Entries Tagged 'Issues' ↓

Another Proposal — from CDT

There was a very thoughtful letter to the Centre Daily Times this past week. It suggested another way to use time in the extended elementary day:

Teaching civics, economics, ethics will make better citizens

While I don’t think the national debt is growing exponentially, if we had some basic economics classes, our elementary students might find out why.

Thanks for some good suggestions.


Changes to the Elementary Day

The other night (4/24/2017), the State College School Board agreed to an amendment (technically a Memo of Understanding) to our contract with the teachers (the State College Area Education Association) to examine the feasibility of extending the elementary day. There are several reasons for doing this. The first was to provide more overall learning for our K-5 students, but also more overall time in the core learning subjects (i.e., English/Language Arts, math, social studies, and science). In addition, it will provide a fifth “special” or special learning opportunity (currently library, art, music, and physical education).

From the teacher and administrator point of view, this provides much more planning and professional development time during the school day. As we refine our curriculum in a more deliberate way, our teachers will have — and need — more planning time within the day to incorporate new curricula, new tools, and new techniques into their teaching and learning.

At this time, we have the outline of a proposal for how this would work, given the constraints of our size (for transportation purposes), our staff, and our existing day. We don’t know all the answers yet (if this goes into effect, it will be for the 2018-2019 school year), but we’ll be talking to you at PTO meetings and parent forums in the coming month. The full schedule will be on the SCASD Web site and available in the SCASD Web app.

What’s been going on?

People who only see a School Board member when we’re in a regular board meeting often ask me what goes on between meetings. The last few weeks, my answer has been, “Quite a lot.” In fact what goes on between board meetings is often the best part of being on the School Board. I’ve been:


On March 2 — Dr. Seuss’s birthday as any elementary school student can tell you — I was invited to read to Mrs. Donna Bryan’s first grade class at Lemont Elementary School. I brought my own copy of Green Eggs and Ham, and I wore my Seuss hat and Green Eggs and Ham tie.  When I was finished the children asked me why I think reading is important and how I used it in my work.  I had a very enjoyable time and I’d like to thank Mrs. Bryan and her class for the invitation.


On March 4, I attended the Challenging Science Investigations (CSI) Showcase put on by the State College Branch of the American Association of University Women and the State College Area School District Community Education and Secondary Science Department at Park Forest Middle School.  The theme this year was Rube Goldberg contraptions.  I really wanted my daughter to see these young ladies construct complicated “machines” which do very simple things.  There were popping balloons and burning strings and great fun was had by all.  It was very well done.  Thanks to Dr. Donna Ricketts and the Community Education team and to all the science teachers who helped out.


Our State College Ice Hockey Team finished the regular season with Senior Night on March 4.  Dr. Mextorf came along to recognize our five seniors and enjoy a very good game.  Unfortunately, we lost to Plum Township 3-2 in overtime, but we still managed to finish third in the top division of the PIHL.  This is the best finish for a State College team since we moved to the AAA (top) division.  We received a first round bye and host a home play-off game on Wednesday, March 17 at 8pm at the Penn State Ice Pavilion.

Practicing, practicing, practicing…

As a result of the first round bye, we had three practices last week and we’ll have two more before Wednesday’s game.  Guest Coach Joe Battista made an appearance last week and went over the penalty kill.  It would be nice not to need that skill, but in reality successful high school hockey teams have successful “special teams.”  Thanks JoeBa!

I’d like to thank all of the folks who have made the last two weeks so enjoyable.  We’ve got a busy, but enjoyable week ahead.

Easterly Parkway Visit

On December 10, the board visited Easterly Parkway Elementary (EPE) School.  It was the first school visit which I attended.  The visit was well attended by board members and administrators.  Our host was EPE principal Brian Peters.  Mr. Peters gave us an overview of the thoughts on education and explained some of the changes he’s made in his short tenure there.  He told us he employs what I would call a peer learning team experience in his faculty meetings, where groups of faculty read articles and share information and best practices with each other.  My Penn State IT Leadership Program involved many of these type of activities and I’m a huge advocate for this style of learning.

Mr. Peters also uses the Penn State Professional Development School program extensively at EPE.  This program is much more involved than a standard student teaching assignment and creates College of Ed graduates who are very prepared for a teaching career.  One of the EPE teachers I spoke with was a PDS student at the school just last year.

All of the staff and students were welcoming.  We ate the cafeteria lunch (I owe David because I forgot my wallet) and had a very good lunch discussion with Mr. Peters and those teachers who happened to be eating their lunches at the same time.  I tried not to be too disruptive to instruction, but I did enjoy some of those candid classroom moments.

Thanks to Mr. Peters and his excellent staff and faculty.  So far, this is the best part of being on the school board.

