With Superintendent John D. Stanford stepping down, the Allentown School District has now gone through six superintendents over the past 20 years.
The Morning Call’s coverage over the past two decades provides insight into these superintendents and their tenures.
Diane Scott came to Allentown after 25 years in Philadelphia schools and faced systemic issues such as lack of funding, overcrowding and poverty.
Scott has raised $22 million in grants and corporate donations. In seven of the 10 years of its tenure, the Allentown School Board managed not to raise taxes.
At the time of his retirement, Scott acknowledged criticism, primarily from parents of honor students and gifted students, that the focus on academic excellence had diminished. Problems with low-performing students, she said, have taken up more of the administration’s time.
When Karen Angello began her term, she had two years to improve her academic performance enough to remove Allentown from the state’s list of academically challenged school districts.
At first, Angello had a cautious attitude and promised not to make quick changes, but rather to take the time to analyze the system and take a reasoned approach.
In 2007, Angello came under fire for the school district’s response to a rape case at Central Elementary.
A year before his departure, Allentown received a Corrective Action Rating 2 for the second year in a row under the state’s annual Adequate Progress Report, which is based on standardized test scores and other factors.
Gerald Zahorchak was a secretary of state for education whose arrival in Allentown sparked hopes of improving student test scores and reducing dropout rates through his comprehensive vision for school reform. education, but resigned at the start of his five-year contract.
Russ Mayo, Zahorchak’s successor, said Zahorchak’s departure was mutual between him and the board, and based on financial reasons as the district could not pay his salary during the term of the contract. Zahorchak had an annual salary of $195,000.
When Zahorchak was hired, he set 13 goals for his Pathways to Success initiative, which he described as two overarching strategies to guide the district through teacher professional development and ensure students know what they’re learning. expects from them.
But buried in Pathways were controversial details about how Zahorchak planned to accomplish his mission, including changes to the high school curriculum and the firing of 247 teachers. The plan also needed a lot of money at the same time as Governor Tom Corbett warned that state funds for education would be drastically reduced.
The plan also called for the district to reduce dozens of electives and end high school honors classes in favor of college and advanced classes to be held in a separate building known as Collegiate High. Hundreds of students, parents and teachers protested the plans at public meetings.
Russ Mayo took the helm when districts around the world faced financial difficulties following the Great Recession. Once state funding was cut by the then government. Corbett, school districts like Allentown had to make tough choices.
The Allentown School District ended up losing 450 positions. Related arts were particularly hard hit, and primary school students received only 12 lessons in music, art and physical education each per year. Mayo said one of the lowest points of his career was making those decisions about job cuts.
While Mayo took over during tough times, his time also oversaw many initiatives, including district-wide student uniforms. In 2016, Allentown opened a re-engagement center for dropouts and a third high school, Building 21, which is more career-focused than Allen and Dieruff. Mayo said these are two of his greatest accomplishments.
During the final year of his contract, Mayo took a year-long sabbatical to regain his health, a move several board members voted against due to concerns over how the money of taxpayers would be spent.
Before the school district hired the next superintendent, Gary Cooper served as acting superintendent.
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At 38, Thomas Parker, a native of Ecorse, Michigan, was one of the youngest to serve as superintendent and was the first black superintendent in a district where the vast majority of students are of color.
In her time with the district, Parker has sounded the alarm about the challenges facing Allentown and other urban districts, which serve the most vulnerable students but have limited funding due to heavy reliance on Pennsylvania. to property taxes. Parker also highlighted its growing interest in early childhood education and partnerships, doubling the number of Head Start classrooms and expanding access to summer programs.
But Parker’s 3.5 years as district head were marred by financial difficulties. In its first year, the district needed the state to contribute $10 million, with no strings attached, to balance the budget in June 2018. Parker’s relationship with the Allentown School Board was not always smooth. . In meetings, some administrators accused him of not being transparent and questioned his authority.
Jennifer Ramos then served as acting superintendent before Stanford assumed the role.
John Stanford was hired as Parker’s replacement in a unanimous vote by the board in September 2021, and he officially took office in November.
Stanford came to the district from Ohio, where he was senior officer of the Columbus City Schools. Previously, he served as Deputy Superintendent, Acting Superintendent and Chief Operating Officer. He also served as executive assistant for education to former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and worked with the Ohio School Boards Association. He began his career as a professor at Ohio State University.
Stanford supporters said he was approachable and dedicated to students. Still, he faced controversies during his short tenure, including criticism for his hiring of Allen High School principal Cheryl Clark and miscommunication over an incident at Allen in which a student smuggled a weapon. loaded into the building.