Oct 13, 2010

Fire Him Now


Margie Peterson did an excellent profile this summer on the Allentown School Superintendent applicants. Who finally got the job, John Zahorchak, would have been my third choice, out of the four candidates. Zahorchak impressed the School Board because he was the Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education. Two other candidates had experience in running large intercity school districts; Zahorchak's previous hands on experience was in little Johnstown. Although we're not a large city, we have the large "intercity" problems. Zahorchak's Harrisburg position was a political appointment by Rendell. I suspect the Board thought he would know the ropes in terms of grants; Apparently he does. Allentown is getting a grant of $2.5 million for a few years. To qualify for the grant, the school district must "fire" principals, either in underperforming schools or those who had a position more than two years. One of those to be "fired" is Allen's principal, Keith Falco. Falco is the glue which keeps the lid on Allen. Falco would be charged with organizing a special school for over-achievers. Zahorchak also wants a special school for disruptive students; that better be a big building.

I'm on a mailing list for school district communications. Zahorchak seems to have a new idea each day. He's very enthusiastic about the Zalamazoo School District. Seems like they have grown 12% in five years. We here in Allentown really don't want any more growth; We had enough lately, thanks anyway. I do know that Falco does an excellent job in discipline at Allen High, which needs it. To relocate him to a gifted honors environment seems to be wasting his talent. To do this, to chase a $2.5 million grant for a few years, or model ourselves after Kalamazoo, Michigan, suggests a bureaucrat who spends too much time reading the Professional Educator Journal.

AllenGrad at 10:58 PM October 12, 2010
I graduated from Allen, under the leadership of Mr. Falko. I went on to attend an Ivy League university and am now in medical school. I would not have made it here without the direct involvement of Mr. Falko in my educational path. Not every “smart kid” will make it through on his or her own, even with supportive parents. There also must be invested teachers AND administrators. In all of my experience in public schools (including extensive tutoring outside the ASD), Mr. Falko is the best principal I have met. He truly cares about his students, understands the challenges they face, and is doing the best job anyone can do to make as many students succeed as possible. He has a tough job, with limited resources and parental support, but he is one of those special people who found his niche. This man was made to run Allen. Taking him out is a tremendous loss for current and future students. Mr. Zahorchak, I hope you understand what you are doing. If you are removing Mr. Falko because you think the poor scores will improve, then you are sorely mistaken. If you are wise, then you won't squander his leadership. Follow Mr. Falko around for a day. See what I’m talking about. See how he makes a difference. Mr. Falko, you have my support. Best of luck and thanks!
comment on Morning Call

Zahorchak said if he doesn't raise the test scores in three years, fire him. John (Zahorchak), we don't really want to fire you now, but we don't care that much about the standardized test scores. What we care about is kids walking home from school and not beating each other up. We care about kids being respectful to the neighborhood as they walk. We care about long term taxes, not short term grants. Slow down on all the ideas, and speak to the neighbors. We pay the taxes and your salary.

related article: Morning Call Story

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Here we go again with another clueless "brilliant” outsider running an entity in the wrong direction and making big mistakes in the process. This is typical Allentown, the city that just can’t get it right. We will no doubt need to hold him to his promise in three years.

Scott Armstrong

Local said...

I, for one, would like to see our Allentown schools attempt to teach students not to litter.
EVERY morning (and afternoon) our educators need to say to their class: garbage belongs in receptacles.Twelve years of that might work.

Anonymous said...

The new Superintendent has already started to sell us out to The State and the dreaded Foundations of The Lehigh Valley. Word is School Board Directors are increasingly dissatisfied at this whirlwind of activity.

I heard that there was a meeting at ASD last night and the director of security said things, at WAHS, were just fine. In fact better than they had been in years.

The school district is derelict in hiding facts and figures about crime in the schools. They also are not forthcoming about the gang activity around WAHS. There are recruiting activities occurring daily. Everybody loves playing gangster.

Anonymous said...

MM -

A few weeks ago, Zahorchak attended a teacher's union meeting where campaign literature was distributed at the door. Naturally, the literature was grossly slanted in favor of Democrat candidates.

