaller than the Philadelphia School District — one of the largest school districts in the nation with 216 schools, around 115,000 students, and a $3.9 billion budget.
Watlington began his education career as a bus driver and custodian, and in 1994, he became a history teacher in Guilford County, N.C. By 1998, he was named teacher of the year in his North Carolina district and he was appointed to his first principal position at the age of 29. After years of working as chief of schools, he was finally named Rowan-Salisbury’s superintendent in 2021.
Watlington will take over for William Hite, who served as the previous superintendent for nearly a decade before deciding not to renew his contract.
The Philadelphia School District has struggled with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as issues with aging buildings. It is also currently preparing to embark on a strategic planning initiative that could close down schools, according to the Inquirer.
The district is struggling academically as well, with only 35% of students currently meeting state standards in English and 21% for math.
Watlington told the Inquirer that he is a consensus builder, ready to face the challenge head-on. His top priorities, he added, include familiarizing himself with the district’s challenges and understanding the steps to improve academic challenges.
“I’m going to get out and be very visible and learn Philadelphia,” Watlington told the Inquirer.