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Allentown school board negotiating exit for new superintendent

John D. Stanford started as superintendent of the Allentown School District in November 2021 at an annual salary of $230,000.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown school board is negotiating a separation package for new Superintendent John Stanford, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.

The continued turnover of Allentown School District’s top administrator

Here’s what led to the changes over the past decade:

  • August 2011: Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, the former Pennsylvania education secretary, steps down just one year into a five-year contract. His tenure, although short, was considerably rocky as the district laid off more than 100 teachers and focused on cutting costs. Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Russell Mayo, is appointed acting superintendent.
  • May 2016: Dr. Mayo announces he won’t seek a new contract and will leave ASD in June 2017. The move allows the school board to begin a search for his replacement.
  • December 2016: Thomas E. Parker is named superintendent, becoming the first minority to hold the position. He arrives with experience in various leadership roles, including superintendent of a school district in Ecorse, Michigan. He also previously worked as a principal and teacher in Detroit. He officially takes over at ASD in July 2017.
  • February 2021: Parker submits a notice of resignation to the school board, effective May 1.
  • April 2021: The board approves the appointment of Dr. Marilyn Martinez as interim superintendent at a special meeting.
  • July 2021: Martinez submits her resignation and the board names Jennifer Ramos as acting superintendent, effective July 28.
  • September 2021: The board shares that an offer has been extended to Dr. John D. Stanford to be the next superintendent. The board president says Stanford is “an exceptional candidate who possesses the right combination of skills, experience and background to lead the Allentown School District well into the future.”
  • October 2022: Sources with knowledge of the talks say the school board is negotiating a separation package for Stanford. He’s just a year into a five-year contract, with a salary of $230,000.
  • The school board does not have a timeline for the negotiations but a string of controversies has shaken its confidence, said sources who spoke to LehighValleyNews.com on the condition of anonymity.

Stanford started work in the district’s top job in November 2021 and signed a five-year contract that would carry through June 2026. His first-year salary was $230,000.

  • The school board is negotiating a separation package for Superintendent John Stanford, sources said
  • Stanford started the job in November 2021
  • A string of controversies has shaken the school board's confidence in Stanford, according to sources

The school board does not have a timeline for the negotiations but a string of controversies has shaken its confidence, said sources who spoke to LehighValleyNews.com on the condition of anonymity. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the negotiations.
Stanford, who came to Allentown from the public school system in Columbus, Ohio, did not return a call left at his office.

He became Allentown’s fifth superintendent since 2010 when he replaced Superintendent Thomas Parker, who left Allentown last year for another job. He is the district’s second Black superintendent after Parker.

The district administration has come under scrutiny recently, including last month after a 14-year-old student with a loaded semi-automatic handgun was arrested inside William Allen High School. The school district did not disclose that an armed student was taken into custody during the lockdown, only acknowledging it after Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin released the information to the public nearly a week later.

Stanford defended keeping the information from parents at a subsequent school board meeting in late September, saying it was best practice to tell families to check with the police department for more information.

“You should talk to the city about their actions and the decisions that they made,” he said at the time. “All I can tell you is the decisions we made were consistent with best practices in a crisis situation because, again, we were being told it was an ongoing investigation.”

Students protest principal

Stanford also has faced criticism for hiring Allen High School Principal Cheryl Clark, who is the first Black woman to serve in the role. Some parents objected to the way Clark disciplined disruptive students early in the school year. Students started a petition calling for her removal, which garnered more than 4,400 signatures.

State Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh), who’s running for election this year in a redistricted 134th House District seat, has two children in the Allentown School District, including one at Allen High.

“The problem I had, was the communication with the school district afterwards was patently unacceptable.”
State Rep. Peter Schweyer

Schweyer spoke about the district’s rocky start to the school year after a recent debate with his Republican opponent Brent Labenberg. He said he was unhappy with how the school district handled relaying the information to parents about the teen with the loaded handgun.

“The problem I had, was the communication with the school district afterwards was patently unacceptable,” he said.

Allentown School Board President Nancy Wilt is Schweyer’s chief of staff, but he maintained the two do not discuss school board business. Wilt did not respond to an email request for comment.

Schweyer said he was pleased the Allentown Police Department and the school resource officer were able to quickly locate and apprehend the armed student. But he said the lack of communication frustrated him.

“I was very, very vocal,” he said. “But those were the conversations I had with the superintendent and others about their communications.”

Schweyer said he does have confidence in the administration, teachers, principals and school board.

Allentown Councilman Josh Siegel, who is also running for the state House, said he wished the school board would pick a superintendent and allow them time in the job to get policy goals accomplished.

“I frankly think that the problem with the district is we keep getting rid of superintendents so we have no consistency in our leadership,” he said. “So I think we should stick with one for a change.”

The next regular meeting of the Allentown school board is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.