December 5, 2023

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Allentown Acting Superintendent Carol Birks talks priorities, healing and her professional record

13 min read
Allentown Acting Superintendent Carol Birks talks priorities, healing and her professional record

Acting Superintendent Carol Birks commenced this 7 days as the administrative head of Allentown Faculty District, subsequent the early exit of former Superintendent John Stanford.

Birks joins the district as it carries on to see fallout from Stanford’s abrupt and controversial departure much less than a year into a five-calendar year deal. Community associates have expressed distrust in the university board, despite the fact that they pledged to guidance Birks in her new part.

Birks hit the ground working Monday, and in her 1st 7 days, she frequented a handful of district educational facilities and commenced holding meetings with her administration workforce.

Birks will provide in ASD 3 times a 7 days right until Dec. 16 as she transitions into the acting position entire time. She is leaving her posture as regional superintendent and chief faculties officer with Booker T. Washington Academy, in New Haven and Hamden, Connecticut.

She will be compensated $850 for each working day as acting superintendent.

University board President Nancy Wilt reported the directors will not start to explore what a long lasting superintendent lookup will seem like until finally board leadership reorganizes in December.

Birks claimed she would like to think the superintendent place completely. For now while, she’s centered on providing stability and creating interactions with the ASD group.

“My vital aim is to really work collaboratively with the college board of directors and every person to be certain that we proceed to make interactions, emphasis on studying, or the instructional main, which is the partnership in between college students, academics and written content,” Birks mentioned. “I see that as my major function right now.”

Birks sat down with The Morning Contact this 7 days to converse about why she came to Allentown and her priorities for the district moving forward. She also dealt with critiques of her report and mirrored on how she would have taken care of earlier roles otherwise.

Below is component of the conversation. Excerpts have been edited and in some circumstances paraphrased for duration and clarity.

Why were being you interested in this task and coming to Allentown?

“I am Allentown,” Birks stated. “I seemed at the demographics of this distinct local community. I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a town which is pretty very similar in sizing [and] inhabitants. And just like lots of of the students who grew up right here, I grew up in extremely tough problems as it relates to being in poverty.”

Birks went on to say neither of her mother and father concluded significant university, but they told her she could be profitable by doing the job tricky.

“Research will counsel an individual like me would not be sitting here right now, doing the job with these kinds of awesome people, as perfectly as obtaining these kinds of an executive function,” she said. “I’ve expended my everyday living and the bulk of my career combating for equity, battling for possibilities, as effectively as empowering people today to do their very best operate in purchase to support learners who stay in urban facilities, pupils who are of shade, and learners who dwell in poverty.”

Birks also thinks Allentown is a lovely place with men and women who are “passionate about their dedication to the city.” She claimed she seems to be forward to doing the job with the university board to make people feel harmless, empowered, valued and loved.

What are your priorities and designs for the acting superintendent position?

Birks said her priority as acting superintendent is creating confident learners and workers experience supported, protected and component of decision-earning processes.

When it will come to protection, Birks mentioned both psychological and physical security are prime priorities. She claimed her administration will be hunting at how folks entry buildings.

“I assume we’re undertaking a wonderful career,” she reported. “But it’s about how people really feel, and so there is generally place for advancement.”

“Now, emotional safety, as we know, as a country, and as the earth, we have been by a ton. So what do people today have to have so that they really feel emotionally harmless, and that we’re taking treatment of the interior man, the internal becoming? I want to know from them.”

Birks also reported her administration will be seeking intently at “organizational programs and structures” to improve performance.

“I’ve begun speaking to people inside of the organization, these as the central workplace staff and our school-stage crew to find out how to have [ASD] structured in a way that they can do their ideal operate in support to our youngsters.”

What has your partnership and communication with the faculty board been like so far?

“It’s been wonderful,” Birks claimed, including that she has had one particular-on-one particular conferences with about half of the 9-member board. “The agenda was getting to know them, inquiring them, what do they like about this group and why are they dedicated to the get the job done of this group?”

“They could be undertaking a lot of other matters and it will take a lot of work to be a board member. [It was] just listening to their stories and sharing my tale with them in far more detail, and conversing about approaches that we can go on to work strongly and build a cohesive unit in support to our kids.”

Would you say you sense supported by the board members you’ve spoken with?

“I do come to feel supported by the board. I believe that the board is committed to this neighborhood, and they want to see the most effective for the kids as very well as the households and the grownups within this organization.”

“Of the board members I’ve satisfied so significantly, the theme that I’ve listened to is that, ‘We love this local community. I’m joyful I reside in this article. There are fantastic people today who are living in this article. We love Allentown.’ ”

Birks added that she will perform with the board collaboratively to current a “united front.”

Allentown School District acting Superintendent Carol Birks starts her second day on the job Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the administration building in Allentown. Birks was chosen last month to fill in after the district and Superintendent John Stanford ended his employment one year into a five-year contract.

Have college board users determined any of their priorities for you?

“I’ve looked at some of the priorities the board has identified with preceding administrations,” Birks claimed, noting math and examining scores, attendance, and district tradition and local climate as illustrations.

Neighborhood leaders have said they are skeptical of you as an outsider, but want to assistance you. How do you approach to build rely on with community leaders? And how do you see your self doing the job with them?

“I do not know every little thing, and I’m new to this group, and so I feel in constructing on the strengths of all people.

“To be concrete, I’ll conduct some group discussion boards, some town corridor conferences. I will meet a person on a person with numerous folks within the neighborhood to inquire them some particular queries and hear what they have to say: ‘What’s likely perfectly inside of this neighborhood? What do you feel are the regions of development?’ And I believe most importantly, ‘What gifts and skills do you carry that you feel will assistance shift this corporation forward?’ ”

Birks stated she desires to hear from town and district local community leaders to strategize on how they can “harness the collective geniuses of everyone within just this group.” This contains sharing resources and solutions, and creating undertaking forces to do outreach with district people.

How do you go about therapeutic while there is however some confusion and resentment over Stanford’s departure?

“It’s going to really emphasis on me undertaking some partnership constructing, currently being existing for people, possessing my door open up and being keen to pay attention. You have to do some really serious listening and studying about this firm and what individuals need. And also give them an opportunity to share their stories, and what they truly feel need to transpire, and then honoring the past.

“We’re going to honor the earlier and get men and women to see them selves in the changeover, and what they have to give. My eyesight for the district is that we become one particular of the highest accomplishing districts in Pennsylvania, and I think that.”

You said at your first board meeting you weren’t fired from your superintendent posture in Chester Upland. Group users are anxious you were being fired from your superintendent placement in New Haven Community Universities. Can you reply to this claim and explain your departure?

“When I was in New Haven, we had some fantastic achievements, and I’m actually happy of the operate. Just like any organization, whilst I was in New Haven, the board and I decided we ought to go in a further course. There was change. The mayor sits on the board, [and] she had five seats on the board. And there is two folks who operate for the board. And so there was a transform in administration, so we made the decision to go in an additional route.”

Birks stated she and New Haven Community Educational facilities mutually parted approaches.

You had been criticized throughout your time in New Haven for your support of charter faculties. Can you demonstrate your view?

“I feel that parents must be afforded an prospect to have a portfolio of colleges to pick from for their youngsters. All small children have special presents and talents. And I feel that households really should have the option to pick out what university they would like, in particular a community faculty.”

Birks stated she sat on the board for the Achievement 1st charter community in Hartford, Connecticut, and she saw how constitution and group public educational facilities were ready to share methods and courses, these types of as actuarial tutors and job and university readiness programming.

“Charter educational facilities are community universities, and they had been designed to serve as laboratories for the conventional public educational facilities, so that we can understand and share sources with just about every other,” she reported. “To summarize, I consider in selection, that moms and dads and family members must have a decision of a portfolio of educational institutions that are good.”

Although you have been superintendent in New Haven, you also acquired criticism for relying as well closely on academic consultants. Can you answer to this? Can you demonstrate how you’ve labored with academic consultants in the earlier and whether or not you approach to use them in ASD?

“We utilized consultants when we thought it was proper to establish potential to assist supply support to our staff members when required,” Birks stated, incorporating she was a leadership consultant coaching principals at Booker T. Washington Academy right before turning into its regional superintendent and main colleges officer.

“This is my second day below in Allentown, so I’m not positive what consultants, if any, that we want at this place. I want to do a real assessment and get to listen to from personnel and the board as to whether we want consultants at this position. But in my preceding perform, we’ve uncovered owning consultants valuable, and the employees did, as nicely. We experienced people mentor individuals. From time to time you required an accountability partner, who’s not ideal there on the dance flooring with you, who can assist you get on the balcony and do your most effective operate.”

Birks additional consultants can offer personnel coaching, as effectively as organizational comments in parts, these types of as know-how, funds and human assets. She said consultants can also phase in when their are staffing shortages. This can be handy in big districts like Allentown, Birks stated, but she included she will respect district unions prior to bringing in exterior consultants for staffing.

