Why the School Board Should Extend their Search for Superintendent

Constance Clayton, the last Philadelphian to serve as Superintendent for the Philadelphia School District.
Constance Clayton, the last Philadelphian to serve as Superintendent for the Philadelphia School District.

The Philadelphia School District has spent the past several months searching for the next superintendent. The district  narrowed down their search to three candidates from various areas and different backgrounds. The picks were met with mixed reactions– and for good reason. On March 11th, about halfway through Women’s History Month, the district announced their three finalists for the position of superintendent– all three of which are men.

Although each candidate is qualified and carries with them a laundry list of accomplishments, not only were none of them women but not one of the three finalists has ties to the City of Philadelphia. The last time a Philadelphian was superintendent was when Constance Clayton served from 1982 to 1993. The three finalists the board selected were John Davis Jr., chief of schools for Baltimore City, Tony Watlington Sr., superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools in North Carolina Public Schools, and Krish Mohip, deputy education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education. Clearly all three are qualified to be a superintendent of schools, but it would be much more beneficial to the district for a woman or Philadelphian to be superintendent.

Before they came to their current group of three candidates, the board had narrowed down a group of 400 prospective candidates to just 35. After a more thorough vetting, that list of 35 was narrowed to 11 candidates. The board says of that group of 11 that six were women and three “had experience in the Philadelphia education ecosystem”. According to WHYY PBS, 70% of teachers in the Philadelphia School District were women as of 2018. How can we have such strong representation of women in the school district, yet not have a single woman candidate for an administrative role such as superintendent?

The school district has received push back from teachers and community members, including protests asking that they continue the search. The board has rejected the requests to continue the search, stating that it “conducted a thorough, professional and transparent search” and has “proudly presented the three strongest candidates, all of whom have the experience, capabilities and track record that Philadelphians said they want in the next leader of the district.” Standing out boldly from that statement is the projection of the board’s questionable decision-making onto Philadelphians: saying they’re giving the community the candidates “that Philadelphians said they want”.

The new superintendent will face various challenges such as; the rise in midyear resignations, working conditions, aging buildings, the rise in crime, and added challenges due to the pandemic. Philadelphia schools would benefit greatly to have someone that is familiar with the area and all the unique challenges that our city faces. Their focus should be on increasing wages for teachers, providing enough resources to the classroom, creating a safe environment for our children and ending the school to prison pipeline.

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