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Embattled William Allen High School Principal Cheryl Clark put on leave

Allentown School District
Donna S. Fisher
The Allentown School District Administration Building in Allentown, Pa.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown School District has placed William Allen High School Principal Cheryl Clark on administrative leave after months of complaints from staff, students and parents about her leadership style.

In a message sent to the Allen High School community Tuesday, ASD Superintendent Carol Birks said she could not comment further on Clark because it was a personnel matter. Frank Derrick has been reassigned as acting principal of the high school. He was most recently the director of recruitment and retention. Derrick was also the principal of South Mountain Middle School for 12 years and has been in education for more than 20 years.

  • Allen High School Principal Cheryl Clark has been put on leave
  • Students and staff said Principal Cheryl Clark yelled at them
  • Frank Derrick is now the acting principal at Allen

An Allen High teacher, who requested anonymity because she feared retribution from the school district for speaking publicly, said recently that problems at Allen began at the top with Clark.

"I do think she needs to be replaced. I think we've hit the place of like no return," the teacher said.

Birks sent an email to staff and parents last week saying her executive leadership team was "deeply aware of the climate, culture and leadership challenges" at the school and were working to quickly navigate many complexities, “including the due process rights of our employees.”

Clark has been the school's first Black woman leader, appointed by former Superintendent John Stanford. Before coming to Allentown, she resigned from a previous role at Franklin High School in New Jersey in 2017 after facing backlash for strict enforcement of dress code and cell phone policies, according to reports in the Franklin Reporter & Advocate. She was in the position for only more than a year.

Clark has also served as president of Clark Connections, through which she taught as an adjunct professor at both Essex County College and the Regional Teaching Center in Randolph, N.J. Previously, she was also interim principal of Somerset Intermediate School in North Plainfield, N.J. She has experience as a middle school and elementary school principal.

The school year got off to a rocky start at Allen when in August 2022, students started a Change.org petition alleging the newly-hired principal yelled at them and threatened 11th-graders with grade-wide detentions. It’s since gathered more than 5,600 signatures. Allen has a population of about 2,800 students.

The teacher said Clark had yelled at students and staff.

“She has a reputation at Allen of putting teachers down, talking down to us, and making us feel like we don’t know how to do our jobs,” the teacher said. “She doesn’t treat us professionally, she makes comments about how like she needs to fix the things that we do as if to say we do everything wrong.”

WAHS Community Update April 11, 2023 by LVNewsdotcom on Scribd

In Birks's latest statement to parents and staff, she said the district wants to create conditions where everyone feels safe, valued, empowered, and loved.

"We will work towards a renewed focus on relationships, trust, and healing," the statement said. "To accomplish this, we will rely on the depth of experience of the William Allen High School staff, and the sense of pride I see from families and students who are a part of Canary Nation."

The Allentown School District posted a job description on March 18 for an “anticipated opening” for a high school principal. The description does not state which high school in the district is seeking a new principal.

The school is short about 24 positions currently, with the district saying it needs to hire 12 teachers, seven paraprofessionals, two safety officers and a counselor.

Birks said the district’s administrative team was able to identify several of the school climate challenges, including respectful treatment of students and staff, increased communication and collaboration, improved culture, and improved access to bathrooms and district facilities.