A Philadelphia School District administrator who is trained as a turnaround specialist has been hired as superintendent of the Chester Upland School District, state-appointed receiver Joseph Watkins announced Thursday.
Gregory G. Shannon, 49, Chester Upland's new superintendent, has worked in Philadelphia for 26 years as an elementary school principal, assistant superintendent, and deputy chief of the Office of Student Discipline, Hearings, and Expulsions.
Shannon said he had committed to serving five years in Chester Upland, a big issue for a district that has had four acting superintendents since 2010 and was placed in state receivership last fall.
Watkins is charged with overseeing the implementation of an aggressive recovery plan to improve academic performance and shore up district finances.
The last permanent leader, Gregory Thornton, left in 2010 after three years on the job to take over the Milwaukee School District.
In a brief interview, Shannon said the first thing he wants to do when he starts July 15 is "infuse myself into the community to get a sense of their thoughts and feelings and ideas."
He also said he wants to "really polish up our brand" and give parents a sense of hope and pride in Chester Upland schools.
Asked how he would do that, Shannon said: "By raising our level of expectation for all of our constituents ... and really wrapping ourselves around teaching and learning. Our success begins and ends in the classroom."
Shannon inherits a district with a multitude of academic, financial, and political challenges. A privatization experiment that began in 2001, when the state handed district management over to Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit company, ended four years later after Edison lost millions of dollars and produced only modest improvement in test scores.
After that, a variety of superintendents and improvement plans failed to lift the district.
In December, Chester Upland was put in the hands of Watkins, who came up with a far-reaching academic and financial recovery plan that calls for increasing scholastic achievement, luring back students who have fled the district's schools, increasing programs, and attracting private funding.
It also calls for closing and consolidating schools and turning some schools over to external control, such as education-management companies, if they fail to meet federal progress goals by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Shannon said he was open to "educational options" such as charter schools but wanted to create schools that could "compete against charter school operators."
The recovery plan required a superintendent who was a visionary and had a track record of success to lead the way to student performance and better and safer schools that are financially viable, Watkins said in the release. "Greg Shannon is that leader," he said.
Shannon attended Philadelphia schools - he calls himself a proud alumnus of Northeast High School - and West Chester University before joining the Philadelphia School District.
The challenges in Chester Upland are similar to what is happening in urban centers throughout the country, he said. His experiences in Philadelphia as a student and educator, he said, will help him in his new post.