Karen Pooley, a political science professor at Lehigh, is running for re-election as the director of the Bethlehem Area School Board. She hopes to improve mental health and special education services in Bethlehem schools. (Julia Araque/B&W Staff)

Lehigh professor runs for re-election on Bethlehem school board

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While other Lehigh professors may be grading papers or writing assignments on a Monday afternoon, political science professor Karen Beck Pooley meets with the Bethlehem Area School District Board to work toward improving education for students.

Pooley has spent the last four years as a director on the board and is running for re-election next term.

She has worked on the Reading by Grade Three initiative, which aims to improve success in higher grades by training teachers to help students read proficiently by third grade.

Pooley also helped the district and parents advocate on behalf of public education.

“You can’t talk about neighborhoods and access to opportunity without talking about schools,” Pooley said. “Education policy is incredibly important to me and a big reason why I’m on the board.”

At Lehigh, Pooley teaches classes on neighborhood and housing issues. As a director on the board, she said she uses her knowledge of city planning to make well-founded decisions on education policies.

Pooley said she does not view her role on the board as a stepping stone to other political positions, but rather as an opportunity to dedicate her time toward important neighborhood and community based policies.

Michael Faccinetto, president of the Board of School Directors in the Bethlehem Area School District, described Pooley as “a champion on the board.”

“She has brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise,” Faccinetto said. “She has an incredible background that I wasn’t fully aware of when she first decided to run. She has done a lot of work in urban education as far as monitoring and tracking poverty and how it has spread across certain areas over periods of time. She stands up for students of poverty and students of color who may not get the same education as others.”

There are five seats up this year: three are at large and two are regional.

Anyone who lives in the Bethlehem Area School District can vote for the at-large candidates.

There are five municipalities in the district: Bethlehem City, Bethlehem Township, Hanover Township, Fountain Hill Borough and Freemansburg Borough.

People living in these municipalities are eligible to vote only for the regional candidates from their area.

Pooley is running for an at-large position.

Each candidate needs either 100 Democrat or Republican signatures to get on the May primary ballot. Since school boards are considered nonpartisan, candidates are allowed to cross-file to be on both ballots.

Pooley did not cross-file and will only be placed on the Democratic ballot.

“Unfortunately, if you’re a Republican in Bethlehem, you don’t really stand much of a chance in local elections because it is heavily Democratic,” Faccinetto said. 

Moreover, since two directors will not be running for re-election, Faccinetto said they typically recruit active parents as candidates for the board. He said he looks for people who have a “vested interested” in the district’s success who “don’t have a personal agenda” and who care about the success of every student. 

Dean Donaher, another director on the board that ran with Pooley last term, is also seeking re-election for an at-large position.

Both Donaher and Pooley are parents of children in the district.

Donaher said he considers Pooley an asset to the school board.

“Her in-depth knowledge of tax incremental funding is really important when the city comes to us with different ideas for tax abatements,” Donaher said.

Donaher praised Pooley’s open mindedness, respectful demeanor and analytical perspective.

“I hope that any Lehigh students registered to vote in the area will vote for Dr. Pooley to keep her on the board,” Donaher said.

While thinking about the maintenance and physical stock of schools, Pooley said she plans to stay involved with new neighborhood planning efforts in the North Side.

If re-elected, she will also focus on the Excellence Through Equity Initiative, which readjusts the structure of how mental health and special education services are provided.

Pooley’s first hurdle is to win in the primary elections on May 21. The general elections will take place on Nov. 5.

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