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Allentown School District has new strategic plan, approves final budget for 2024-25

Contributed photo
Allentown School District
Allentown School Board approved the district's first strategic plan under Superintendent Carol Birks, who officially started on the job in March 2023. She was hired as interim chief of schools in the fall of 2022.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — After seven months of planning, Allentown School District has a new roadmap for success.

About 5,000 ASD students, staff, parents and community members contributed input to develop the district’s new strategic plan, which outlines goals for ASD to achieve by 2030.

The plan is called, “Lighting the Way: A Blueprint for Innovation and Excellence 2030,” and it was approved by school directors Thursday night.

This is the district's first strategic plan under Superintendent Carol Birks, who officially started on the job in March 2023. She was hired as interim chief of schools in the fall of 2022.

“We came together to decide that this is what we’re going to do,” Birks said of the plan, noting it was developed by the ASD community.

A steering committee of about 100 people met throughout the planning process. There were also advisory committees with additional parents, students and staff, as well as focus groups and community surveys to gather additional input.

“That was so amazing to witness how the community and all the stakeholders came together to be able to launch this comprehensive plan that will take ASD into the future,” Allentown School Board President Andrene Brown-Nowell said.

The district worked with consultants from Insight Education Group throughout the strategic planning process at a cost of $103,750.

The final plan includes the district’s new mission, vision, core values and priorities. It also includes a theory of change and a “portrait of a learner,” which lays out the traits ASD students should have when they graduate.

The district’s core values are: collaboration, empowerment, equity, innovation, integrity and respect.

The district has seven priorities with corresponding goals. The priorities are:

  • Academic excellence;
  • Safety and whole child development;
  • Creating pathways for tomorrow;
  • Empowering families: Strengthening partnerships;
  • Exceptional workforce: Talent management and development;
  • Organizational efficiencies and effectiveness, and
  • Technology for universal learning.
The mission of the Allentown School District is to serve the diverse educational needs of each student, by igniting their passion for learning and creating an academic culture.
New ASD mission

The district’s theory of change relies on a shared vision, excellent teaching, professional development, differentiated resources and monitoring of implementation to increase academic performances and to prepare students for college and the workforce.

Based on the portrait of a learner, ASD graduates should be critical thinkers, adaptive and analytical learners, resilient visionaries, empathetic advocates and servant leaders.

School directors praised these goals and the plan.

Vice President Audrey Mathison, a retired teacher, said it was the best strategic plan she’s ever seen. School director Lisa Conover said she was proud of the plan but added ASD has “a long way to go.”

Isaac Ramos, a rising eighth-grader in ASD and member of the steering committee, said the planning process shows the dedication of district staff.

“It’s very important to recognize how much they work for us, and some people don’t appreciate it as much as they really should,” Isaac said.

Isaac said he is looking forward to the implementation of the whole child development priority, which highlights student mental health.

“We believe with students being mentally well they can achieve great things,” he said.

Sheila Alvarado, a steering committee member and Lehigh County commissioner, said it’s important the district hires more diverse staff who reflect the student population.

Of the 16,700 students in Allentown public schools, 73% are Hispanic.

“It will help [teachers] eventually in teaching our kids because they can make that connection of culture and language,” said Alvarado, who is also a district parent.

The Allentown School District envisions a learning community that increases student achievement by cultivating positive relationships, offering rigorous and meaningful curricula, and by empowering the Allentown community.
New ASD Vision statement

Veronica Gonzalez, a co-chair for the steering committee and CEO of Valley Health Partners Community Health Center, said the strategic plan intentionally centers equity in all sections.

“We’re never going to move forward if we don’t close some of those gaps for our students, for our educators, as a district,” Gonzalez said. “That was really powerful.”

A simultaneous equity audit was run throughout the strategic planning process to ensure the district infuses equity throughout its overall practices. Consultants from The Howard Group managed the equity audit at a cost of $90,000.

The next steps for ASD’s strategic plan will be communicating the final goals to the learning community and implementing them throughout the next six years.

New budget, no new taxes

The school board also approved a $466.8 million final budget for fiscal year 2024-25 starting July 1. There was no tax increase. The tax rate remains at 22.6432 mills.

The school board also approved a one-year contract to continue programming at Building 21, a district high school, through June 2025. The district plans to issue a request for proposal to develop an educational school design for implementation in 2025-26.

Former longtime school director Bob Smith spoke during public comment, thanking the board for holding the line on taxes and chastising them for starting the meeting late.

The board delayed the start of the regular school board meeting by two hours as they remained in executive session, a private meeting for school directors to discuss confidential matters, like personnel and legal concerns.

“You let this staff here wait almost two hours after working all day, and the public left,” he said. “That is the rudest, most disgraceful thing you’ve ever done.”

Allentown School Board meetings regularly start upwards of 40 minutes late due to lengthy executive sessions held prior to the public meetings.