Allentown school superintendent’s departure sends troubling message


Here we go again.

The revolving door to the Allentown School District’s leadership suite opened and spat out another superintendent.

This time, it doesn’t look like the door was pushed open by a superintendent eager to move on. John Stanford seems to have been fired after less than a year of work.

The school board on Thursday night approved a separation and release agreement that was described in a statement as a “mutual decision.”

I wonder how reciprocal it was, given that Stanford seemed to hold back tears several times during Thursday’s board meeting, Jenny Roberts of The Morning Call reported.

No reason for his abrupt departure was publicly offered and the deal was not made public at the meeting. Stanford and board members also weren’t speaking on Friday, Daniel Sheehan of The Morning Call reported.

District Attorney Jeffrey Sultanik told me Friday that the agreement was not available to the public Thursday night because it had not been signed. He said it wasn’t finalized until Thursday morning.

He said it is not unusual for councils to act on agreements without sharing them with the public in advance, particularly in matters involving personnel, which by law can be kept private.

All that lack of information only fuels speculation.

The only information offered on Thursday was a joint statement from Stanford and the board which read: “The board wants to be clear that there has been no professional misconduct or impropriety related to this mutual decision. .”

So why is he leaving then?

Board Vice Chair Lisa Conover, one of three members who voted against the separation agreement, called Stanford “impeached.”

Ahead of Thursday’s board meeting, WFMZ reported that a board member expected Stanford to be dismissed “due to a lack of trust.” Lehighvalleynews.com reported that multiple controversies had shaken the board’s trust in Stanford.

In September 2021, the advice gushed over Stanford. They were so impressed with his credentials that they signed him to a five-year deal starting at $230,000 a year.

I praised his hiring and defended his salary. I wrote that quality and commitment cost a lot and being Superintendent of Allentown is not easy.

Stanford’s first year was not easy. But that’s no reason to panic.

There are always dramas and conflicts in public education, and those dramas and conflicts are amplified in struggling school districts like Allentown.

FILE - Superintendent John Stanford during a news conference Sept. 7, 2022, outside Dieruff <a class=High School. ” src=”https://www.mcall.com/resizer/6TPxC5rB3-Y4vhLK4LQXSbIGCIA=/1440×0/filters:format(jpg):quality(70)/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/tronc/NIJJFSCTWNA7VKQMUBYAQG6AY4.JPG” width=”1440″ height=”0″ loading=”lazy”/>

Stanford’s first budget last spring was tough. He jousted with the board on its request to create or reassign 45 administrative positions, some of which were unbudgeted. The board approved a third.

This is how the system is supposed to work. It is a system of checks and balances.

A few weeks into the school year, some council members raised concerns about the new principal of Allen High School. Concerns arose after parents posted Principal Cheryl Clark’s behavior and disciplinary approach on Facebook. An online petition has been launched to demand its removal.

Stanford defended Clark, telling a board meeting that she was prepared for the role and acted appropriately when confronted by a “group of students who thought they could control the school. that day and did not want to listen”.

School districts should not micromanage principals.

Principals deserve the flexibility to take actions that ensure the success and safety of their schools. Allen has had his share of problem students, and the district should support strict discipline.

One of those problem students created another headache for Stanford when he took a loaded semi-automatic handgun from Allen on Sept. 15.

The student, aged just 14 and a veteran of the law, was quickly arrested due to the actions of a quick-witted municipal police officer at the school. The student later admitted the charges and was declared a delinquent in juvenile court.

However, neither the school nor city police officials have communicated with the public about what happened. It was only after the district attorney released a statement clarifying the circumstances of the arrest that it was made public that the student had been found with a loaded weapon in the school.

Stanford addressed the controversy at a school board meeting, saying it is protocol for school officials to let law enforcement take the lead when it comes to releasing information about a police investigation.

He was right. But the district’s security procedures have also been rightly challenged.

The Allentown School District needs stability at the top. Stanford was the district’s sixth superintendent in the past 20 years, its fifth since 2010. It’s hard for any organization to thrive without a consistent presence at the helm.

An interim superintendent will likely be appointed soon. So who knows how long it will take to find a permanent successor.

I’m afraid the search will be difficult if skilled administrators fear they won’t get the support they deserve at the first sign of controversy.

Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or [email protected]

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