Lehigh Valley

Poor academic performance at two high schools concerns Allentown School Board

Problems afflict Allen and Dieruff high schools

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The high number of ninth-grade students in district high schools who are repeating the ninth grade or failing two or more subjects was the subject of much concern voiced by Allentown School Board members at the Education Committee meeting on Thursday.

William Allen High School had 277 ninth grade retainees, while Louis E. Dieruff High School had 139.

More than 70 percent of the students in both high schools repeating ninth grade are Hispanic.

Both high schools also have a large number of ninth grade students who are failing two or more subjects: 204 at Allen High School and 117 at Dieruff. Both also have a large percentage of Hispanics who are struggling academically.

Board members questioned the disparity in funding for the two high schools, with Dieruff receiving more funds than Allen for after-school services to help struggling students.

Director Audrey Mathison said she “cannot fathom” the “totally different level of service” for the two schools.

“Allen’s not getting a chance,” Mathison said.

Disparities between the two schools were also reflected in certain data, such as 51 percent of Allen ninth graders failing math versus 25 percent of Dieruff students.

Board Vice-President Ce-Ce Gerlach pointed out during the meeting that a discussion had taken place earlier in the year about securing more funding for Allen High School, but no action has yet been taken.

Director Elizabeth Martinez said that a process for schools to intervene to help struggling does exist, but it has not been put into practice.

“Why not, and what’s going on?” Martinez asked.

Martinez said she was tired of seeing data indicating that many students are failing yet no concrete actions being taken to solve the problem, saying that this was “stressing me out to the point of no return.”

District Superintendent Thomas Parker said that the district was not “servicing our students in a meaningful way” and will need to “go back to the drawing board” to ensure “top-tier, high quality” instruction.

Parker said that the problems have existed for a long time, but now the district has detailed data that quantify the issues. Parker said that the district will need to evaluate the effectiveness of potential programs to help schools intervene when students are failing their courses.

Parker said that one possibility is to provide more professional development to teachers.

Parker told the board that a district Ninth Grade Task Force will be created, which will work with school leaders on possible solutions to the problem. The task force will be composed of, among other members, the superintendent, assistant superintendent and the principals of the two high schools.

Parker said that the task force members will not simply sit in a conference room and hash out solutions but will take a “boots on the ground” approach and visit the two high schools twice a week.

Administration members are collectively responsible for the high school students’ lack of success, and now must take more steps to ensure that students are college and career ready, Parker said.

Thursday’s school board committee meetings were the first where three new, recently elected school board members took part.

Phoebe Harris, Lisa Conover and Cheryl Johnson-Watts took the oath of office before the meetings began. Also being sworn in was Sara Jane Brace, who was appointed to the board in March 2017 and won election to a new term in November.

Board members elected Charlie Thiel as Board President, and Ce-Ce Gerlach as Vice-President.

Board director Robert Smith was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

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