The New Haven Unbiased documented that you hid payments to consultants in acquire orders. Can you react to this?

“Any specialist that we used the board was mindful of and approved. Any acquire get that we had the board was informed of.”

Although you have been in New Haven you also been given criticism for slicing instructor positions in purchase to equilibrium the budget. Can you answer to that criticism?

“We didn’t reduce persons. We reduced power. People today did not shed their jobs. For example, if we observed that there was a situation load in a classroom and we could have utilised a person teacher rather of a few, we went to the 1 instructor so that we can absolutely free up funding.”

Birks reported if there had been a lot more instructors than necessary in a particular placement, they have been reassigned to where by they have been needed.

“As the CEO of the business … I experienced to stability the budget, but I hardly ever compromised kids and discovering. I stored that as my main aim, ensuring that kids had what they will need to find out. It was portrayed that, ‘She slash all these teachers,’ that was not legitimate. In fact, we partnered with the lecturers union. We engaged them in the selection-creating, and they arrived up with many strategies themselves. It wasn’t that persons missing their work opportunities. We experienced other possibilities for them to secure other options. And then when it appeared that men and women ended up shedding their work opportunities, we referred to as them back.”

Would you have carried out nearly anything in a different way in conditions of reassigning instructors in New Haven?

“I considered every person was with me. There’s this outdated adage, ‘Go sluggish to go speedy.’ I would have taken much more time to assure that men and women truly recognized what we ended up striving to do and I would have used a lot more time acquiring broader consensus in support with this specific action.”

You also gained criticism for making an attempt to layoff section-time district personnel in New Haven to harmony the budget. Can you explain how you taken care of this scenario?

“When I initial went to New Haven, we didn’t have a posture administration procedure. We didn’t know who was hired, who worked below, who worked there. And what I figured out in my earlier practical experience is that we had to seriously tighten it up. Believe about it as a taxpayer or community member, you want your means and your taxes likely right to the classroom, to young children. When I initial entered the district, the board instructed me that was one particular of the first priorities to get a deal with on this component-time staff members matter, mainly because there ended up so several of them. And so as a consequence, the board questioned me to do that and to lower people positions. And then that altered.”

“What we did was in response to that we had a career good. We worked with a local team on workforce improvement. All the component-time folks whose positions had been removed, they had been capable to appear again and implement inside of the district. So in hindsight, when I understood that we had to mitigate this price range, I would have arranged for other options for people today initially, as opposed to afterward, so that is a lesson uncovered for me.”

How do you see oneself doing work with the academics union below in Allentown?

“I’m going to established up normal meetings with the teachers union. I want to meet with the president as very well as her leadership crew … due to the fact I want to listen to their voices. I’m utilized to, when we’re building key choices for the district as it relates to curriculum or such, that they are at the table, hearing the displays, as well. I want to function extremely intently with them. There is research that implies that the trainer is the key driver in strengthening pupil accomplishment. We have to make certain that academics have the appropriate assets, feel supported, cared for. I like to use the ‘L’ term and a good deal of men and women never — cherished — so that they can do their most effective get the job done. So I want to operate with them very closely as vital associates in this get the job done.”

Birks included that she had near associations with the instructors unions in all her previous districts.

Ahead of he still left, Stanford explained he had options for extra relatives and guardian engagement in the district. Is that some thing you see as a precedence? Do you have ideas currently on what that could glimpse like?

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“I believe that in household empowerment. We can require them, that’s what we want. When we interact and empower them, we obtain out what they want and what they require,” Birks reported.

Birks stated she has begun speaking with her administrative group to see what possibilities ASD previously has out there to dad and mom. She also stated she wants to build a guardian advisory council, consisting of two parents from each individual faculty who provide as her advisers. Mom and dad will give Birks responses and advise initiatives they want to see in ASD.

Are there any other initiatives or priorities I didn’t check with you about that you needed to highlight?

“I assume it is likely to be significant to truly get some enter from our administrative team to explain to me what they need to have as it relates to their management growth and advancement. For the reason that oftentimes, they really don’t get to choose care of themselves, and it is important that they can find out and improve.”

Birks also explained she wishes ASD to use knowledge and put into action school high quality critiques. She wishes to evaluate how the district utilizes means, irrespective of whether that is individuals or funding. Climate and lifestyle are also priorities for her inside her administrative crew.

“Those are some some regions that I’m wondering about, but I want to hear from them and see what they require,” she said.

Morning Connect with reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at 484-903-1732 and [email protected].

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