Constance Clayton, the first woman, African American to serve as Philly schools superintendent, dies at 89

Philly School District
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A trailblazing educator who led the city school system for more than a decade died Monday at age 89.

Constance Clayton was the first woman and African American to serve as Philadelphia School District's superintendent. She led the district from 1982 to 1993, stabilizing finances and restoring labor peace to a district that had endured three teacher strikes under her predecessor, Michael Marcase.

Education advocate Debra Weiner recalled Clayton's no-nonsense style.

"Her leadership, in partnership with Herman Mattleman, really gave the district credibility."

And she says it was effective.

"It wasn't just credibility because it was good PR. There were also no strikes and no deficits."

In a statement, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan called Clayton the best superintendent he's ever known. Jordan said he was struck by how she ended every speech she gave with the words, "Remember, the children come first."

Current Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington has said Clayton was a mentor to him, encouraging him to standardize the district's curriculum because students are so transient.

A proud Girls’ High alumna, Clayton spoke in January as City Council recognized the 175th anniversary of her alma mater.

"I take pride in having had a distinguished career serving the students of our city," she said. "As I take my final rest, the lessons I learned while at Girls' High will be a significant part of my legacy to the service of Philadelphia."

Further details about Clayton's death haven't been released.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio