Southeastern PA

Acting Quakertown schools chief talks issues at community forum

Board to decide on search of superintendent

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - Acting Quakertown Community School Superintendent of Schools, Dr. William Harner, answered wide-ranging questions submitted by borough members for 90 minutes Thursday night.

The questions ranged from student achievement and community relations to future initiatives and budget strategies.

Harner, the former Acting Secretary of Education for Gov. Tom Corbett, took over the reins of Quakertown schools on Jan. 23, replacing Lisa Andrejko who is currently on medical leave and will formally retire on July 1.

Harner's interim term, which pays a prorated sum of just more than $160,000, expires June 30.

The school board is proactively seeking input from the community at large concerning whether or not to move forward with a search for a new schools chief.

The district hired Dr. Barry Galasso, executive director of Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22, as a consultant. He moderated Thursday night's question and answer session.

Harner, a Carlisle resident, is a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

He served a 20-year stint in the military, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Harner served as a middle school and high school principal prior to taking superintendent positions at the Greenville County School District in South Carolina and the Cumberland Valley School District, near Harrisburg.

He holds two Master's degrees in addition to a Ph.D.

Harner was asked to resign his position by Corbett in August, 2013, two months after being named to the post.

"I was asked to come on by Gov. Corbett and help make education a top priority for his re-election campaign," Harner said. "It wasn't. I saw the trials and tribulations educators were going through. A couple of things happened in August and I was asked to resign."

Thursday's session, however, focused on his future visions for the Quakertown Community School District after his nine weeks on the job.

"My top priorities are school community meetings, coming together to know what your dreams and aspirations are and what they cost, to participate in the process that will put us on the track of where we want to go, " Harner said. "We're anxious for community input that will be heard.

Last week, we heard from (Quakertown Elementary School) parents about the (high school) turf field and because of that, the engineers are re-drafting the way the water will drain and affect the elementary school."

Implementing initiatives including full-day kindergarten, offering world language courses in middle schools, more rigorous mathematics course tracks and increasing advanced placement classes are on Harner's radar, despite the district staring at an approximately $2.5 million budget hole for the 2014-15 school year.

"There's no question in my mind. I've never failed at any job. I've never had to furlough a teacher and I'm proud of that," Harner said. "We have to do more with less and more people will have to learn new job skills. You have to realize that 70 percent of residents don't have children in the school district and we have a responsibility there."

Harner said he plans to stay in the job and over the next five years hopes to see district students be much more prepared to graduate from Quakertown High School with better college and career readiness.

"I believe in the three A's -- arts, academics and athletics. They are the really important things that provide that foundation," Harner said. "We're going to build a positive attitude and we will go the distance."

Harner touched on how the school district must change the discussion from just meeting the state's Common Core standards and instead changing the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"My challenge is raising the bar. If you raise the bar, all children will rise across the district," Harner said, pointing out his record on increasing the number of students who took advanced placement classes in the Cumberland Valley School District.

Harner said he wants to improve the special education services in the district and reduce the number of parents who send special needs children to private and charter schools.

"That's non-negotiable. We have to have an educational system designed for all students," he said.

Harner noted that with the help of a state grant, he'll work with the school resource office to implement a school safety program.

"There have been 44 school shootings since Newtown (Connecticut). We're going to upgrade our security plans," he said.

Harner said that he's been through every school building in the district and ridden through all of the townships that comprise the district, to get a feel for the area.

"I've enjoyed the last eight weeks. I've been everywhere (throughout the school district) and that's been by design," Harner said. "I lead teachers and administrators by example and I love what I do."

Thursday night's session was streamed online on the school district's website and can be seen again on demand.

An online survey was immediately sent out to the community for feedback following the meeting.

School directors will review the survey and decide in the near future if a full-blown search for a superintendent will occur.

"The school district is not in a search process right now and there are no candidates," Galasso said. "This was a way for the school board to gather information and insight."

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