By John Chambless

Staff Writer

There was plenty of good news at the Sept. 16 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board, with district superintendent John Sanville noting that the first day of school had gone smoothly, and the district's 4,082 students now have 168 days left in the school year, he added with a smile.

Unionville High School student Kate Dietrich-Manion made her first report to the board as the student representative, outlining upcoming events such as back to school night on Sept. 19 and homecoming activities scheduled on the first weekend of October.

Board member Holly Manzone received approval for a field trip to Quebec City, Canada, to be taken by seventh and eighth grade French students from C.F. Patton Middle School from Feb. 13 to 16. “The great thing about this trip is that these kids will be speaking French the entire time,” Manzone said.

Manzone also said that a restructuring of the marching band requirement for the high school seems to be going very well. Marching band is now an elective activity, not mandatory. “We've been watching closely, and we're very pleased that basically there's been no change in enrollment,” she said. “In terms of the symphonic, concert and jazz band, last year there were 70 students, and this year, 71. As for the marching band, last year we had 69 students, and this year, 67. Everything I'm hearing about the marching band this year is that they're doing a great job, and everyone is very happy.”

Changes being made at the middle school – including having separate teachers for sixth and seventh grades – are also going well, Manzone said. “Now that we're raising the bar with Common Core standards and a lot of curriculum changes, the teachers are happy to focus on their one grade level,” Manzone said. There are also now leveled courses at the middle school, so students can take core level courses as well as extended core courses that offer more challenges.

The board approved the hiring of an assistant coach for the Unionville High School cross-country team, a staffing addition that grew out of public demand. Board member Kathleen Do said that, “I'm very excited that we're doing this. Track and cross-country have no cuts, which means that as many students who want to participate can participate. I think we should also look to, at some point, appoint a second coach for the track team slot.”

Board member Jeff Leiser said the hire “was a great example of the power of our people. We had students and parents come to the microphone in recent meetings, asking this board to consider additional staffing for our track and field program. I'm very proud to be voting for it this evening.”

Keith Knauss of the board said the additional hire might result in a raise in student activity fees, an issue that will be discussed by the school board in October.

The board ratified four high-school students to work as production assistants in the new auditorium to operate the sound and lighting system when outside groups rent the facility. The students will be paid $16.82 per hour, which will come from the fees groups pay to use the auditorium.

The board approved a $4,000 contract with David R. Voss and Associates to conduct a thorough review of the district's communications procedures. Board member Gregg Lindner said the review “is being done to help us reach a goal we have in the district. This is an incremental step to do a review, which will then pave the way for work to be done after the review is completed.”

Board member Jeff Hellrung presided over voting for four candidates to be elected officers of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The board voted unanimously for William LaCoff as president, Charles H. Ballard as vice president, Otto Voit III as treasurer, and Maura Buri as at-large representative.

Hellrung also reported on the progress of Common Core curriculum in the state. “It is not a federal initiative, although there were federal incentives provided,” he said. “It's a state initiative. It's developed over time with great care and concern, with input from teachers and administrators. The purpose was for the standards to be more appropriate, so that children can participate in secondary education or the workplace.

“Pennsylvania and 44 other states have adopted the basics of the Common Core, with certain supplements appropriate from state to state,” Hellrung continued. “Common Core has now made it through the state board of education. At our meeting, we discussed this with people from school districts all over the county, and I was relieved to hear that there is support from each of the school districts in Chester County.

“There's a lot of heat and noise coming from a very vocal minority, criticizing Common Core, but there is support coming from all our districts for Common Core,” he said. “And the Keystone Exam is a way of measuring whether our students have mastered Common Core.”

The Common Core requirement begins with the class of 2017, this year's ninth-grade class, which will be required to pass Algebra 1, Biology, and Literature by the time they graduate from high school.