Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. was appointed superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, the nation’s 8th largest school district with nearly 200,000 students, on April 1, 2022 and was sworn in on June 16, 2022. A collaborative and results-oriented leader, Dr. Watlington began his tenure by launching an aggressive Entry Plan composed of 3 phases. Phase one included a listening and learning tour with 90 sessions in his first 100 days, phase 2 included a Transition Team composed of 100 diverse Philadelphians and K-12 national experts who issued a formal report with short and long-term recommendations, and phase 3 includes development of a an aggressive 5-year strategic planning process to position the school district to become the fastest improving large, urban school district in the country.
Prior to joining The School District of Philadelphia, Dr. Watlington served as superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, North Carolina’s first and only Renewal School District where he launched a new equity-focused strategic plan and accountability model with multiple measures. He expanded competency-based education, problem-based learning, and strategies that develop the whole child, ensuring that every student graduates and becomes enrolled in college, enlisted in the military, or employed in a good paying job. Under his leadership, the district’s 3rd grade district literacy ranking among the state’s 115 school districts rose from 96 in 2019 to 74 in 2021, the percent of schools that met or exceed state growth targets increased from 55% to 71%, and the percent of schools that exceeded state growth targets increased from 6% to 29%. Additionally, the district ranked #4 among 115 school districts in the state for career and technical (CTE) concentrator students and Dr. Watlington and his team were featured on the NBC Nightly News for innovative leadership during the COVID 19 Pandemic as a result of efforts to keep schools safety open and to mitigate disruption.
Dr. Watlington previously served as Chief of Schools in Guilford County Schools, the third largest school district in North Carolina and the 47th largest among 14,000 school districts in the United States. He was responsible for improving systems that lead to excellence and equity for all students, which resulted in improved academic outcomes in all subjects, at all grade levels, and for all student groups. In addition to achieving 4 of the 5 top ranked high schools in the state of North Carolina (according to US News and World Report), the district increased graduation rates and teacher satisfaction while reducing teacher turnover, student absenteeism, and student discipline incidents.
A first-generation college graduate and a champion for equity, Dr. Watlington is committed to building collaborative school and community teams that are accountable for creating life changing opportunities for all children, while significantly reducing achievement and opportunity gaps. A native of Fort Dix, New Jersey and the youngest of seven children, Dr. Watlington grew up in rural Harnett County, North Carolina and was the first member of his family to attend college. He received his undergraduate degree in History Education from N.C. A&T State University, a master’s degree in American political history from The Ohio State University, a Master’s of School Administration and a Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership degree from UNC-Chapel Hill (where he was a NC Principal Fellow). He also holds training certificates from Harvard and Yale Universities and is a member of the National Urban Superintendent’s Academy sponsored by Howard University and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).
Dr. Watlington began his career as a history teacher in Guilford County, NC in 1994 and was named district Teacher-of-the-Year in 1998. A life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Dr. Watlington was honored as the North Carolina PTA Administrator of the Year in 2014 and he received the Communities-in-Schools (CIS) Champion’s Cup and Business Leaders Movers and Shakers Award. He serves on numerous boards, including the Board of Community Behavioral Health (CBH) and he previously served on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Public School Forum. Outside of work, his interests include spending time with his family, volunteering in his community, CrossFit training and running 5K races, traveling to historic sites, learning to play his guitar, good food and conversation, and he enjoys an occasional basketball game with his 3 sons, Tony Jr., Aaron, and Caleb.