Category Archives: Uncategorized

Meeting Calendar

I shared my personal calendar of the major Northgate school board meetings (Committee of the Whole, Regular Committee Meeting, Finance, Student Affairs, and other special meetings as called). Note that this specific calendar is not maintained by the district and therefore changes to meeting dates and times may not necessarily get reflected on this calendar. Please see the Northgate School District website for up to date information:

The calendar is provided below as well as linked here.

Stand Up For Education

This evening I attended an event consisting of school board members and administrators from all over Allegheny County where several state legislators spoke regarding education and fielded questions from the audience. It was a great learning experience but a bit disheartening as well. The event was recorded and can be viewed online here. If you are concerned about education PLEASE take the time to watch the full video. They talked about the biggest issues concerning education, although basically said not much is happening to address the issues.

On my drive home from the event, I was thinking about playing the political game. I believe that partisan politics hurts our country and was proud to be elected to school board as someone who is unaffiliated with any particular party. I’ve never been a huge fan of politics and don’t consider myself a politician. That said, with the direction our schools are headed, and after seeing which legislators showed up to the event and listening to all of them speak, it may be time to soften my stance and switch to being a Democrat. If it means I can have more influence on the current state of education then it will be worth it.

Big Changes to the Northgate School Board

The unofficial results for the 2013 general election are in:

Barring any drastic changes to the total vote counts, there will be four new members on Northgate School Board:

  • Lisa Saylor
  • Amy Joy Robinson
  • Jennifer McWIlliams
  • Bryan Johnston

Hopefully these new members will place education as the top priority in the district and put in the necessary effort to bring a positive change to the district and community.

I plan to continue to use this blog to help bring information to the community and give my perspective on issues as a school board member.

What change can we expect to see in our school district and community

First, thanks to Liberty In Bellevue, the League of Women Voters and the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce for hosting another candidate forum on Monday, Oct. 28th. If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch the video online. I was hoping the moderator was going to ask the school board candidates about their vision of the future, similar to the final questions she presented to the council and mayoral candidates. I wanted to briefly touch on how the school district will affect the community, but since we did not get to the question and only had limited time to respond to other questions, I will touch on it now.

I do not believe that you will see a drastic change (improvement or decline) in a school district from year to year but rather small incremental changes over many years that ultimately have a substantial impact on a community. Not only will a school district influence whether or not families move into or out of a community based on its reputation, but a large percentage of graduates will remain in the community, take local jobs, and possibly take leadership positions within the community. It may not seem like much, but if we fight for education and it prevents  a couple students from falling through the cracks, and less students get held back, and maybe one more student gets the opportunity to go to college, and perhaps there is one less teen pregnancy than there would have been, and one less family leaves the district in favor of another school, then the long term benefits will far outweigh the immediate financial savings of cramming 30 kids into a classroom.

To that end we need school leaders that are willing to fight for education. We cannot afford drastic teacher furloughs while awarding our superintendent a raise. We cannot afford to reduce graduation requirements because the school is not appropriately staffed.  We cannot remain silent when people in positions above us make decisions that negatively impact the potential of our children. We simply cannot afford to just say “there is nothing we can do about it”.  We cannot afford to have leaders that refuse to ask questions and do not think for themselves.

I think a little common sense with a bit of passion could give Northgate, Bellevue and Avalon the boost needed to start to turn the tide. Hopefully there are enough other people out there that feel the same way. One way to influence change in your community will be November 5th. Don’t forget to get out and vote!

Projected Kindergarten Class Size at Northgate

The last few days I was hoping to post an update to my previous blog post. I wanted to write about how I brought up my concerns regarding the teachers not being prepared for the school year due to the shuffling of positions and poor timing. I wanted to say that I appreciated that superintendent Dr. Pasquerilla at least addressed my concerns at the school board meeting on 8/19/2013, stating that the teacher shuffling was due to the checkboard furloughs per an agreement with the teachers’ union*, and that the district could not take action on final teacher furloughs/recalls/assignments before August 1, also per an agreement with the union*. I wanted to say that while I was concerned with class size, my daughter is very bright and will do just fine attending Bellevue Elementary.

Then I received word that as of today, 8/23/2013, the projected kindergarten class sizes are 29-30 students per classroom at Bellevue and 27-28 students per classroom at Avalon. I called Dr. Pasquerilla and spoke with him regarding these numbers. He said that while they are planning as if they are going to have that many kindergarten students, some of the applications were incomplete and it is likely that those numbers are actually lower come Monday (when classes start). He said that he has a plan although would not go into specific details regarding his plan. He said that he wanted to monitor class size the first week of school and then make a decision on how to proceed.

While I understand that months in advance you cannot predict how many kids are going to enroll in kindergarten, I feel like Dr. Pasquerilla and the school board could have planned better. Perhaps they shouldn’t have furloughed elementary school teachers when we’ve seen an increase in elementary enrollment in recent years. Instead of planning for maxed out classrooms, perhaps they should have initially planned for more manageable classroom sizes, and then an increase in kindergarten enrollment would have been, well…more manageable. Assistant to the Superintendent Ms. Lattari estimated that we can expect 8-10 students enroll in kindergarten after the start of the school year based on previous years, which means kindergarten class sizes could start rising into the low 30s. Now we are being reactive instead of proactive, and it is going to add another layer of difficulty on our teachers, parents, and…oh yeah, students.

