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Contrasting styles on display during Allentown SD charter school hearings

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 18 2013 04:57:58 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 18 2013 08:20:28 AM CST
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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

You'd be hard pressed to find two more different approaches to educating students than was presented during Tuesday night's marathon doubleheader hearings of charter school applicants before the board of directors of the Allentown School District.

First up was the Executive Education Academy Charter School, which advocated for more conservative and traditional themes to the problems that Robert Lysek, CEO of Executive Education Schools, labeled as the "culture, climate and environment" that engulfs the Allentown School District.

The school's operational model seeks to develop business executive leadership skills among candidates who have exhibited no past interest in pursuing such a course.

Serving as a quasi boot-camp for high school dropouts and students with "achievement gap problems," Lysek made his pitch that he'd turn lost academic causes into productive members of the local citizenry and as he put it at one point "protect the greater good" of the student body in the process.

How this would be accomplished would be by seeking to develop and then reward students who displayed "leadership" in the school and the "personal development of their body, mind and spirit," according to one of the school's supporters, Georgia Adams, of Allentown.

"If you don't know who you are, no degree will help you," she said during her speech before the directors.

And the management testified several times Tuesday night that the ongoing professional development of their teachers was a top priority.

The school, which if approved would set up shop at 555 Union Blvd. and would seek to enroll 525 student in their first year out of the gate, had the signatures of 2,000 people and the support of many regional heavy hitters.

About 55 people showed up in the audience to listen to the hearing.

Meaningful, but not different, noted Director Joanne Bauer in her comments against the proposal.

"I did not hear anything that was different,"she said. One of the criteria any applicant must meet is that the charter school addresses a need that is not currently being addressed by the host district.

Bauer wasn't the only director to question that fact, as virtually every single director asked at least one question of the charter school's administration.

What is the reason for the high drop out rate," Director David Zimmerman asked Lysek.

Lysek replied that the poverty level in Allentown and lack of parental involvement as the two top issues. He added that the school would be "relentless" to make sure their students would show up to school and that he would make it cool to go to school.

All well and good Zimmerman said, but what about Allentown students who think it's cooler to smoke dope on the way to school than actually going to school?

Lysek said the school would be ardent in fishing out pot heads in the district.

Whereas Executive Education Academy opted for more rules and structure, LVenture took the completely opposite approach, offering a progressive curriculum predicated upon the theory you can't teach students anything if they aren't engaged personally in their education, according to Mark Lang, executive director of Charter Partners Institute.

"Learning is student directed," in his school where the students wouldn't have teachers as much as they would be "friends" with their instructors who wouldn't actually teach subjects as much as assigning problems and projects for students to address and leading them to finding a solution to it primarily through computer-aided learning.

"Our school would be a learning adventure that is a giant leap out of the box," Lang said at one point during his 15-minute presentation.

The problem he identified that his school would address is that the traditional system simply doesn't take into account what actually motivates students to learn and be prepared to live in the real world.

His school would not issue grades and would not have a fixed schedule for students, but would rather track a student's competency at addressing a problem.

"This is truly a paradigm shift in education," he said.

If approved, LVenture would be a K-12 school at 11th and Hamilton streets.