While Zahorchak didn't directly endorse any candidate, he did mention that he would be voting for candidates that "support our schools" and urged union members to do the same.

After he left, the meeting deteriorated further and the union leaders urged anyone who can't hold their noses and vote for the Democrat candidates to just stay home on Election Day.

I don't think it is appropriate for a Superintendent to attend a union meeting (this was the first time ever by an Allentown superintendent), or give ANY indication of how he will be voting to ANYBODY.

Zahorchak is supposed to represent all of us. Instead he appears to be another political hack. Where is our school board?

michael molovinsky said...

it's my blogging preference not to comment, but i must say that i was disappointed to read that the school board president was supportive of this plan. i would prefer to think of the board as performing due diligence on all proposals before signing on. who will pay for these new buildings and programs after the grants end in few years? is allentown really factoring in how transient the population is? does kalamazoo have our transient population? (actually, i could care less about kalamazoo)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
To truly understand Allen High School's present issues, one needs to be on the corner of 17th and Linden at dismissal time.

Anonymous said...

Read the Call story. No matter what the spin, it sounds like the men are being fired. If making the new school safe is one reason for the changes, what does that say to the poor students forced to remain in the old schools? Are they placed in more danger? Does this plan say the students forced to stay at these schools are failures before they even
graduate? What kind of message does this send? Will anyone be allowed to attend the new school if they promise to work hard?
You probably know more about this than we do.

Anonymous said...

MM -

By accepting the federal grant, the district is now (at least partially) under federal control - as evidenced by the firing of the principals at the behest of the US Department of Education.

This is a HUGE separation of powers issue.

It speaks volumes about our Superintendent and School Board that they don't seem to understand this. The school board needs to step in and stop this.

LVCI said...

I, like most everyone in this town, seem to have a tendency to oppose big changes. What I'm about to say will obviously put me in the minority of those who are opposed. But I have three reasons why I'm adopting a wait and see attitude.

First off all of us can agree on one thing. Allentown schools are the pits. I've had several neighbors move out when their kids became school age to avoid the ASD schools. So I'm of the opinion that just about the only direction is up and continuing on the current path is getting us no where.

Secondly I never would hang someone out to dry before giving them a chance to try their idea out. God knows no one changed much of anything that we have been doing for years down on Penn Street.

Thirdly, when my daughter went to William Allen she was always in the top 50 or so of students. If you think they challenged her to do her best you'd be mistaken. She was thrown in with lesser performing students in the hopes that she would inspire the slower students. That's like putting a good apple with the bad and expecting rotten apples to become good again. It simply wasn't fair to her. So perhaps this special " Zahorchak's College Access Network plan" will benefit students like her.

If this Allen Principal Keith Falko is as good as they say, the Allentown Schools might finally have some outstanding students coming out of the system. Who knows maybe that might even persuade some parents not to move out after they have kids.

If in a year or so this plan goes nowhere it's not like it's etched in stone for ever and ever. So, shoot me for wanting to give the Allentown Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak a little rope. Alright.. fire away :-)

michael molovinsky said...

lvci, we already have a charter school for hispanics (roberto clemente); is this a new defacto charter school for to prevent white flight? that's what you hinted at! is it back to the future with reverse segregation?

LVCI said...

michael molovinsky (9:28 AM) said... "is this a new defacto charter school for to prevent white flight? that's what you hinted at!"
Putting words in my mouth? Nothing of the sort. Wow that's a stretch. I don't care if these kids are from the planet Melmac.

LVCI said...

Now that I think more upon your inference, it's offensive. It's pot about "white flight". It's about losing all kinds of good students who happen to be born with ethnicity.

In my teen years I dated an Hispanic girl from Bethlehem. I learned things first hand when she shared her stories of how people treated her since coming to this country. I also hung out a lot with Rosa and her boyfriend for years. Although her mother was Puerto Rican her father was very Dutch. Rosa excelled in H.S. This seems to run counter to what your implying. She then worked and paid her own way through Kutztown. Landed a teacher's job in the Allentown School Distinct. She then went onward to receive her doctorate. I was surprised when she landed an Allentown School district administrative position. She was in charge of Allentown's minority education programs in those days. Her sister stayed in NY (with her aunt) because schools around here didn't accept her kind either. She then went on to finish college like her sister (Rosa).

They both fought adversity. She grew up in a NYC high rise where her dad was superintendent for over 300 units. Since it wasn't in an Hispanic neighborhood she didn't even know what being a Hispanic was till she got grilled over by other students in this area. She considered herself more Dutch then Hispanic. Her peers didn't see it that way. She overcame those barriers before any of these special programs came along.

These programs would not encourage only the white students but other's who find themselves in the same position Rosa was back then. If it hadn't been for Rosa's desire to punch through she never would have achieved what she did. Her family considered even moving away. Not all people have the fortitude Rosa did. If these changes can put out a few more Rosa's, and cause less minorities to give up, I see this as having possibilities.

So if anyone's harboring some sort of issues as appears via your statement implying my bigotry by stuffing words never spoken.. I'd suggest a bit of self reflection on what you have accused me of.

michael molovinsky said...

lvci, you wrote;

" I've had several neighbors move out when their kids became school age to avoid the ASD schools."

where and why did your neighbors move?

the fact is that allentown schools are still excellent for highly motivated kids, excellent dedicated teachers, but there certainly is white flight.

michael molovinsky said...

lvci, your long story about dating rosa, your puerto rican friend, was wonderful. btw, your daughters experience was unusual. most kids in the top 50 are in the higher tracts, with other quick learners.

now i didn't accuse you of inventing white flight, nor did i invent it. it is the reality of the allentown school system. perhaps zahorchak's academy is a solution, but this blog will call it what it is.

Capri said...

Its been almost 10 years since I finished high school, but I don't think that Allentown schools are excellent for smart, motivated students. I discourage friends with smart children from sending them to the ASD.

My high school classes were extremely overcrowded - my 11th grade English gifted/honors class was over 45 students. In one classroom, with one teacher. I wasn't challenged. Though I certainly met the state standards for what a high school student is supposed to know, I was far behind my peers at East Penn or Parkland. I had a few exceptionally great teachers, and a lot of teachers who I can barely remember because they were so unengaged and just figured that me and my friends would "get by" no matter what because we were smart.

I appreciate the comment you pulled from the Morning Call, but my experience with Mr. Falco was totally different. In my experience, he viewed the gifted/honors students as "over-achievers" as you so delicately put it in the blog. Rather than encouraging us and pushing us to do our absolute very best, on more than one occasion I heard him use the word "nerd." I do think that he was a great disciplinarian, but discipline was not what I needed when I was in high school.

I am disappointed with the decision to remove him as principal at Allen, Allen by and large needs disciplinary leadership. I am equally disappointed with the decision to assign him to a program for gifted/honors students. But I'm not opposed to the creation of such a program at all, and I know that if I had been challenged and pushed the way that I could have been, I would have been better for it. I don't think that the not gifted-honors students should be ignored and left to suffer in any way, but I think that the issues facing gifted/honors students are different than the issues facing other students. Trying to address the differing needs of the students with the same set of resources makes me think that everyone ends up losing out.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
FYI From Call article:

ralphmalph1 at 9:37 AM October 13, 2010

To give you an idea of what a well thought out plan and great communicator Zahorchak is - today's newspaper article was the first that the staff and faculty of these schools even found out that they were losing their principals.

ironpigpen said...

Dear Capri,

I graduated William Allen roughly 20 years ago, as did my older brother and younger sister.

Like the both of them, I had Gifted English with A. David Deery and on down the line. I always liked Mr. Robert Fisher, even if he is some kind of Socialist / Marxist.

None of us will EVER tell you we were behind our peers at Parkland or Emmaus.

Neither would ANY of the kids in all of our classes combined. And not all of those kids were "rich", so don't even think of going there.

Because we WERE NOT behind our peers. The victim of urban society crap is pathetic.

My brother went to very-highly rated Williams College in Massachusetts. Rather difficult to gain admission to - please verify. I'll have to ask how many Parkland and Emmaus kids were there - I am guessing none.

Meanwhile, my sister has her masters from the University of Wisconsin.

Lots of kids from my generation at William Allen got boatloads of degrees from schools literally across the country.

I am sad, as, I believe, would be the kids I went to school with, to hear you felt yourself to be inferior to your suburban peers.

Here are a couple of unwritten rules from the world of sports you just may learn something from :

1. Spend all day long gawking at the other teams' uniforms - prepare to lose.

2. Spend all day long worrying about what every other team is doing - prepare to lose.

3. Spend all day long worry about what you team does NOT have - prepare to lose.

It is much better to focus on what you DO have (even the worst teams have SOMETHING, if not much)...

...give a Pattonesque speech reminding everyone the object of war is to make the other son-of-a-bitch die for his country...

...and, as the English would say, get on with it!

michael molovinsky said...

anon 2:06, i spoke to a teacher early this morning who had known about it.

Capri said...

ironpigpen:

I did go on to a great school and am about to get my master's degree from another great school. But I also went to East Penn for a few months in my senior year and saw FIRST HAND how much more those students learned. Its not an issue of rich kids are smarter than poor kids. Its an issue of my classes had 45 students in them and we were mostly herded through four years in the hopes that we'd all graduate and go to school, and at other schools there are 20 students to a class, and students are pushed to compete, not to survive.

Capri said...

Also, on a reading comprehension tip:

Stating that students in East Penn or Parkland are given more educational opportunities and taught more is not a statement about my inferiority. Its a statement about the inferiority of the education provided by the ASD as compared to those other school districts. There's no inference of a, given b.

Patrick McHenry said...

LVCI said...

I, like most everyone in this town, seem to have a tendency to oppose big changes...

If in a year or so this plan goes nowhere it's not like it's etched in stone for ever and ever. So, shoot me for wanting to give the Allentown Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak a little rope.

**********************************

LVCI -

I don't have a problem with giving Zahorchak a chance on CERTAIN issues, and the idea of a "special school for honors students" MIGHT be a good one.

I would definitely like more information about the "special school" as far as the long-term costs of running such a project. As MM stated earlier, what happens when the money runs out? These are questions that should have been discussed - publicly - before deciding to fire anybody.

Apparently the school board was aware of this plan, but once again an idea is sprung upon us - the lowly public - without any opportunity for scrutiny or input.

I would note that just a few weeks ago, Zahorchak proposed eliminating middle schools altogether. That idea would certainly be very costly and not easily reversible, so I'm not as charitable about how much rope I'm willing to give the guy.

Finally, I do have a problem with the federal government mandating that someone at the local level gets fired. If the principals are ineffective, they should be removed with or without a grant in the offing. If they are doing their job, they should be retained in their positions no matter what.

There is no way in hell that bureaucrats in Washington know whether or not any of these principals deserve to be fired.

I think it's a sham for Zahorchak to "fire" them to get a grant while praising them and keeping them on. "Playing the game" for government money is a problem in our society (at the individual, business, and government level).

P.S. - I also have a problem with governmental entities creating and controlling their own non-profits, but that is a matter for another post.

Patrick McHenry said...

Capri said:

"Its an issue of my classes had 45 students in them and we were mostly herded through four years in the hopes that we'd all graduate and go to school, and at other schools there are 20 students to a class, and students are pushed to compete, not to survive."

********************************

Capri -

Take away any reference to class size and your statement above is perfectly correct.

Many people learn and excel in class sizes well above those that you mentioned.

But there is little substitute for high expectations and demands being placed on students - either by others (such as teachers and parents) or the students themselves.

michael molovinsky said...

despite my provocative title, i'm not advocating that zahorchak be fired. i am concerned that he might be too anxious to make his "mark" upon the system. i also doubt that lessons learned in kalamzoo are applicable here. excuse my political incorrectness, but san juan might be more helpful

Looking To Escape said...

ironpigpen said...
...give a Pattonesque speech reminding everyone the object of war is to make the other son-of-a-bitch die for his country...

.
I can't say America has to compete in the world is common currency here. Reading about China you can see they are on a "war" footing, every resource is dedicated to improving their lot in life. In the United States we seem to be meandering around the 1960's yet chanting give peace a chance while our economy, military power and prestige slips away.
.
.
Capri said:
Take away any reference to class size and your statement above is perfectly correct.

