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Council Rock community gets to know new superintendent

Dr. Andrew Sanko, who has held various district positions for 30 years, discussed his ‘students first always’ motto

Fresh leadership: The Council Rock community got to learn more about Dr. Andrew Sanko, the district’s new superintendent, during a public forum. Source: Council Rock School District YouTube

It may be almost 30 years since Dr. Andrew Sanko’s first visit to the Council Rock School District, but he remembers it clearly.

A recent graduate of Lock Haven University, Sanko was 22 when he landed a job interview for an open elementary school teaching position at Hillcrest. It was a nearly four-hour drive to Southampton, and his parents weren’t about to let their son make the trip in his pickup truck alone. Sanko cringed at what the administrators would think upon seeing his companions, but they were greeted with open arms at Council Rock and he was given the job.

Sanko hopes that, in his new role as district superintendent, he can extend that same feeling of welcome to others.

“This is a very special place to me. It’s a very special place to many people,” the Langhorne resident said. “Nobody takes better care of their kids than Council Rock.”

At the end of May, the district hosted a public forum that allowed the community to get to know Sanko, though it’s likely the majority already did.

Since 2003, Sanko has served as a Hillcrest teacher, principal of Holland Elementary School, principal of Richboro Middle School, an administrator on special assignment and, beginning in 2017, director of K-12 education.

According to school board president Ed Salamon, the search for a new superintendent began in February with assistance from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. The individual would replace acting superintendent Dr. Susan Elliott, who stepped in following an “amicable separation agreement” with former superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser. A survey was shared with the Council Rock community in March to identify what they wanted to see in the district’s next leader. Over 1,600 responses were received and incorporated into a job post, and a rigorous nationwide search began.

The selection of Sanko is, said Salamon, a full-circle moment. Several years ago, he was encouraged by Sanko to join the school board after helming the PTO for some time. In turn, he urged Sanko to become superintendent.

“His eyes lit up and he said, ‘I’d like to do that someday,’ ” reflected Salamon. “Fast-forward to the process of interviewing our applicants for this position, I took notes and I can tell you, the man sat down and his first answer was, ‘I want the job.’ He mentioned kids seven times in the first answer. Students first always.”

Throughout the forum, “students first always” was a motto for Sanko, who has three children of his own. When asked what those words mean by Mark Hoffman, executive director of the Bucks IU and moderator for the evening, Sanko replied, “Those words are non-negotiable. Those words mean that our core mission has to be about kids. Those words mean that every conversation has to begin with, ‘How does this provide to be something positive for students?’ ”

Vital topics: Mark Hoffman, Bucks County Intermediate Unit executive director, asked Dr. Andrew Sanko questions about school safety, student wellness and more. Source: Council Rock School District YouTube

Sanko was asked to share his view on a number of topics, including how he intends to unite the Council Rock community following two-plus years of contention. From masking mandates to equity policies, heated school board meetings became the norm across the country.

“We get back by believing,” he said. “I know it’s here. This is our house. How do we get back to one community? How do we create unity? We put people in front of each other so that we can understand a point of view, a perspective, so that we can seek to understand rather than leaping at a partial truth that we think we know the answer to. We need to talk more and type less.”

In an effort to keep everyone on the same page and prevent misinformed social media chatter, Sanko intends to host monthly forums. During these events, attendees can ask questions and receive factual information.

Regarding school safety, especially in the wake of the Uvalde shooting, Sanko highlighted his working relationship with local law enforcement and first responders. He said the district undergoes a rigorous series of evaluations to ensure there’s protection against both internal and external threats, and updates protocols as needed.

As for promoting student wellness, Sanko said the most important thing is to build trust between the students and staff.

“We must know each of those 10,500-plus students,” he explained. “If they’re coming with baggage, we have to be able to know the kids to know that and meet them where they are and help them with what they need help with.” An achievement in this area that Sanko witnessed during his tenure at Council Rock was the installation of guidance counselors at the elementary school level, something that wasn’t there 30 years ago.

Touched upon was the possibility of a full-day kindergarten offering. Sanko said that a full-day kindergarten has been talked about numerous times over the years and denied because of limited space and teachers. But now, with Richboro Middle School serving as a swing building and with fewer students enrolled than in the past, there’s a stronger chance it could happen. He’s also open to revisiting the idea of later start times for high schoolers.

“We can disagree about anything so long as at the center of every discussion, every conference, every debate, if we are focused on students and that is our North Star, then we’re gonna do just fine by way of our kids at Council Rock,” said Sanko.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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