Philadelphia superintendent announces findings after 100-day listening tour

The Philadelphia School Districts' new superintendent announced the conclusion of a 100-day Listening and Learning Tour in which he discovered five new members to the district's executive team. The tour, which reflects conversations with over 2,700 students, families, and staff members, was made to help tackle one of the most important concerns that the district faces: the well-being and safety of its students. 

Dr. Tony Watlington, who came from a smaller district in North Carolina, has lead Philadelphia schools for 110 days and after hearing from hundreds of residents, he says the city's violence has left the children "not doing well." 

"I think one of the answers to some of the problems that plague our city is better education for all our young people," said Dr. Watlington. 

To better educate the city's youth, Watlington says he will shuffle his top staff to focus on four themes that emerged from the listening tour: academic achievement, consistent internal and external communication, learning-conducive facilities, and improved customer service. 

We've got significant improvements to make if we're going to prepare students to be ready for life-changing opportunities and facilitate life-changing outcomes," he said. 


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Unfortunately, the obstacles at the district are many. The 115,000 public school students live in the nation's poorest big city and attend schools that average about 70 years old. Gun violence is plaguing the city and last week, it took the life of a 14-year-old boy who was leaving football practice in Roxborough. Still, the head of the School Board argues that schools are safe. 

"It's not just a school district problem. It's a challenge for us as a community," said Joyce Wilkerson, Head of Philadelphia Schools. "We have too much violence, and it's unacceptable." 

Watlington's plan is to spend half his time inside city schools as he spearheads a new initiative to better educate students. Some parents, though, disagree with this as they believe Watlington's focus should be on the home. Nasir Lamar, grandparent to a 5-year-old in Northeast Philadelphia, says the problem stems from undereducated parents. 

"A lot of parents are undereducated. In order to get inside a problem, you have to be deep-rooted in the problem, you have to start at home first," said Lamar.

Watlington says his starting point is at the district's central office as they work towards enhancing student engagement and creating a positive learning environment. On October 20, Watlington will complete phase two of this transitionary period as he will present the Board of Education with a system-wide, five-year strategic plan to be released in 2023.