* The agreement is between the school district and the teachers’ union. Let’s not place all the blame on the teachers’ union, because the district accepted that agreement.

Thinking of Sending My Daughter to Avalon* (and some other thoughts)

Before I get into why I am considering sending my daughter to Avalon for kindergaten, I would like to share some concerns. As of the 8/12 school board meeting there were still teaching positions that hadn’t been settled and the first day of class is on 8/26. ONLY TWO WEEKS until school starts and there are teachers that are still unsure whether or not they will be called back, and if so, for which positions! And I don’t think everything will be finalized until next Monday 8/19. Regardless of when everything is finalized, it means that there will be some teachers that will have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to prepare their curriculum for the year. If that doesn’t seem ridiculous, there are likely to be some scenarios where there are teachers that must learn / follow a new curriculum (due to the adoption of the common core), to teach unfamiliar classes that they are being forced to teach (even if they haven’t taught in years) and now they have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to figure everything out. More on this in a moment.

Today marked the last day of Kindergarten screenings and I was told that there were a total of 101 kids screened. At the last school board meeting I asked how many kids could be expected to register after the first day of school and I was told maybe 8-10 based on previous years. So that means we can reasonably expect about 110 kids to be in the kindergarten class next year. Given an even distribution of students between the two schools, that would mean two classes would have 27 students and two classes would have 28 students. That is certainly higher than I would like, is almost double the PSEA recommendations, and is higher than the recommendations of another nearby school district. I failed to ask a very important question at the school board meeting. What is the break down of kindergarten students be between the two schools? I was told Monday that they were working hard to get a good distribution of students, and I was told today that they don’t have those final numbers because the class lists are not yet finalized. However, my gut feeling is that it is not going to be perfectly even and I expect Bellevue elementary to have somewhat larger kindergarten class sizes than Avalon (this is not fact…yet, it is just a feeling).

That brings me back to my original concerns. Not only have teachers not had much time to prepare, many are taking positions that are very unfamiliar to them. I would feel a lot better about that if they were making career choices on their own, but in this case they are forced between taking a new position offered to them, or unemployment. I will give two examples to highlight my point, but I want to be clear that in no way am I judging any teachers’ performance or potential, just highlighting the craziness of the situation our school district has found itself in. I have heard that it is likely that the librarian will be teaching kindergarten and the Dean of Students will be teaching second grade. These are two examples of people who are well into their careers, who haven’t taught full time in a classroom in many years (or ever for all I know), and are being forced into making significant career moves that they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for themselves. Now take someone who hasn’t taught in a very long time (or ever for all I know) and assign them a classroom two weeks before school starts and throw in a new curriculum and some shaky morale for good measure. And in the case of the kindergarten teacher-to-be, assign her a classroom with a *minimum* of 27 students (probably more). Again I have nothing against these teachers, rather I am saying that our school district has continued to put our teachers in very difficult positions. And there are other examples of similar stories, but let’s move on.

Why are my wife and I considering sending our daughter to Avalon? Well first, I feel that Avalon will have smaller class sizes. And second, we feel more comfortable with the Avalon kindergarten teachers (again, these are our personal preferences due to our own experience and research and how we think the teachers are going to be placed). I think the district will welcome our daughter to Avalon because it will help with the distribution of students between schools, especially if the alternative is a school outside the Northgate School District. I will know more about this Monday if/when everything is finalized.

One last brief thought. According to superintendent Dr. Joseph Pasquerilla’s contract, he should have had his review and possible salary increase by now (depending on the results of his review). However I have not heard anything about such matters in the past few school board meetings. I would be interested to know the status of any such proceedings, especially in light of our current situation which began with the illegal furlough of teachers due to budget concerns.

Casting Of Lots

Yesterday it was finally decided which candidates will appear on the Democratic ballot for School Director in the upcoming November election. I had previously tied current school board member Daniel Klicker for the fourth and final spot on the Democratic ballot and I thought it may be helpful to describe the selection process that occurred because of the tie.

  1. Certification of results. After the election the results get certified. I am not sure what all is involved in the certification but I assume it means the Allegheny County Division of Elections reviews the results and blesses them. This did not occur until a few weeks after the primary election.
  2. Casting of lots. Once the results were certified, a letter was mailed to Dan and myself notifying us of the tie and that a casting of lots would occur the following week to determine who would appear on the ballot. Dan and I then went to the County Office Building where we were presented with a leather container containing 51 stones, numbered 1-51. We were to select a stone, and note the number, and then place the stone back into the container. The highest number would win and in the event of a tie, we would repeat the process. Since my name appeared first on the ledger, I selected the first stone which was number 24. Dan selected stone number 22.

Therefore your Democratic and Republican candidates for School Director in the upcoming November election are as follows:

Bryan Johnston
Jennifer McWilliams
Amy Joy Robinson
Lisa Saylor

Dan Klicker
Jennifer McWilliams
Amy Joy Robinson
Lisa Saylor