By John Chambless
A week before classes resume in the school district, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board met on Aug. 19 to approve a long list of personnel additions and reassignments, and to authorize some expenditures for building repairs and equipment upgrades.
“For most people, Jan. 1 is the new year, but this is our new year,” district superintendent John Sanville said. “As always, I share the sense of excitement, of hope, of a clean slate of promise.”
Repairs being made to the Unionville Elementary School exterior ran into some snags over the summer, resulting in new brick being purchased and windows being refitted on the gymnasium facade. The change order to the contractor, Old Philadelphia Associates, had been estimated at $38,843, but the amount approved at Monday's meeting was $22,652. The discount, according to board member Jeff Hellrung, was due to meticulous negotiations by Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds. “He fights for every dollar,” Hellrung said.
A $400 discount was also realized in the bulk purchase of new two-way radios from FreCom Wireless. The total expenditure was $17,600 to upgrade and standaridize the 70 radios, which are “very much used” at the six schools in the district, Hellrung said. The change was necessary to comply with FCC regulations.
The board also authorized the administration to seek bids to replace a dump truck, which Hellrung said is 19 years old and will no longer pass state inspection.
Looking forward, the board also approved an evaluation of all school facilities to be done by MM Architects, at a cost of $27,500. The respected firm will thoroughly evaluate all six schools in the district for future repairs and replacements, particularly Hillendale Elementary School and C.F. Patton Middle School, which are expected to be most in need of attention, Hellrung said. There is nothing major planned at this point for the schools, but the evaluation will help the district schedule expenditures in the long term, rather than being surprised when breakdowns occur or repairs need to be made.
“This is the beginning of a process that will include the board in case of any repairs that need to be made,” Sanville told the board.
Board member Holly Manzone outlined the big issues the district will be tackling this year, including technology upgrades, teacher evaluations, homework requirements, and the adoption of Common Core standards. Noting that Common Core “is not a government mandate,” Manzone said all but five states have signed on to the plan, and “Unionville-Chadds Ford is prepared. We need to raise the bar, regardless of Common Core, and with students who perform spectacularly, we feel we are very, very well prepared for Common Core,” she said.
Board member Kathleen Do added that, “some students may struggle, but five years down the road, I think we'll agree that this is best for our students.”
Hellrung said Common Core unifies education standards from state to state. He has read the standards, and “they are more rigorous,” he said. “You may see some slippage from some students, but we're looking into a mirror. Do we want a true reflection of how we're doing, or do we want a distortion that tells us everything is fine?”
In the case of new teacher evaluations, Manzone said the old standard for grading a teacher was satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The new evaluations include distinguished, proficient, needs improvement and failing. The added detail will allow the administration to focus on specific problem areas, “and help teachers be the best they can be, not punish them,” she said.
Sanville addressed the lengthy list of personnel reclassifications in the district, which “added efficiency without a drop-off in services,” he said. Ending up with the same number of employees, but reassigning job duties, saved the district some $90,000, he noted.