By Alex Caban-Echevarria
The evolution of Parkland High School (PHS) began with a $77 million construction project completed in 1999, the most expensive in the region. Built on 128 acres along North Cedar Crest Boulevard, it is home to ~3,000 students and is two and a half times larger than the old facility. PHS, with a 90% white student population, is the suburban counterpart to William Allen High School (WAHS) in Allentown School District (ASD). A larger high school was needed as more students joined the district due to white families that could afford to move to the suburbs of Parkland School District (PSD).
This move reflects how Allentown has a 60% white population and WAHS serves 90% minoritized students with a 69% graduation rate, versus PHS boasting a 95% graduation rate. According to a Master’s thesis from Lehigh University’s department of political science, “ASD’s student demographics flipped entirely to represent a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx students relative to the general city’s racial breakdown. The failure of the ASD to extend its initial education desegregation progress in 1970 is based on the long-term impact of urban renewal.”
Sean Fisher, former teacher at PHS, sees its biggest problem as the focus on college preparation. “Not everybody is capable of going to college, stop teaching the kids that college is for everybody,” he says. “I feel like the middle gets left out sometimes.”
Property taxes are higher in Allentown compared to PSD. Yet, PSD is able to spend $13,878 of their local revenue per student, which is triple the amount per student as Allentown, $4,889. This amount is supplemented by state and federal funding, but at a much higher rate in ASD than PSD, leading to a greater reliance in ASD on state standards.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that many WAHS students do not own personal laptops, which made the shift to virtual classrooms impossible. “I think a lot of it goes back to that,” says Fisher. “Allen [WAHS] didn’t have any laptops for the kids, why? And they’re scrambling. Why is it you turn around and at Parkland [PHS], there’s another wealthy donor alumni who comes along, ‘Oh, here’s $10,000, go buy the kids new iPads?’”