Student interest in UBCTS skyrockets; Yellow Alert explainer

Student interest in UBCTS skyrockets; Yellow Alert explainer
Posted on 03/20/2022

Happy Sunday!  Hope you are enjoying the weekend and looking forward to the first day of spring tomorrow. It’s been a great weekend to catch up with yard work.  

I would like to share a couple things with you today.  The first is about achieving a significant enrollment milestone at Upper Bucks County Technical School.  The other is about what is happening when you receive a Yellow Alert warning that your child’s school might be virtual the next day.

Enrollment requests for UBCTS skyrocketed this year.  This mostly came about with rising ninth-grade student requests.  It was not a surprise!  In November, more than 200 eighth  graders - more than 50 percent of the class - from Strayer Middle School went on a tour of UBCTS to learn about the 21 programs offered there.  This number was double all eight previous years of rising ninth-grade student interest in UBCTS.  Each of these students had an approved parent request to attend the tour.  Three months later, when course selection requests were tallied, about the same number of students who visited Tech applied for a program there for the 2022-23 school year. It’s an exciting new dynamic!

These staggering numbers are nirvana for the School Board and me. It both answers a dream and adds a new challenge to the Joint Operating Committee, the UBCTS School Board, made up of members from QCSD, Palisades and Pennridge.  Nearly four years ago during JOC retreat when I began my two-year tour as Superintendent of Record at UBCTS, the tech school Board perceived that most parents undervalued a technical school education compared to a full day college prep education back at their home high schools.  This misperception appears to have been turned around. 

As of late last week, there were more than 100 students from Quakertown, Pennridge and Palisades School Districts still without a program assignment. This challenge is in the process of being addressed by the JOC.  They have three options before them.  The first is to take the next step for 12th grade students who have completed classroom program requirements and send them out to co-op assignments. The other is to add additional instructional staff into highly successful programs that match up with job opportunities in the community, and the third is to do both. All three district assistant superintendents will continue to work together with UBCTS administrative leadership to optimize student choice as more seats become available.

In the past two weeks, parents from two schools received a Yellow Alert from their principal in the evening.  As a reminder, a Yellow Alert is called by a school principal when they believe they may not have enough professional staff and substitutes to safely open their building the next day for in-person instruction. Thursday night, when Quakertown Community High School Principal Mattias van't Hoenderdaal sent a Yellow Alert to his parents, it was not half a day after I sent to the School Board an email that foreshadowed my expectation that we could need to operate remotely at some schools on some days this Spring due to staffing shortages.  Principal V’s internal email across all of QCSD Admin called for an “all hands on deck” that asked for support from other schools and the district office speaks to our commitment to keeping schools open for in-person instruction.  This is not a “one off” occurrence in QCSD.

The previous Thursday, after the March 10th Board meeting, when I went back to speak with the principals who were in attendance, three of them (HS, SMS, and Pfaff) said they were close to sending out a Yellow Alert for the next day.  Only the principal of Pfaff did.  The mechanics are simple and timely - at least the best we can.  We receive Absence Reports a couple times before midnight for the next workday, then a couple more reports early in the morning.  Professional staff absences could be for a myriad of reasons.  When the number of unfilled absences exceeds the number of staff available for coverage/substituting, the principal sends a Yellow Alert message so that parents have a heads up that school (for that building only) might have to be virtual the next day. After the first morning absence report comes in before 6 am the next day, principals make a decision based on whether additional absences have been entered and whether additional substitutes have picked up unfilled openings.  Then they notify the Assistant Superintendent and me and send a follow up message confirming in-person OR virtual instruction for that day. If it comes down to using one or more of the three of us, we will be there!

Why am I sharing?  I expect with warmer weather, continued substitute shortages, illness and staff absences, Yellow Alerts will become more common. Because of that, I believe it is important for you to have an understanding that we are NOT back to normal school day operations due to staffing shortages.  Everyone is touched and feeling the stress and the mental health challenges from the past two years of COVID, especially our faculties and staff in our schools. Many may use their sick days, especially on a Friday and Monday, as a mental health recovery day, or have children home sick or quarantined in their home district. When in school, teachers are often assigned coverages that replace their planning time.  Our teachers and administrators continue to do all we can to meet student needs despite these challenges. Nevertheless, I wanted you to be prepared for the possibility of more frequent Yellow Alerts as we move through the rest of the school year.   

Thank you for reading. 

Bill Harner


[email protected]


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