Posted by: emilyrfarrell | April 6, 2011

So We’re Living Here in Allentown

So in case you haven’t heard, on March 31st the Allentown School Board voted unanimously to cut 43 honors courses, 47, electives, and all French and Latin Classes. This means that 247 teachers will be out of the job. It’s crazy to think that in a meeting where 700 students, parents, and teachers show up to argue this plan, it gets passed 8 to 0. Of course, since I am a music education major, I am quite peeved on the unwarranted attack on the arts. While the plan is meant to bring up PSSA scores and decrease the drop-out rate, they obviously have no idea what is going to happen when you rip music out of schools.

And They’re Closing All the Factories Down

Gerald Zahorchak, the superintendent for the Allentown School District, first proposed this plan in March 24th. The original plan calls for the hiring of part time teachers, but the termination of 300+ full time teachers. From the number of courses being cut, in the elementary school Zahorchak’s plan is to focus on the core subjects, rather than the arts. This means that most of the music, art, physical education, and library teachers would be cut. So the plan is that the homeroom teachers will teach those in the regular classes by incorporating those subjects into their regular lessons. They will keep on enough specialized teachers to teach a 9-week courses in library, music, art, and gym. High schoolers that do not speak English will not go to high school with everyone else and will instead be sent to another school by themselves. Also, students who need extra help and motivation will be sent to a completely different school. The plan, found here, says that all middle and high school electives will be kept to state standards, which most likely means that most ensembles will be cut. Overall, they will cut 84 elementary positions, 121 secondary positions, and 42.2 (what the what???) student support positions.

“Pathways to Success is a model that aligns with federal forward looking goals,” says Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed.,superintendent. “It is designed to provide equity and opportunity, prepare college-and career-ready students America desperately needs. The essential principles of our vision are efficiency to maximize more equitable education for more students so that higher achievement is possible for all of our students. We want everyone to achieve beyond individual expectations. All need to be college ready leaving high school. This model also saves money for parents/guardians with programs that reduce college tuition with students beginning in high school.”

Every Child Had a Pretty Good Shot

While researching this topic, I found a lot of problems with this program, and the school board, and the superintendent. First of all, I am shocked that Gerald Zahorchak, a man with a doctorate in Education, thinks this plan is a good idea. I went to high school near Allentown, I understand the climate in the inner city school district, and I realize that Governor Tom Corbitt’s education cut is costing the Allentown school district $15 million. BUT, this is not the way to go about it. Also, Zahorchak’s information isn’t checking out. First of all, it is illegal to cut faculty based on budgetary goals, and while Zahorchak assured everyone this was all just part of the plan, if you multiply 247 by the average salary of an Allentown teacher, it just happens to be be around $15 million. There were also some numerical inconsistencies when it came to the number of teachers currently in the district. Secondly, during the board meeting discussing the changes, Zahorchak said, “We need more teachers in our district.”  In the words of Allen High School sophomore Joshua Risi, “Taking away 247-some jobs but saying we need to add teachers sounds like complete hypocrisy.” And that was just one of the  many great quotes from that night. 700 members of the community showed up to speak on the behalf of education and reason. Stacy Cunningham, a teacher in the Allentown School District said “You said teaching matters. Obviously teachers don’t.” Lacey, a 13 year old eighth grader at Trexler Middle School stood up for her teachers, saying, “If you are cutting teachers you are basically cutting students too.” Out of the 700 people there, none of the people who spoke supported the plan. And yet, when it came time to vote, the school board passed it unanimously. In a response posted on the Morning Call website, Paul Jayson wrote that this decision had caused some people he knew to consider moving away from Allentown. He wrote, “I predict that there might be an exodus by the parents of students who have succeeded in Allentown. In my experience, once parents pull out of a community because of a loss of confidence in the schools,  the school system will fail.”

And It’s Getting Very Hard To Stay

So here’s the thing. Yes, this situation is horrible. But you have to realize this is happening everywhere. If we don’t stand up for music in education, it will be continued to be overlooked by school boards trying to cut the budget. I know, and you know, that music is an instrumental (pun intended) element in a child’s education. We know that music can increase test scores and can help provide an outlet for at-risk kids. Then Allentown school district is a struggling one. But it’s music department wasn’t. Having observed there before, I saw the strength in the choral program. I didn’t get to see the band but I know they had a rather large one. The choir teacher there was one of the best teachers I have observed. Even though he was working with under-privileged and troubled kids, he had complete control in the classroom, something I’m sure many of his colleagues did not have. So where did it go wrong? The simple answer is, it didn’t. This is one of those “wrong place at the wrong time” situations. It was a thriving music program, but because of the people that were elected for the school board, it is going to be cut down significantly. But this fate can be avoided. Get involved in music advocacy. Make your school administration aware of the facts when it comes to music education. The MENC website has a section on advocacy with a lot of great resources. LeadingNotes.org has several informative articles on the benefit of music education. Also, watch who you choose to elect to your school board. You do have a choice, so make sure you know where they stand on music education and the importance of the arts. Take action, and prevent situations like the one in Allentown. For more information, please go to the Morning Call website, where you will find many short articles about the meeting.


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Responses

  1. I heard about this story and had a hard time finding out anything about it. Thanks for the fact-checking and thoughts on this issue. I’m going to throw some web traffic your way.

    • Thank you! I was glad to share this story. Once you start researching something like this it’s hard not to share it.

  2. This is ridiculous. Killing the arts will single handedly increase the drop out rate. I can think of numerous students of mine who have told me “Chorus is all I got.” Thanks for the great blog post bringing this to everyone’s attention.

    • Exactly! Thanks so much for your input! I agree completely about the drop out rate. Allentown School District has no idea what’s coming.

  3. Nice job on this article Emily! Most of the issues with these school districts could have been solved if they had a solid and reasonable financial and strategic plan in place years ago (many years). Now, when faced with immediate cuts, they pull a knee-jerk reaction like you’ve written about here. Interesting times ahead…

  4. Emily, Beautifully done. We are proud to call you one of our own, and everyone at SHS is heartbroken about the situation at Allentown and our own, although we are not nearly as bad off.

    • Thank you so much! It’s good to hear things are better in Salisbury. I was definitely worried about you guys when I saw what was happening.

  5. […] STORY – (An excellent post from one of my students about the music cuts in her hometown) So We Are Living Here In Allentown – “So in case you haven’t heard, on March 31st the Allentown School Board voted unanimously […]

  6. […] Farrell presents So We?re Living Here in Allentown posted at Waiting For a […]


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