After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from St. Francis College, Dr. Zahorchak earned a Master of Education degree from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in 1988. In 1994, he received a doctoral degree in Education Administration from the Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Zahorchak also earned two honorary Doctor of Laws degrees: one from the University of Philadelphia School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2008; and the other a year later from IUP, an honor that has bestowed on only fifty others in the university’s history.
Dr. Zahorchak’s career in education includes teaching and leadership experience at both the elementary and secondary education levels. He has served in the North Star, Shanksville-Stonycreek, and finally, Greater Johnstown school districts. In Greater Johnstown, Dr. Zahorchak held a series of increasingly responsible roles, ultimately taking the position of district superintendent.
In 2003, Dr. Zahorchak was named deputy secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In this role, he launched the nationally recognized Project 720 and Classrooms for the Future. These high school reform efforts have been highlighted in publications such as Educational Week and recognized by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Two years later, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell chose Dr. Zahorchak to serve as the state’s Secretary of Education, a position he held through May 7, 2010. In this role, he was responsible for the education of nearly two million school children across the Commonwealth. As Pennsylvania’s Chief State School Officer, he administered more than $9 billion annually to lead and serve the Commonwealth’s educational community. He served as the CEO of the state Board of Education, which sets and directs policy for elementary and secondary education, career and technical education, and postsecondary/higher education for Pennsylvania. Dr. Zahorchak was named superintendent of the Allentown School District, effective July 1, 2010.
Dr. Zahorchak is a national education leader focused on common core standards and implementing standards-based education to improve student achievement. He co-chaired the Next Generation Learners Committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers, creating a national framework for building systems of comprehensive support for all students. Under his direction, Pennsylvania has transformed schools, enabling more than three quarters of all students to demonstrate proficiency in reading and mathematics as compared to slightly more than half in 2002. During his tenure, he has presided over unparalleled school funding increases to equalize the adequacy gap and provide funding to those with the greatest need.
A hallmark of Dr. Zahorchak’s distinguished career is the collaborative design work among teachers, administrators and educational associations, which he built across the Commonwealth as he facilitated the development of the Standards Aligned System (SAS), combining research and best practices to ensure student achievement. With the launch of an educational portal to support the Standards Aligned System, unprecedented resources are now available to Pennsylvania educators. SAS implementation has skyrocketed in just the few short months since the portal release in December 2009 and is expected to make a dramatic impact on twenty-first century teaching and learning in Pennsylvania.
Recognizing that his vision of success for all children would not be met without focusing on quality teaching and effective leadership, Dr. Zahorchak worked collaboratively with school administrators to establish the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership (PIL) Program. PIL is a standards-based statewide continuing professional education program that is focused on developing the knowledge and skills that school leaders need to improve student achievement.
As a result of these reforms, student achievement has been rising rapidly: the 2010 Education Trust Report found Pennsylvania to be one of the top nine states to make gains in all groups from 2003-2009 and the Center for Educational Policy found Pennsylvania to be the only state to significantly boost student achievement in reading and math from 2003 through 2009.
Dr. Zahorchak has been widely published, is a frequent speaker at national educational conferences, symposia and other forums, and is a frequent guest on Pennsylvania public television and radio stations. Dr. Zahorchak’s dedication to local community goes beyond the classroom. He is the former deputy mayor of the City of Johnstown; a past eight-year member of Johnstown’s City Council; and a past member of the Greater Johnstown School Board. He actively serves in leading roles on many national and state boards committed to enhancing public and higher education.
Upon being appointed to superintendent of schools by the Allentown School District, Pennsylvania’s third largest urban education system, Dr. Zahorchak said, “Allentown School District is the quintessential ‘beating the odds’ district. They know what to do; they’re doing it. They continually face the challenges related to inadequate funds from the state and, nevertheless, are making enormous strides to ensure that every child is reaching his or her full potential. The Allentown community is second to none in the world – the business community is sincerely devoted to school improvement; many grant makers and philanthropic leaders contribute in well aligned ways; and the many agencies are led by bright people who work well together. The teachers, staff and parents are the most valued by the community and me; they are the ones who take care of ensuring the success of our students. This is a wonderfully diverse community, with a proud sense of its history and culture, and I am blessed and eager to work alongside of many who will positively change the lives and fortunes of thousands of students.”