Student, staff safety tops Philadelphia superintendent's 5-year plan

The Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia says he is ready to launch his 5-year strategic plan and believes safety for students and staff is his top priority.

In an interview with FOX 29's Jeff Cole, Watlington, who arrived in the city nearly one year ago, said "we must win this war on gun violence in our city, and it’s a shared responsibility between the school district, the city, police department and parents."

Watlington will present his Strategic Plan to the School Board Thursday. It was drawn up after months of meetings around the city, with the help of a consulting firm that was paid $450,000.

The board will find that improving student achievement places third in the Superintendent’s list of priorities. Watlington believes schools need to be safe havens for students and staff to make the most of their educational opportunities, but the onus for safety isn't only on the school district.


"For teachers to do their jobs schools have to be safe, students and staff must be safe," Watlington, 54, said. "We also have to build a partnership between home and schools."

To improve student learning, the plan calls for access to quality pre-k programs and a pilot program in 10 schools that calls for year-round school.  The superintendent said with nearly 60 percent of schools with inadequate air conditioning taking a year-round plan district-wide would be difficult.

Watlington wants to recruit more Black and Latino, male teachers, and he's willing to offer cash incentives similar to what he says is going on in school districts across the Delaware in New Jersey. 

Watlington said he's pleased that 138 fewer students dropped out so far this year, but he remains concerned that 3,500 students have walked away from education. The district is planning to go after the number of dropouts and change outcomes.

Watlington would not give a ballpark figure about what the plan might cost. A final vote by the Philadelphia School Board could happen in June.