Central High School’s new president makes history

Katharine Davis has been named the 15th president of Central High School, becoming the first woman and the first African American to lead the 186-year-old institution.

Philadelphia's Central High School is visible, a red-brick building sitting on top of a green hill.

Philadelphia's Central High School. (Google Maps)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

A School District of Philadelphia principal will be starting the 2022-23 school year making history at her alma mater.

Katharine Davis has been named the 15th president of Central High School, becoming the first woman and the first African American to lead the 186-year-old institution.

Davis, 34, is a member of Central’s 264th graduating class. She is the sixth alumnus to lead the school — the first in nearly 40 years.

She is currently the principal of the C.W. Henry School, where she served for the past three years. Her tenure at Central will begin July 1. The high school calls its principal by the title of president.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“I remember vividly my experiences, courses and teachers as a Central student,” Davis said. “While a lot of the things are the same, they’re also a number of things that are different.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of great educators and people who helped me find success in my career,” Davis said. “My grandparents did not attend high school because they had to work to support their families before the ninth grade.

“The significance of the success I had as a leader in the district means so much to me,” Davis added. “I’m honored to be named Central’s president. I’m looking forward to bringing my experiences to the school.”

As a district student, Davis recalled never attending a school where a person of color was leading. She said young people need to see themselves in a leader.

“When I think about the responsibilities I will have as I transition to Central, my hope is that the students will be able to identify with me in ways that they may not have been able to identify with leaders in the past,” Davis said.

“I hope it will help them realize that they too can set their standards high in terms of what they hope to achieve,” Davis added.

Davis was chosen from a pool of 20 candidates. School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite made the final decision based on recommendations from a search committee made up of parents, students, faculty, administration and alumni.

‘Through our leadership profile, we were looking for an equity-centered leader who can communicate effectively across different stakeholders and understand the importance of the student and teacher community at Central,” said assistant superintendent Ted Domers, who led the search process.

“Kate checked all of the boxes,” Domers said. “She’s a strategic leader who has a deep passion and commitment to social justice and she’s able to connect with different stakeholder groups. She’s the best candidate and perfect person for Central.”

Neil Deegan, president of the Associated Alumni of Central High School, said alumni is ready to work with Davis.

“Our alumni community will stand ready to support our next president in strengthening Central and making sure it is a diverse, welcoming academic community that continues to prepare the next generation of creators and leaders,” Deegan said in a statement.

A native of Mount Airy, Davis became an educator in 2009. Prior to becoming a principal at Henry, she served as co-principal at Warren G. Harding Middle School, a fellow at Cayuga Elementary School and as a teacher and assistant principal in New York City schools.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

At Henry, Davis led academic gains, diversified school faculty, garnered grants for arts and school facilities and maintained open communications with stakeholders.

Davis attended Henry as a student before matriculating to Central. She has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a graduate degree from Pace University.

“C.W. Henry is one of the best K-8 schools in the city,” Davis said. “We have an incredible staff, many of them have been at Henry for the majority of their careers.

“I’m proud that Henry supports the work of teachers, honors student voices and increases the diversity of our staff and teaching population,” Davis said.

“It’s been an honor for me to lead the school alongside the support of Mount Airy and the parent and student communities,” Davis added. “I’ll stay connected with them. It’s important for me to make sure that I’m visiting and supporting them.”

Davis, who has never led a high school before, said her background as an educator has prepared her for her role at Central.

‘One of the most important lessons I learned as a leader is learning your school community,” Davis said. “Taking time to understand the background of your teachers, knowing the strengths of the school and how to move forward.

“In each school I’ve worked at, I took time to understand the curriculum and how to support our educators,” Davis added. “I’ll be doing the same thing at Central, but on a larger scale. While my background is in K-8, the approach really is scalable and it’s still the same as far as how we support schools.”

Davis will finish the school year at C.W. Henry. She said she’s looking forward to connecting with Central’s students, faculty and alumni.

“I’ve already received a warm welcome that energized and rejuvenated me,” Davis said.

“The 264th graduating class of Central has shown up in a way that has been powerful and beautiful,” Davis added. “I’m excited to learn and get to know everyone, especially the teachers and the students.”

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal