By Natasha Brown

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New leadership began Thursday for the School District of Philadelphia. Eyewitness News sat down with Dr. Tony B. Watlington Sr. before his first day as superintendent to talk about his vision for the district. He wants to hear from parents, students, staff and community members about creating a better future.

“I am ready to hit the ground running,” Watlington said.

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Watlington is wasting no time getting familiar with his new role as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.

The 51-year-old career educator from North Carolina was officially sworn in Thursday morning to begin his superintendency, flanked by school board members, city and community leaders.

Before the pomp and circumstance began, Eyewitness News sat down with Watlington for an exclusive one-on-one interview the day before his first day.

“Since April 1, I’ve been spending time visiting Philadelphia to meet with school board members, elected officials, school staff, community members,” Watlington said.

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Watlington has set an aggressive 100-day plan to crisscross the city on a three-month listening and learning tour.

“I describe myself as a collaborative and transparent leader,” he said. “So we’re going to launch a new website at Anyone in the City of Philadelphia can go on there and see the 80 listening and learning tours.”

He’s set his top five priorities for the district of about 200,000 students, including:

  1. assessing student and staff well-being, physically and mentally
  2. developing trust with the city
  3. assessing teaching and learning
  4. reexamining the district’s organizational and leadership structure
  5.  assessing district finances and operational needs

Watlington’s biggest challenge is navigating a city with parents and staff passionate about public education. He takes on the position amid rising crime involving many school-aged children and a pandemic that’s become an endemic part of society.

“I think that it’s important to focus on getting to know Philadelphia,” he said. “Trust begins when I begin to listen. I have to listen to understand. To understand this community, to understand what we think is working really well and to understand what we think are areas we think need improvement in the school district.”

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At the end of Watlington’s 100-day learning and listening tour, he says he will be devising a five-year strategic plan for the district that he will share with the entire city.