Philly superintendent restructures district leadership in pursuit of academic gains

Philadelphia School District headquarters

Philadelphia School District headquarters on North Broad Street. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

The School District of Philadelphia will restructure its central office in an effort to better support student and teacher attendance, and improve dropout rates, district officials said this week.

It’s an early step toward Superintendent Tony Watlington’s ambitious, and oft-repeated, goal — to make Philadelphia schools the “fastest improving, large, urban school district in the country.”

“This requires something different and better in terms of strategy,” Watlington said.

In pursuit of this goal, Watlington will reorganize the district’s academic office into six sub-offices that will report directly to the district’s deputy superintendent for academics, one of several new positions Watlington created in October.

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All personnel changes are “budget neutral,” according to the district, “due to the elimination of a number of vacant positions” that Watlington froze when he joined the district in June.

The sub-offices will be:

  • Elementary Schools led by current Chief of Schools Evelyn Nuñez. The position of chief of schools will be eliminated and replaced with two associate superintendents, one for elementary schools, filled by Nuñez, and the other for secondary schools. Nuñez will supervise 11 assistant superintendents who oversee the city’s elementary schools.
  • Secondary Schools led by Tomás Hanna, currently the chief talent officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Hanna, a former district principal and labor negotiator, will serve as an associate superintendent and will oversee the remainder of the district’s assistant superintendents.
  • Professional Learning led by Michael Farrell as chief learning officer. Farrell is currently the district’s deputy chief for professional learning.
  • Student Services and Supports, which will continue to be led by Karyn Lynch, chief of student support services.
  • Curriculum and Instruction. Deputy Chief of Curriculum and Instruction Nyshawna Francis-Thompson will lead this office until the district hires an office chief, which is a newly created position.
  • Special Education and Diverse Learners. Deputy Chief of Office of Specialized Services Sonya Berry will lead this office until the district hires an office chief, which is a newly created position.

Malika Savoy-Brooks, who previously served as the district’s chief of academic support, will serve as an assistant superintendent for special projects. Her immediate focus will be implementing the state’s graduation requirements, which take effect this school year, according to the district.

In addition to academics, district officials also named Mike Herbstman as the district’s new chief financial officer starting in February. Marcy Blender, the district’s comptroller, will serve as interim CFO until Herbstman arrives.

Herbstman is the current head of finance for schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which under his leadership, “transitioned from a structural deficit to fiscal sustainability,” according to a press release. He succeeds the district’s longtime CFO Uri Monson, who Watlington promoted to a newly created role, deputy superintendent of operations, in October.

Monson will leave the district in January to serve as Pennsylvania’s next budget secretary under governor-elect Josh Shapiro.

“Under his financial stewardship, the district ended the year with positive fund balances for the last seven years, while also making new investments in students, staff, and schools,” Watlington said in a written statement.

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Additionally, under Monson, the district exited the state’s financial distress program and saw its bond rating upgraded for the first time since 1977, according to Watlington.

The district will conduct a nationwide search for Monson’s replacement, Watlington said. In the meantime, Monson’s direct reports will report to the superintendent.

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