Monthly Archives: May 2013

Know The Issues

In the coming weeks I would like to dig a little deeper and write a few posts regarding what I believe to be the key issues facing the Northgate School District. It is possible that in the November election, voters may have different choices when it comes to electing Northgate’s next school directors* and I think that it is imperative that those voters be aware of the issues and know where the candidates stand on those issues. Below are six topics that I believe are extremely important and have stood out to me in the last five months.

School Finances

Financially times are tough for Northgate, especially with the state cuts to public education funding and the ~$700K bond payment that Northgate is stuck with for the next several years. What is the current administration doing to try and solve these issues and what are some of the ideas of the school board candidates? As I wrote recently, school board member Gary Paladin indicated that taxes are likely to be raised in the near future.

Education and the PA Common Core Standards

Governor Corbett has ordered a delay in implementing the PA Common Core Standards. Northgate is currently changing its curriculum to align with those standards. How will this affect our students and our teachers? What, if any, financial consequences could this have? Additionally, how can we focus on giving students a quality education and avoid teaching solely to take tests. With the reduction in teachers and course offerings, how are we going to engage students and challenge them academically?

Special Needs

Special needs students cost the school district more money than typically developing students. Because of this, I fear that they will be given the minimum support required by law instead of what they need to grow and succeed. We have already seen this by the attempt of the current superintendent and school board to furlough 10 teacher aides, only to later reduce that number when they realized that the IEPs of several students required that they have aides in the classroom. How are larger class sizes and less course offerings going to affect students with special needs and what can we do to accommodate them?

Safety

Because of the era in which we live, school safety is vitally important. Those who work in our schools or make policies that affect our schools should always be thinking about safety. What, if any, safety issues need addressed? Do the school board candidates have any ideas on what can be done to improve school safety?

Communication and Transparency

I have seen a noticeable improvement in the communication between the school board and the general public over the last five months. The administration has been more responsive to questions and concerns, and at times has provided meaningful background information to those in attendance at school board meetings when voting on various proposals or talking about specific issues. Of course, like most things, there is always room for improvement. I am still irritated that those behind the teacher furloughs can’t give a reasonable explanation at how they settled on their final number of 23 teachers. I also think there are other ways we can improve communication in our district and I hope the communication committee will continue to address those issues.

Leaders and Followers

Specifically looking at the members of school board, we need leaders not followers. I believe that there are many people on our school board that care deeply about the students, care deeply about education and work tirelessly to make Northgate a great school district. I also feel that there are members on the board who will easily follow others rather than ask questions and work to form their own opinions. We desperately need more of the former. While this is easy to say, it is difficult to achieve because of course everyone cares and wants Northgate to succeed. However, how many people in jail believe they are innocent? How many employees believe that they are underpaid? Ok, maybe those are silly questions but the fact is many people will say they want to make a difference and believe that they will but who will actually put in the work to make that happen?  My point is, we NEED leaders who are informed, who are not afraid to ask questions, who are not afraid to speak up, and who are willing and eager to put in the hard work to continue to make Northgate a better district. I think there are such individuals already on school board, but we could use a lot more.

*The unofficial results from the recent primary election report that the candidates for school board on the Republican ballot will be Lisa Saylor, Amy Joy Robinson, Dan Klicker and Jennifer McWilliams. Lisa, Amy and Jennifer will also appear on the Democratic ballot however there was a tie between myself and Dan Klicker. One of us will be chosen (I believe by coin flip) to appear on the Democratic ballot. There is also the chance for independent candidates as well as write ins (options that I may pursue if I lose the coin flip).

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Fall Sport Options

I was a bit surprised to learn at a recent school board meeting that the board had previously voted to not allow students to participate in multiple fall sports. I had no idea that this policy was already in place. I think one thing that makes Northgate a great school is being small and allowing students to participate in as many activities as possible. When I was in highschool I had the opportunity to participate in football and marching band at the same time, as did many others. There were also individuals who participated in cheerleading and marching band and I assume there were other crossover activities as well. If I were forced to make a choice when I was a student, I would have chosen football over band. But then I wouldn’t have had all the great experiences that I had when being a part of the marching band for 5 years in high school (performing in front of various audiences, taking trips with the band, making new friends, serving as drum major), I most likely wouldn’t have went on to perform in wind ensemble in college (taking more interest in music, performing more difficult pieces, receiving a more well rounded education), and I probably wouldn’t have the same musical interests and appreciation for the arts that I have today. I always appreciated Northgate for allowing me to have such opportunities because I knew at other schools I would have had to choose one activity and possibly risk being cut or forced to serve a lesser role. I hope the school board will reconsider their previous decision and allow students to participate in as many activities as they wish. I’ve always felt it is what makes Northgate stand out among other schools and is something I hope to address in the future.


Pending Primary Election

If you want to know how you can influence change in your community and school district, a way to start is to vote in the primary election this  Tuesday, May 21, 2013. I would encourage everyone to get to know the candidates that are running. I would hope that the candidates (school board and council) are able to have intelligent conversations about the issues facing our community and school district. They should be able to prove they are knowledgeable and qualified. A good place to start is the video from the recent candidate forum, hosted by Bellevue PTO, Avalon PTO, The League of Women Voters and Liberty in Bellevue.

However you don’t have to stop there. I encourage you to contact the school board candidates and the Avalon/Bellevue council candidates personally and ask them specific questions regarding the issues you feel are important.

Some other resources:


Northgate School Board Meeting 5-13-2013

Here are a few notes I took down from the last school board meeting. There were a lot of things covered at the meeting, the few points I have below are just some things that stuck out to me personally.

  • A few Bellevue parents gave concerns regarding their children having to go to Avalon. They said they knew children from North Ave, Orchard Ave and Shave Ave that had to switch schools but weren’t sure about Means Ave (Means Ave is parallel to all of those streets and is between Orchard Ave and North Ave). I hadn’t planned on speaking but to settle my own curiosity I asked if in fact any children from Means had to go to Avalon. Dr. Pasquerilla said at this time no children from Means Ave have to go to Avalon.
  • Another parent stated that Dr. Pasquerilla said to her a while ago that no honors classes would be cut. She then asked Dr. Pasquerilla if middle school honors classes would now be cut. He said not yet but wouldn’t rule it out. School board member Dr. Smithey asked if Dr. Pasquerilla meant that there would be scheduling conflicts which may mean some students won’t be able to take honors classes if they conflicted with other classes offerings. He said yes, although personally, I feel that is a bit different than what Dr. Pasquerilla’s had just previously stated about the possibility of cutting honors classes.
  • The proposed budget amount is $20,516,496 and the millage rate is set at 22.9206 mils (tentatively). As of this Friday, May 17, 2013, the budget will be available in each of the school buildings for those that want to review it. The finalized budget is due by June 17, 2013.
  • Near the end of the meeting, school board member Gary Paladin remarked that thinking that taxes aren’t going to increase is an unrealistic thought.