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Retirement didn’t suit former Woodland Hills school chief and Johnstown native
Students in the East Allegheny School District are in their second week of instruction during a school year that is different from any other.
The current pandemic has made planning for this year an incredible task for administrators and staff.
At the end of June, a new superintendent was appointed to help lead the fold into this uncharted territory, but Alan Johnson is no stranger to western Pennsylvania. He was the superintendent in the Woodland Hills School District before he retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
“In the eight years I worked at Woodland Hills, I fell in love with Allegheny County — eastern Allegheny County especially,” Johnson says. “It reminded me of my home in Johnstown. There are so many similarities.”
The similarities include the collapse of the steel industry and a struggle to maintain funding and resources.
Johnson wasn’t quite ready for retirement. After six months of “puttering around the house,” he says, he took a job with a human services agency in Johnstown managing a school for kids with severe emotional issues.
It was through this day to day work that he had a realization — he had more he wanted to give.
“I wasn’t in a position to have any influence on (public education) and it bothered me,” Johnson says. “I wanted to do something. I wanted to be a part of it.”
Before COVID-19 became a household word, Johnson decided to look for employment in the area. Although he had a plan, he didn’t expect his dream job would become available during quarantine.
“We’ve got to get through the COVID thing, I understand that and that is a big part of the job right now, but we have to understand we need to be thinking about five years, 10 years from now,” he says.
Johnson knows from his experience at Woodland Hills, that many local districts, including East Allegheny, are in the same boat — underfunded and tasked with educating some of the most underserved children in the state.
Thinking outside the box for funding sources is one way to deal with districts’ financial instability, he says. But Johnson says there is something else that can be done and that involves all of the underfunded districts making their voices heard in the state legislature.
“We have to start working together to advocate for our communities and our regions,” Johnson says. “There is an incredibly unfair funding system in place in Pennsylvania ... we have to band together and say, ‘We need a better deal.’”
With the increased preparation for the 2020-21 school year, the new superintendent hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to build relationships with EA’s teachers, but Johnson says he is impressed with their strength and resiliency.
Even with limited funds to get every supply they needed in their classrooms, Johnson says East Allegheny teachers have been able to get the job done.
He says the attitude of staff preparing for a unique school year has been positive and upbeat — many have even gone above and beyond to meet the needs of students.
“My gym teachers came together and said ‘this online stuff is really tough but we want to go out into the community and actually do physical education projects,’” Johnson says. “That’s way over and above anything we were expecting. I’m very happy and pleased with that.”
A lot is at stake for public school districts right now in light of choices families need to make to educate their children. With competition from charter and cyber schools, Johnson says East Allegheny has upped its game to try to keep their students from going elsewhere.
“We have to show we can do it as well as the cybers can do it and I think we are doing just that,” he says.
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on WMCK Internet Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. Thursdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published September 08, 2020.