Vallas, who became CEO of the city school district last July, is implementing sweeping district-wide reforms in Philadelphia, including a five-year $1.5 billion capital improvement program. His work has received national media attention.
Vallas came to Lehigh to build an ongoing relationship and to meet with Lehigh Valley superintendents to discuss issues.
"I shy away from conventional consultants," Vallas says. "There are so many at universities and at the [school] districts who are experts and who are experienced. I want to use them, to partner with them."
The roundtable discussion in May was hosted by Lehigh University’s School Study Council (LUSSC), a consortium of 40 school districts that maintain a strong commitment to participating in professional development experiences. The study council has a history of presenting programs focused on issues that superintendents and other central office administrators address daily. Over the years, presenters have included national and regional educational leaders at the forefront of current issues of interest to superintendents. C. Russell Mayo, assistant professor of educational leadership in the College of Education, serves as LUSSC executive director.
"There’s more we can learn from you than you can learn from us," Vallas told the superintendents who attended the discussion. "We’re looking for partners, for models, particularly middle schools. We’re looking for some best practices and I’ve heard you have some here."
"The Lehigh Valley’s school districts are very diverse. This group represents urban, rural, and suburban districts," said George P. White, Class of 1961 Professor and program coordinator of educational leadership.
Vallas has been leading a number of district-wide reforms in Philadelphia, duplicating many of the approaches he used to change Chicago’s public school system from one of the worst in the nation to a nationally recognized model for education reform.
Examples of his reforms in Philadelphia include adoption of a new ethics policy that reinforces existing ethical business practices and the tenants of good citizenship for all employees of the district; ratcheting up involvement of business in the Philadelphia public education system, including discussions with Microsoft and Independence Blue Cross; and launching a Life Skills Program as alternative to suspensions.
Vallas said one of his goals also includes establishing a long-term relationship with Lehigh.
"We are looking forward to working with the university," he said. "We are aspiring to a higher standard and believe you can help us get there."
--Joanne C. Anderson