IN CHOOSING the superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif., to take over as chancellor of the D.C. public school system, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) bypassed internal candidates groomed during the reforms of the past decade. It seems Ms. Bowser wanted to put her own stamp on education by bringing in someone unfettered to previous administrations and possessing fresh eyes and urgency. That, though, doesn’t mean there will be a drastic change in direction, which is fortunate. The candidate she has selected appears by résumé and reputation to have the same kind of forward-thinking passion for excellence that has helped make D.C. schools the fastest-improving urban school district in the country.
Furthering and improving — not undoing — that reform will be his aim, said Antwan Wilson, who on Tuesday was announced as the mayor’s choice to permanently succeed chancellor Kaya Henderson. Mr. Wilson, 44, has headed up the 48,000-student Oakland Unified School District since 2014 and has 20 years of education experience, including as a teacher and principal. Before his role in Oakland, he served as assistant superintendent for postsecondary readiness at Denver Public Schools, where he was credited with dramatically slashing suspensions and boosting graduation rates.
He was able to bring similar improvement in Oakland, but that city also proved a testing ground for his mettle. Sweeping plans for change, including school redesigns, support of charter schools and an inclusion policy for special-needs students, brought pushback from unions and parents who said he was moving too quickly. The African American executive was even accused of encouraging racial segregation, including by white critics. His response was firm: “I am not going to stand by while someone who doesn’t look like me accuses me of carrying out some form of Jim Crow,” he famously said at one point. Born in poverty to a single mother, Mr. Wilson has a poignant personal story of having to move from school to school in search of a good education in order to graduate.
If he comes to the District — his appointment is subject to confirmation by the D.C. Council — Mr. Wilson will take over a system that has made great strides but still faces seemingly intractable problems: how to close achievement gaps separating black and white students and the wealthy and the poor; how to improve middle schools that fail to attract families; how to make a difference in persistently low-performing, high-poverty schools. We look forward to hearing from Mr. Wilson and, more importantly, seeing what he can do.