Behind the List with Rich Sniscak of Parkland School District

'Providing students with diverse experiences'

The Greater Lehigh Valley has one of the fastest growing economies in the country, and both small and large employers contribute to that growth. Across a multitude of industries, some of the largest employers in the region range from manufacturing, health care and education.
One of them in the education sector is Parkland School District, which employs more than 1,350 people.

Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Parkland School District been operating in the region and what are its primary services?

Richard Sniscak: The first year Parkland held school in the Troxell Building was in 1922. At that time, it was known as South Whitehall Township. In 1949, it merged with North Whitehall Township and the combined school districts adopted the name “Parkland.” In 1951, it merged with Upper Macungie Township and kept the name.

Our primary service is to offer a comprehensive program of studies in academics, the arts and athletics for children in grades K-12. Our mission is to educate for success, in-spire excellence.

LVB: Parkland School District is one of the largest employers in the Lehigh Valley. How does that directly stimulate the local economy?

Sniscak: Jobs are the No. 1 stimulator of any economy, local or global. Parkland School District has approximately 1,350 employees.

In summary, the Parkland School District stimulates the local economy in numerous ways:

  • Employees eat lunch in local restaurants that are close to the PSD buildings they work at, or have food delivered to the building where they work.
  • Employees shop at merchants close to where they work. …
  • Community events, social activities, sports, etc., bring people into our community who visit our local merchants.
  • Parkland collaborates with local medical facilities [for example] workers’ compensation panel of physicians, sports trainers, school dentists and physicians.
  • Local consulting services are utilized such as legal, accounting, banking, advertisement in newspapers, florists, event security.
  • Local tradespersons/construction companies are hired for large and small jobs.
  • Our employees pay local service tax to help municipalities with the upkeep of the local roads and highways.
  • PSD is tied to the local real estate market. Parkland hits its budget numbers for real estate transfer taxes each year, meaning homes sell in the PSD community because of the Parkland School District school system.
  • Operation of day care centers in the surrounding areas create new jobs.
  • Local supplies and equipment, from lumber to office supplies/equipment such as copiers, fax machines, computers, etc., are purchased from local vendors for upgrading and maintenance of all PSD buildings.
  • We buy parts and supplies from local vendors for the repairs we do on our school buses and vehicles. If a repair cannot be done by our employees, we use the repair services of local vendors.

LVB: Does Parkland School District work with local businesses to educate students about potential career paths? Does it partner with local colleges and universities to recruit prospective students?

Sniscak: Parkland school district has a strong partnership with the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board. The LVWDB has been instrumental in helping our staff and students know where opportunities for jobs lie within our area.

Staff from LVWDB visited our school district to present shifts in the economy and high priority occupations to our staff and students. Through funding from the LVWDB, we have offered our students a summer opportunity to learn about various career paths and take field trips to local businesses.

In addition, this summer opportunity provides individualized job-shadowing experiences.

Parkland strives to provide our students with diverse experiences that will help them find a spark in a possible career choice. Our program of studies is organized around vari-ous career paths, and we offer many elective courses that expose our students to a variety of possible interests.

One highlight is a program for students interested in a teaching career. The elementary teacher aide program allows high school students to spend part of the school day in an elementary classroom, assist-ing the classroom teacher and working with children.

Parkland also has a strong partnership with our local technical school, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute. LCTI offers many programs to help students prepare for the work-force.

Every 10th grade Parkland student who attends LCTI participates in a 10-week job-shadowing program. In addition, many of our 10th grade students at the high school also have an opportunity to job shadow at local businesses.

It is a goal of the district to connect with business leaders to help us understand the needs of local businesses and to help prepare our students for what is needed in the workforce. We have a business advi-sory committee that meets twice a year to discuss various topics related to education and the workforce.

Parkland is committed to preparing students for college or career and provides numerous opportunities for students to find a path that interests and engages them.

Lastly, the district collaborates with all of the area colleges and universities for student teacher placements within the district. In addition, Parkland attends local job fairs and contacts area colleges when we are in need of recruiting for vacancies. We also utilize our social media sites to advertise and recruit from the local area.

LVB: How does Parkland School District get involved with the local communities?

Sniscak: Because we don’t have a “Main Street” that runs through Parkland’s 75 square miles, our school district is a huge part of the community. We work closely with our three townships and community library to support each other in many ways.

Parkland offers many events that welcome the community-at-large into our schools, from concerts to free senior citizen classes and a districtwide arts festival that occurs each May.

Additionally, our staff offers many summer programs such as summer athletic, academic and arts camps. And we open for summer library hours in all schools.

Another way we work with the local community is to provide our facilities to youth organizations and nonprofits.

Our schools are used heavily during every waking hour of every week. Our students and staff also contribute many wonderful community service projects to the countless non-profit organizations and families every year.

The high school homecoming week of festivities, planned by Parkland High School’s Student Council, donates thousands of dollars to a different charity each year. Also, Park-land has a district-wide food drive that generates a collection of more than 20,000 pounds of food every year for the last 11 years.

Finally, our staff is constantly participating in walks, races and other fundraisers as groups or individual school teams or holding fundraisers within the schools to support the local community and beyond.

LVB: What does the future look like for Parkland School District?

Sniscak: Our vision for Parkland School District is one of continuous improvement in all aspects of our organization, with improving student achievement as the primary goal.

By utilizing a collaborative approach, we can ensure that the competing interests of a high quality educational program, and the ability of the taxpaying public to afford it, maintain a respectful balance.

Parkland Ready 21 is a new initiative that takes stock of best practices of incorporating technology into the curriculum to allow students to have greater voice and choice with-in their learning paths and make learning more individualized.

PR21 represents a cultural shift as we continue to evolve from a teacher-centered classroom to a learner-driven environment. This is called personalized learning.

Our teachers are being tasked with guiding learners to become more self-directed, self-monitored and self-motivated. Our ultimate goal is to have data-informed instruction and advanced differentiated instruction, resulting in highly invested students.

A recommendation to build a new elementary school first was announced in October 2015 during a school board meeting when Stantec, an engineering/architectural firm, presented their findings on a 10-year feasibility study that Parkland School District contracted them to perform.

Stantec suggested options to handle the projected enrollment growth which showcased a need for an additional 15 classrooms in the south and southwest pockets of the dis-trict by the year 2020, and an additional 19 classrooms in that same area through the year 2024.

The proposed new school will accommodate a growing population of residents in the southwest corner of Parkland School District where new construction continues to oc-cur at a fast pace. A parcel of land, approximately 18 acres, located on Twin Ponds Road between Schantz Road and Long Lane, was donated to the school district by David and Jackie Jaindl.

KCBA of Hatfield is the architect for the design of the new school, and Alvin H. Butz Inc. will serve as the construction manager. The new elementary school is on schedule to open in the fall of 2020.

Christopher Holland
Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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