And so it begins…

Monday, December 7, was the Board Reorganization Meeting.  Judge Thomas Kistler was on hand to hand to swear in Penni Fishbaine, Gowen Roper, David Hutchinson, Jim Pawelczyk, and me.  Judge Kistler did a wonderful job and gave the ceremony the pomp and circumstance accorded by his office.  His goal was to be respectful and brief and I think he accomplished both.

Thanks to Judge Kistler, and Dr. Mextorf for putting together this ceremony.  A special thanks to the old board for both your service and making Penni and me feel so welcome.  I’m still a little overwhelmed, but the old board, the superintendent, and his staff have really eased my transition to the school board.  Thank you!

School Board Fast Start Program

I attended the Pennsylvania School Boards Association‘s (PSBA) Ready, Set, Govern program this weekend in Mars, PA.  The program is intended as an orientation for new school board members and new superintendents.  The program was a tw0-day, four part program and I thought it was very well done.

The first day’s morning program focused on a general background and organization of school boards in Pennsylvania.  My big take-away from this was that the board functions as a unit — policies, decisions, and actions are by the board as a whole and not individual board members.  I knew this, but it’s helpful to be ever vigilant against acting as an individual board member.  That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for leadership, rather that it is our actions as an entire board which matter, not my individual actions.

The afternoon focused on budget.  This is by far the school district’s biggest challenge. This too, was very helpful, particularly with respect to budget time lines (unlike other bodies we must pass our budget by June 30!).

The second day focused on legal matters (Sunshine Law, School Code, etc.) and the board’s role in promoting student performance.  Again both were well done with knowledgeable presenters and I came away with many tidbits of knowledge.  The whole weekend was very helpful and I know that I’ll attend PSBA training sessions in the future.

My Response

Jim Leous

Residence: State College

Campaign Web Site: http://leous.org/

Education: Penn State, M.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1991; University of Notre Dame, B.S. Physics, 1984.

Occupation: IT Manager, Penn State Information Technology Services

Qualifications: Parent of two elementary school children; Assistant Coach, State College High School Ice Hockey Team; Member, SCASD District-wide Master Facilities Plan Steering Committee; Member, SCASD Patrick Wang Innovation Grant Committee; Member, SCASD Bell Grant Internet implementation team; Cub Scout Leader; Adviser, Penn State student groups.

Answer: The most important issue is maintaining the quality of our schools in an uncertain economic future.  We must be responsible financial stewards when it comes to the SCASD budget.  We are embarking on the implementation of the District-wide Master Facilities Plan (DWMFP) in the midst of the worst economic situation of my lifetime.  Combined with increased pension commitments and increased utility rates, we are in for some fiscal challenges.

That said, wise planning now as in the past should help us prepare for the challenge ahead.  The current facilities construction and renovations recommended by the DWMFP Steering Committee call for us to use existing reserve funds to finance the project.  This should provide for investment (jobs, equipment) for our local builders while at the same time not increasing the tax rate.

Voters’ Guide

Some of you were probably shocked on Saturday to find that of all the candidates for State College Area School Board, one chose to “not Respond” to a questionaire from the League of Women Voters for their Voters’ Guide.  I was the most shocked of all, because I was that candidate.  I don’t know what happened and I certainly don’t want to point fingers, but I never received the questionnaire.  I didn’t respond, not because I chose not to; I didn’t respond because I didn’t know that I had to.  When I answered the CDT’s voters’ guide earlier, I assumed that was it for the season.  I spoke at the League’s debate, so I’m surprised why no one followed up to determine why I didn’t respond.  I have some calls into some League members who I know to try to determine what happened and at least get into their on-line guide.  I think the League does a great job of educating voters and I am disappointed that I’m not in the guide.

Moving Forward

Last night the School Board accepted a recommendation by the Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee to move forward with three of the elementary school projects which the District-Wide Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee proposed.   I’m pleased with the swift action of the board.  If all goes well, these projects will begin in summer 2010.  Most, if not all, of the costs of these three projects can be handled using the existing capital building reserve fund (~$24 million).

The three projects are:

  • The construction of a new school to replace Boalsburg and Panorama Village Elementary Schools and create a single K-5 school on the current Panorama Village/Mt. Nittany site.
  • The construction (or heavy renovation) of a new Ferguson Township School on the current site.
  • An addition to the Gray’s Woods Elementary School which would add four more classrooms.

The big concern is that the Ferguson Township School construction will have to be very sensitive to students around the site.  I’m confident that our architects will take this into account.  The Facilities CAC suggested that this project might need to be put off for a year so that students can be temporarily housed in the old Boalsburg or Panorama Village sites.

Things are starting to move…

Congratulations Dr. Mextorf

Dr. Richard J. Mextorf was officially appointed as the next superintendent of the State College Area School District.  His term will start on July 1.  His background in music meshes well with a real area of strength in our school district.

Here’s the official story.  I wish the best of luck to Dr. Mextorf and a happy retirement to Dr. Best.