Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Don’t pick a superintendent until Philly gets a new mayor | Opinion

By slowing down the process, we can find someone with local ties, who will have the support of the next mayor.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (right) at a press conference with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. at the Jardel Recreation Center in Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (right) at a press conference with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. at the Jardel Recreation Center in Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

The process of finding a person to lead a school district that consists of 323 schools and nearly 200,000 students is not easy. This process requires time, patience, input from educators, and input from the residents of Philadelphia. Our schools should reflect our community. That’s why, with all due respect to the Philadelphia Board of Education and the three remaining candidates for superintendent, I am asking the board to pause the process until a candidate who better represents Philadelphia can be found.

This week, when the school board announced its three finalists — culled from 400 applicants — I was surprised to see a list that included three men, none with ties to Philadelphia. The candidates are John Davis, from Maryland; Krish Mohip, from Illinois; and Tony Watlington, from North Carolina.

» READ MORE: Instead of hiring one new Philly school superintendent, hire several | Opinion

According to the update on the search posted on the district’s website on Jan. 28, 21.4% of the candidates under consideration were people identifying as women, and 21% had leadership experience in the Philadelphia School District.

So where are the women finalists? Women make up more than 75% of the teaching force nationwide, yet 0% of the final candidates. What happened? Where are the Black women and Latina women who applied for this position, and what prevented them from making the final list?

And perhaps more importantly, where are the local finalists? Were the School District employees who applied for the position not worthy of final candidacy? Were there any applicants who were graduates of or former faculty of Philadelphia schools?

Philadelphia’s students and teachers deserve a leader who knows what they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, not someone from out of town who hasn’t been in Philadelphia classrooms. This process deserves a review to examine the demographics of the entire pool of applicants — not to place blame, but to improve.

That’s why the process should be paused. Although William R. Hite Jr., who has helmed the School District for a decade, will exit his role at the end of this academic year in June, there is too much at stake to rush this decision.

Additionally, there are political implications to consider. The school board evaluates and appoints the superintendent of Philadelphia schools. The mayor appoints school board members, and the mayor is also the supervisor for the superintendent. The mayor plays a key role in deciding the people who lead the district, and our current mayor’s term ends in less than two years. We will likely know the next mayor after the primary election in May 2023, given how heavily Democratic Philadelphia is. Why are we going through the process of picking a new superintendent now?

» READ MORE: Philly superintendent search will be a test of transparency for Mayor Kenney | Editorial

Delaying the superintendent search until after the next mayor is elected means that the people of Philadelphia today — not nearly 10 years ago — will ultimately decide who will lead the School District of Philadelphia.

To bridge the gap between Hite’s departure and the next mayor, the school board should appoint an interim superintendent from within the existing leadership of the district, someone who already has a relationship with all district unions and is aware of the current state of schools.

Dr. Watlington, Mr. Mohip, and Mr. Davis, thank you all for your time. You will forever be loved by this city if you remove yourselves from consideration out of respect for the residents of Philadelphia, who deserve a superintendent who has local ties and will be supported by the next mayor of Philadelphia. Our children deserve the best, so let’s pause the process until we find a person who can meet the unique needs of our city.

Anthony Hardy Williams is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania state Senate, representing the 8th District since 1998. He is currently running for reelection against educator Paul Prescod.