Who's the principal at Allen High School? ASD won't say
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — School district officials aren't publicly saying who is the current principal at William Allen High School. District spokeswoman Melissa Reese said Thursday it was a personnel matter and the district was unable to comment.
This comes as schools Superintendent Carol Birks emailed the William Allen parents and community on Monday, promising frustrated residents change.
In her statement, Birks said her executive leadership team was "deeply aware of the climate, culture and leadership challenges" at the school and are using a multi-pronged approach to address the issues.
“We heard your concerns and understand the sense of urgency for change,” Birks said in the emailed statement.
- Birks' email to parents and staff said she understood their frustration
- Surveys and focus groups identified areas of need, such as respectful communication, access to bathrooms and improved culture
- Students and staff say Principal Cheryl Clark yells at them
An Allen High teacher, who requested anonymity because she feared retribution from the school district for speaking publicly, said the problem starts at the top with Principal Cheryl Clark.
"I do think she needs to be replaced. I think we've hit the place of like no return," the teacher said.
The district has not indicated publicly if Clark remains in charge or if changes already have been made.
The Allentown School District posted a job description 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.
Michael Makhoul was appointed principal of Dieruff High School in 2019.
Clark is 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.
Law enforcement also arrested a 14-year-old student with a semi-automatic handgun inside the high school in September, however the district and the Allentown Police Department didn’t tell parents or the community until nearly a week later.
The teacher said Clark yells 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.”
Clark did not reply this week to a message seeking comment.
Senior student Alissa Ramirez described Allen as the worst school she has ever attended. She said she was yelled at by Clark on Tuesday for not having permanent school identification. She said she entered the school in September, got a map of the building and was sent on her way.
“I’ve been trying to get an ID since I started in Allen,” she said. "Again, when I started in Allen, I didn’t get a tour, I didn’t get nothing. As a new student, I didn’t get nothing.”
Ramirez said another teacher later that afternoon filed paperwork for her to get a permanent student ID. She graduates next month.
LehighValleyNews.com contacted six of the nine school board directors and asked them if they supported Clark. None of them responded. A call to Leslie Franklin, the head of the Allentown Education Association, the union representing district teachers, received no reply.
The Allen teacher said more than a dozen people have left the school or the district because of Clark. Birks’ email said the district is actively recruiting for several positions, including 12 teachers, seven paraprofessionals, two safety officers and a counselor.
“When it comes to Allen, it’s always just like ‘Am I gonna make it out.'"Allen senior Alissa Ramirez
Birks’ email said the district conducted focus groups and distributed a climate survey to students, staff and family members to gain more insight into the needs of the school.
Nearly 1,000 students, staff and family members submitted survey responses, and more than 125 staff participated in focus groups, she said. The district’s administrative team was able to identify several needs, including respectful treatment of students and staff, increased communication and collaboration, improved climate and culture and improved access to bathrooms and district facilities.
Ramirez takes part in the Diversified Career Occupations program, which means she attends school at Allen in the mornings and works a part-time job during the afternoons. Still, she says she feels unsafe at the school.
“When it comes to Allen, it’s always just like ‘Am I gonna make it out,’” she said. “Like, am I going to see my mom after school, am I going to see dad, am I gonna be able to make it out of school.”
The Allen teacher said the school has more than 100 students roaming the halls every day, not going to class.
“They’re very loud, they cause problems, they like to come bang on doors,” she said. “They play games like play tag in the halls. And it’s like nothing is done to them, but we’re going to come down on kids because they have a hoodie on.”
The teacher said they always have kids that would rather roam the halls rather than go to class, but she said the number this year is larger than she’s ever seen. She said other resources are directed toward students who are not showing up to school at all, so the kids roaming the halls may sometimes slip through the cracks.
Several central office administrators have been stationed at the school over recent weeks. The email said the assistant director of security has also been reassigned to provide support.
Ramirez said the bathrooms are “never open” and to use them takes finding a security guard or a teacher with a key. She said one time she spent 20 minutes walking in the school trying to find a staff member who could unlock a bathroom for her.
“I started in the annex and then I went to the Linden and then I had go back to main and then I had to go back to the annex and then I was all around the school before I finally found a security guard and asked him to open the door for me because I had to use to the bathroom,” she said.
“If we do not quickly see improvement from our interventions, we are committed to move in another direction."Birks' email to the William Allen Learning Community
“Some teachers have bathroom keys, some teachers don’t have bathroom keys,” she said. “The officers are like never nowhere to be found.”
In Birks’ statement to the Allen community, she said officials were working as quickly as possible to navigate many complexities, “including the due process rights of our employees.” She did not mention the principal in the email.
“If we do not quickly see improvement from our interventions, we are committed to move in another direction,” the statement said.
"Despite the concerns that have been raised, wonderful things are occurring in our classrooms and within William Allen High School," the email said.
Birks also said that she was “committed to transparency, communication, and collaboration with our school community.”
Parents and staff can expect an update within the next few weeks, she said.