NEWTOWN – “Students are always first.” These are the three words that will guide Dr. Andrew Sanko as the next Superintendent of the Council Rock School District.
During a community forum Thursday evening, the Rock County School Board and Bucks County Intermediate Unit introduced Dr. Sanko to the community during a question-and-answer session led by Dr. Mark Hoffman, Bucks IU Executive Director.
Earlier this month, School Board Chairman Ed Salmon announced that Dr. Sanko is the Board’s choice of School Supervisor. The selection came after a community survey and nationwide research conducted by Bucks County IU.
For those who don’t know Dr. Sanko, you will get to know him very quickly… It is an absolute pleasure to be here tonight with the next Superintendent of Council Rock Schools District,” Salamon said.
Throughout the evening, Dr. Sanko shared his vision, his leadership, and what the students and the Council Rock community under his supervision would look like.
The three simple words that guide his vision and leadership will be “students always first”. “This should be our focal point. That’s why we are here. Without these kids we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Sanko said. “Our focus is our focus and our focus should, without exception, always be the students first.”
Sanko has spent his entire career in the area, joining Council Rock as a teacher in 1989 at Hillcrest Elementary School. He rose through the ranks from teacher to elementary and middle school principal and eventually to central management where he holds the position of K-12 Director of Education. He is now the final board candidate for the position of supervisor.
“This is a very special place for me,” Sanko said. “Council Rock has a proud past and a promising future. And that’s because at Council Rock, in our own home, we take care of our kids.
“I grew up professionally at Council Rock. It was never a job. It was never a profession,” he said. “It’s part of my core. They are part of our collective core at Council Rock. We are here to help each other. We are here to push the kids forward and make sure our kids succeed.”
Sanko said that when he joined the district as a teacher in 1989, he was assigned to fourth grade at the new Hillcrest Elementary School, which was under construction at the time.
“I remember moving truckload after truckload of materials to Hillcrest. The hall was filled with boxes from floor to ceiling. Over the course of the weekend, parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, and children opened each box,” Sanko said.
“Parents showed up with wheelbarrows and shovels, they planted flowers, they put mulch, and we opened on Monday,” he said. “In that moment I knew this wasn’t a job. It wasn’t a profession. It was about the immeasurable compassion and dedication to education and caring for each other that separates Council Rock from anywhere else.”
“This is what I want to present to you and the community. Students are always first,” he said. “No sporting event, no bus route, no new building, no new roof can replace what we have to do. Our only job is to take care of the children. Students should always be first. If you are the supervisor, custodian, contractor, you must always be students first. Without that we lost our way.
“No one takes care of their children better than Council Rock,” Sanko added. “I’ve known other areas, but nobody does it better than the teachers, staff, parents, and kids here in our 72 square miles that we call Council Rock.”
During a question-and-answer session with Hoffman, Sanko answered many questions sent in from across the region from special education to school safety.
On private education, Sanko began by congratulating the district’s longtime president of private education, Dr. Chuck Lambert, who is retiring after 40 years in education.
“We will continue the broad and deep channel for our children that Dr. Lambert founded here,” Sanko said. “At Council Rock we have created a community, culture and climate of acceptance. Our children, families, and communities have a level of acceptance and expectations that is part of everything we do. If you are a second grade special education student or a 21-year-old ACHIEVE student, you are welcome to be a part of us at Council Rock. “You can expect continued success stories from our students and a continuing climate of acceptance within our walls and I would say outside our walls at Council Rock like athletes helping athletes, like Special Olympics.”
On the issue of communication, Sanko said he plans to continue the traditional means of spreading the word, including weekly messages and email and website bombings.
He said that listening is another key element. “As a steward, as a teacher, as a manager we have to listen and listen and listen to what our community is saying. We have to strive to understand what the problem is so we can address it as best we can.”
Finally, Sanko said he believes in being present, available, and accessible. “Our community can expect to see me in places on a regular basis,” he said.
“I feel very strongly that we have to get our community back into schools,” Sanko said. “We have been interrupted by nobody’s fault. We have to open doors and invite people to talk, to understand them, to look for facts, so when you see communications coming from the supervisor’s office, it will be clear, it will be realistic and it will be student centered.”
Sanko said he plans to launch a forum once a month on a specific topic “so the community can come in, ask questions, get the facts, and refrain from posting things on social media so they have the facts and know exactly where we are.”
On the plans for the full-day kindergarten, Sanko said that when the subject was studied before, the decision came due to lack of space and the cost of hiring about 16 new teachers. “Given that we’re out, since we see it happening all around us, I think under this administration we need to at least investigate. Some variables have changed. When we last studied Richboro Middle School was Richboro Middle School. We now use it as a building. Swinging. The last time we studied we had more children registered in the area. It takes our time and energy to look at it again.”
On the topic of when school will start later, Sanko said the district began investigating the idea before the pandemic cut it off. We’ve gone so far as to bring in an expert to speak to us. We started modeling what it might look like.” “Much like a kindergarten question, we should look at that.”
On the issue of school safety and especially in light of the Texas school massacre, Sanko said the district will continue its very close relationship with first responders.
“We have monthly threat assessment meetings with our law enforcement partners. We have open lines of communication with all of our first responders… We regularly undergo a rigorous series of assessments of our facilities and systems. We look at potential external and internal threats.
“We will continue this strong working relationship with our police departments,” Sanko said. “We will continue to listen, listen, and listen to our first responders as they talk to us about access points and we will continue to collaborate with the experts around us. This also means updating our security features.”
At the conclusion of the event, Sanko once again reiterated the three key words that will guide his administration – “students always first”.
“I believe in this community. I believe in the Board of School of Rock. I believe in the employees of Council Rock. I believe in the people who work with our children every day. But I believe mostly in every one of our students.”
Sanko said the past few years have been tough on everyone. “It was hard for parents. It was hard for society and it was especially hard for kids. We need to heal.” “We need to collaborate. We need to move the needle forward so that our children are prepared as best they can for their future. They are our legacy. They are our future. We have to do it together.”
“You will continue to receive the same level of hard work and compassion that you have received from me for the past 33 years,” Sanko said. “I will be available. I will be accessible. I will be visible. I know that I speak for students, staff and the board that students should always be first.”