Dr. Lonoconus speaks in second Keystone forum

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MILL HALL – Keystone Central’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Alan Lonoconus spoke in a public forum last night, as he seeks a permanent title at the district.

He led off with a lot of background and qualifications, giving a summary of his curriculum vitae which the district had published Tuesday.

Originally from the West Hazleton area with a school board member for a father, Lonoconus began by briefly reviewing his educational history, including his Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education at Bloomsburg, his Master of Communication, also at Bloomsburg, his Master of Education from Kutztown, his Admin 1 from Bucknell, and finally his Doctorate of Education, which was attained from NOVA Southeastern.

His career trajectory began with him teaching social studies in a middle school in Maryland, before taking a position at Southern Columbia School District where he would spend the bulk of his career. There he served as, in order, “teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, high school principal, district technology coordinator, district attendance officer (handling substitute management), district curriculum coordinator — these were the best years of my career — and then superintendent of schools.”

He then worked at Shikellamy School District and Great Valley School District, before retiring. But before long, he realized he missed his work and eagerly accepted the call from Keystone, he said.

He expressed a fondness for the outdoors, especially hiking, with a stated “bucket list” goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, although he added, “My wife won’t let me do the whole thing in one shot.”

He’s also an avid golfer and scuba diver, both of which he feels contribute to his work life. Indeed, Lonoconus spent some time discussing the merits of athletic involvement, such as team-building and goal-setting.

He also used a quote from President Ford, emphasizing the importance of music to education.

As for his educational philosophy, he identifies as a constructionist — someone who “stresses the importance of tools, media, and context in human development, as well as the processes by which individuals come to make sense of their experience.”

According to Dr. Lonoconus, an emphasis on active educational opportunities have led to the development of the maker culture and STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math) focused approaches.

Specific challenges he sees facing Keystone Central are:

r Test scores — “Students are being successful at the other end, going to college and getting jobs,” but the district needs to improve its test scores because that influences public perception.

r Perception — Keystone needs to “do a better job of getting the word out that we have good things going on in the district.”

r Future employment readiness — “Not every student is college bound, nor should they be. We need to prepare the ones that want to go to college to be college ready,” he said.

r The budget, which he did not expand on.

“As superintendent I see myself as a servant leader. I truly feel that by empowering my staff and the board in the objective and goal-setting process, we as a group can achieve much more,” he said.

He also said he is a “very active and involved superintendent. I’ve made it my intentional effort to stay visible in our schools and community.”

He closed his presentation by saying he likes to ask his staff “how they would want their own son or daughter treated.” If they let that guide them, he said, “they will make the right decision.”

From there, the forum turned to questions and answers. First to the microphone was County Commissioner Pete Smeltz, who said he “appreciated the community input throughout this process” and then asked Dr. Lonoconus how he felt about guidance counseling and its place at Keystone.

Dr. Lonoconus replied, “Things are changing,” noting that it used to be status quo for parents to expect their kids to go to college. “But with some colleges charging $50,000 a year, it’s just something parents have to consider.”

He then provided an example of a career fair he went to recently, where businesses met at Penn Tech with 100 open machinist positions.

“I sat there for four hours and only about 20 people came through. They filled three positions,” he said. “One of the companies had three positions that started at $75,000 a year with a $10,000 signing bonus,” he added.

“We need to relay that to the parents and students – these are avenues that you can go and have a great living,” he said.

Board member Tracy Smith then asked Dr. Lonoconus, on behalf of Heather Haigh, what the looming budget cuts said about the presence of music and the arts at Keystone.

“I feel pretty strong about that — the arts and music are a big part of the well-rounded education,” he answered. “We won’t be able to do everything we could once, though.”

Elisabeth McCoy asked his opinion about community involvement.

He replied: “Biggest thing is that people need to remember that this is a public school system. Too often we see the door shut — us vs them. I’m a big advocate of getting our community in the schools, within reason.”

McCoy then turned her attention to the subject of special needs students, and what Dr. Lonoconus viewed as their place in the district.

“Special needs students are our students,” he replied flatly. “They should be included — they are part of our community, and we should try to incorporate them as much as we can into our daily life.” He also encouraged the idea of early detection: “Sometimes what’s diagnosed as a disability may not necessarily be a disability, but something that needs to be worked through.”

Ed Choma asked him about his most difficult decision and what effect it had on him.

Lonoconus said, “The most difficult was probably the budget process in my last district,” which saw budget meetings of 400 to 500 people in the auditorium, going past midnight, due to a $16 million deficit. “Looking at the programs, music and art and everything else… how do we minimize the effects in each of those areas, versus wiping out a whole program? It was a very valuable lesson for me, and we were able to do that.”

The final question of the evening came from Christine Onuskanich, who commended Lonoconus for his initiative in allowing Central Mountain students to hold their walk-out, and asked what he would do with regards to security.

He stated it was “a pleasure to see the students start those discussions. Students will amaze you; we as adults forget that sometimes… They were great — very respectful. It wasn’t a protest… it was an honoring of their comrades. They think about that stuff, they worry about it. They don’t want to be in that situation.

“And not every student was involved, either, and that’s great too. It shows how things should work. These students are more worldly than we ever were at that age.

“They’re learning how to be politically active,” he said.

As for other security measures, he said the district is “looking at all kinds of things… Some things will be put in place that we’re not going to tell the public about. There will be other things that you’ll see visibly.”

He cited “having police visible on campus” as one such option.

“We need to listen to and empower the students,” Dr. Lonoconus said. “They’re a resource that we haven’t tapped maybe in the past.”

In his closing remarks, he said, “It’s been a pleasure to work here… Great things are going on already. We need to brag about ourselves.”

A public forum for the final candidate, whose name has not yet been revealed, will be held next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Central Mountain Middle School Auditorium. The community is encouraged to attend.