John Davis wants to learn everything about Philadelphia — if the school district will have him.

If chosen to be the next Philadelphia superintendent, Davis promised Monday to take his experience as a teacher, principal, and central-office administrator in public schools in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore and bring them to bear for the city’s 120,000-student schools.

Davis, current chief of schools for Baltimore City Public Schools — a role that’s essentially the executive in charge of principals and their supervisors — was the first of three candidates to come to town for a series of daylong meet-and-greets, interfacing with parents, students, teachers, and community members.

Krish Mohip, deputy education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education, visits Philadelphia on Tuesday, and Tony Watlington, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School District in North Carolina, comes to town Wednesday.

The school board has highlighted Davis’ roles in D.C. and Baltimore, districts similar demographically to Philadelphia that also enroll significant numbers of students in charter schools. During Davis’ tenures, both districts saw academics rise and dealt with significant facilities challenges.

Asked how he would overcome a culture of mistrust and a lack of transparency in Philadelphia, Davis said he would handle bumpy situations like he’s handled those in Baltimore, which had a large city high school that had cycled through four principals — in four years. He had to take on a stronger role at the school and in the community to weather that rocky patch, he said.

“You have to own the decision, and explain it, and work very hard to make it right,” said Davis. “Things like that happen all the time, and you’ve got to be honest about it. The best that we can do, and the best that I will always do, is to be clear about what we’re going to do moving forward.”

Davis described himself as a “father first and foremost” of two sons who graduated from D.C. public schools and a daughter who currently attends fifth grade in that school system. He began his career as a middle-school math teacher through the program Teach for America.

One Philadelphia teacher asked Davis how he would stem the tide of teacher resignations and keep more educators who have burned out from more than two years of pandemic teaching from leaving.

Davis’ response: Administrators need to listen to teachers and acknowledge what they are going through.

“Everything that we’re going through, and frankly some of the new things, it has been just too much and they need more time,” Davis said of teachers. “Giving teachers more time and space in this area is the first thing I would lift up.”

If hired in Philadelphia, Davis said he would be committed to making sure schools would get the resources they needed, and that doesn’t look the same for every community.

“People like to throw equity around, but when you have to make decisions about where you are going to put programs, you have to make decisions about the schools and the students that need it the most,” Davis told parents at a morning roundtable. “That is fundamental to me.”

Davis is the only white candidate among the three finalists; one community member asked him how he would lead a majority-minority district.

“The legacy of our country is one where white people have not done right by Black people for a long, long time,” said Davis, who said he would do his best to do right by people of color. “There have been too many white people who have not, and I have to be different than that.”

Both parents and students asked Davis questions about school selection, a hot-button topic in Philadelphia, where there was much pushback after Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who will leave the district at the end of June, made major changes to the selective school admissions process this fall — shifting to a lottery for all qualified applicants from a process where administrators had latitude over who was accepted.

Davis said he didn’t know the ins and outs of the process, but as superintendent, his focus would be on “getting more kids into those schools or having the opportunity to, because they’ve been educated well. That is the first order of business.”

Davis said early literacy would be a bedrock of his administration.

“We need to blow that out,” he said. “If there’s no other goal ... it’s reading by third grade.”

Davis said the Philadelphia job was attractive to him in part because “the board has had the guts to put out goals” — it recently reframed its work, setting measurable goals around student achievement and in other areas, like the availability of arts and after-school programming and the cleanliness and environmental safety of school buildings. “That gives me hope and frankly is an attraction to me to Philadelphia.”

Davis, who said his daughter would remain in D.C. public schools and not move to Philadelphia if he got the job, said he was committed to continuing the work he has done for the past 30 years — leading a large, diverse community.

“I’m hopeful to bring that to Philadelphia as well,” Davis said. “It does come down, in my opinion, to student opportunities, student outcomes, and successes.”

There was some community pushback on the candidates, however.

“I want to express a concern to the board about a lack of women” among the three finalists, parent Eric Marsh Sr. said at a morning roundtable. Philadelphia’s teaching force, like those across the nation, is heavily female.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an organization made up mostly of retired district educations formed to fight against school privatization, said a candidate field that has no women, no one with recent classroom experience, no local ties or personal knowledge of the district should be rejected outright.

“APPS calls on the Board of Education to reject these candidates and resume its search for a superintendent who will lead the district into the future and who will respect the wishes of parents, educators, students and the community,” founder Lisa Haver said in a statement.