.
There have been several educators that feel class size (and to a good degree funding) isn't that important for educational success. As I have mentioned earlier, if education is important to a culture, students can do quite well without all the bells and whistles.

ironpigpen said...

Capri,

I appreciate your genuine concern for my reading comprehension skills, so, thank you very much.

And, good luck to you with respect to going through life wringing your hands that you were forced to endure 45 kids in your classes at Allen...

...and were not enabled the wonderful opportunity to attend the magnificent educational institutions of Emmaus and/or Parkland for your entire four-year high school career.

I have faith you shall overcome such a massive, crippling handicap and admire your obvious courage and can-do spirit.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

I love this line, "Zahorchak said the principals would help the nonprofit reshape Allen and Dieruff, which are too big and are plagued by low test scores, dropouts and student and staff perceptions of danger."

Gee wasn't it just recently agreed that we needed to spend a half a billion dollars to expand these(and other district schools)?

Now we see we need to spend more money on a new approach?

Scott Armstrong

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
Have you noticed At least twice this week the Morning Call has photographed dogs off leash in Lehigh Parkway, even though according to city ordinances, dogs must be on a 6-ft. leash at all times!  Let's get rid of this and other laws that are not enforced.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Let me just add this: it isn’t the gifted and honor students that need help in Allentown’s school district. It is my experience that these students already have access to quality teachers, learning environments, and scholarships.
The state bureaucrat who has taken the reins of the Allentown school district seems to be following the simplistic pattern and predictable pattern of going to the government well for the “free money”. What the article seems to make clear is that this program will cost the district money.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

MM,
We sure hope tomorrow or soon thereafter you will devote a blog entry to man's favorite friend
and the city's latest budget-conscious project.

"Three 10,000 sq ft dog runs on city owned land for almost $900,000. That's three one quarter grass plots fenced in with posts and wire."
Courtesy: Morning Call reader comment

Anonymous said...

MM.

Anonymous said... Isn't today Wednesday Oct. 13th?
Is this week-old news appearing tonight for the first time or did this accident just occur?


The following story appears on the Call's Web site tonight.

Home > Lehigh Valley News > Breaking News
Police closes northbound 309 after accident
Driver's injuries unknown after car flipped.

By Devon Lash, OF THE MORNING CALL
8:24 p.m. EDT, October 13, 2010

mc-saucon-valley-309-shutdown-20101013

Police shut down the northbound lanes of Route 309 at its intersection with Route 378 in Upper Saucon at 8 p.m. Thursday night, after a car flipped over on its roof, blocking both lanes of traffic.

The injuries of the driver were unknown, said the supervisor for the Lehigh County Communications Center, who said he was not permitted to use his name.

The driver got out of the vehicle by himself, the supervisor said. Emergency medical services were not yet on scene, he said.

According to radio reports, the Honda Civic lay on its roof in the intersection.

October 13, 2010 8:42 PM

Anonymous said...

Permission to Post
Mr. Molovinsky,
Are you aware Lower Saucon Township is requiring residents to boil drinking water. Someone said this has been in effect since Sunday. Sings are posted in shopping centers and street corners. What happened? Decades ago scientists warned, America would face dire water shortages. This week you wrote about polluted waters in Allentown. What's next?

Anonymous said...

If the current Allen principal was doing such a great job, why does he allow students to wear cutoff jeans and low cut tops to school that leave nothing to the imagination.

Anonymous said...

as a product of ASD and a parent of kids who have graduated from ASD and found themselves to be well prepared for college, I say take a deep breath and relax. No one's happy w. the status quo. Give the guy a chance. he's moved faster in three months than ASD did in the prior 4 years.

I've met him in public and he seemed thoughtful, knowledge and committed to Allentown. Maybe the BooBirds could make an effort to meet him and see for themselves?

finally, after using the google, I see that the programs in Kalamazoo and Pittsburgh, which are to pay for college tuition for public school grads, are designed to restore a healthier economic balance in their cities. Who could be against giving middle class folks a reason to move back into Allentown?