Lehigh Valley

Allentown School District hopes proposed high school helps turn the page

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - With little to lose, the Allentown School District is attempting to become a change agent.

During Thursday night's board of directors education-of-the-whole meeting, administrators proudly unveiled plans for a new, career-focused high school that Superintendent C. Russell Mayo coined as a "key piece of a transformational initiative" the district hopes will get them back in the education game and radically alter how they educate some of the city's children.

"If I had to say in one word what we want, I would say we want 'relevancy,'" said Mayo of the initiative.

That 'relevancy' is called the Professional Careers Institute and it was presented Thursday night in a shiny, happy and polished presentation that was tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day.

Should the board approve the idea, the school would open its doors in September 2015 at a yet-to-be-identified facility, according to David Wildonger, ASD's chief operations officer.

The school would provide an academic environment that has the input of several community and business partners in various fields of interests to prepare students in a quasi real-world situation that is reflective of what employers are looking for in graduates while providing students with 21st century skills, according to Kristen Kruger, the district's executive director of instruction.

The school would have core courses of study, a required professional skills course, a job shadowing experience, field specific courses, a minimum of one college course and one online course and an off-site project development with an industry mentor.

The school would start with 250 students in the 2015-2016 school year with 125 students coming from ninth and tenth grades equally.

After that the program would be expanded to 500 students and would include juniors and seniors.

Current staff members would make up the teaching staff.

Mayo noted during his comments that the school would also change the traditional education instruction where a teacher stands before a class and lectures about a subject to students.

"This will move away from the 'sage on the stage," Mayo said. "...to a guide on the side."

When asked by board President Robert Smith Jr. how the district would be able to pay for all of this, Mayo said that several grants and the district's general fund would pay the freight, in addition to money the district could reclaim in the form of recapturing charter school students.

Several directors expressed mostly encouraging remarks.

"This is so exciting to me," said Director Joanne Bauer. "I am so happy with this presentation."

However,  there was little unity later in the meeting among board members when an effort to revitalize a previously dormant resolution made by Director Ce Ce Gerlach to establish a Lehigh County task force to curb the district's dropout rates started a mind-numbing 20-minute debate that left some board members confused about what they were actually voting on.

After all of this, the board voted 5-3, with one abstaining vote from Bauer, to table the motion.

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