Q & A Brian Gaerity
By Kerigan Butt
Courtesy photo Brian Gaerity was elected to the Avon Grove School Board last November and selected to serve as the board's president in December.
Q: You were elected to the Avon Grove School Board last November and in December you were selected to be the president of the board. For most people, that would be a daunting challenge, but you were well-informed about school district business before you were elected, right?
A: Yes. I previously served on the board in 2011, after being appointed to fill a vacancy. But even before that, I worked very hard to understand the educational and financial challenges of the district. I attended as many school board meetings as possible, and helped write summaries of those meetings for Avon Grove Parents, a web site and Facebook page started by a group of parents that care passionately about education and about the quality of life in the Avon Grove area. Even though we have only four schools, there is a lot to learn about the district, including curriculum, facilities, finance, special education and many other topics. There are a lot of tightly connected moving parts, and I'm still learning about them.
Q: You've mentioned in the past about how you like to be involved with the schools. Can you talk about that involvement?
A: When my oldest child started kindergarten over ten years ago in Colorado, I decided then that I wanted to be an involved parent. So I joined a parent advisory group that helped write the school's accountability report. Two months after moving to Landenberg from Atlanta in 2007, I joined a district task force on class size. Since then I've volunteered in the classroom, helped coach robotics, managed the after-school enrichment program at AGIS, served as an officer in the AGIS PTA and the FSEMS PTO, and tutored math through the VIP program. My involvement in the schools has been incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.
Q: Why is it so important for you to be supportive of the schools?
A: I firmly believe that great schools require great support from parents and the community. There are so many different ways to be involved that just about everyone can find some way to help. It can be as simple as volunteering for a couple of hours at a school event, such as Muffins for Mom at AGIS, to something much more involved, like running the high school sports or music booster organizations. I'm amazed at how much time and effort so many parents invest in our district. It's a great asset.
Q: In your view, what are the most pressing issues facing the school district right now?
A: A perpetual challenge is how to provide a world-class education at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. We know the key drivers of a world-class education: strong and innovative leadership, great teaching, a broad and rigorous curriculum, ability to quickly adapt and continuously improve, a learning environment that encourages curiosity and self-directed learning, and a community that values and supports education. And of course all of our schools need to be safe and secure. All that comes at a cost. Right now, we're focused on addressing some long-standing needs, such as improving security, getting some of our facilities back in working order, shoring up curriculum and instruction to counteract the setbacks in student achievement that occurred because of budget cuts in recent years, and ensuring we have appropriate technology that's integrated with our teaching. We have to be creative and smart, because our revenues are limited and our cost pressures are significant, especially personnel costs.
Q: Looking ahead to twelve months from now, what would happen during the year for it to be a good one for the school district?
A: Approved contracts with the support and professional staffs (both contracts expire June 30), an approved budget that puts the district on sound financial footing, and an approved strategic plan that sets ambitious goals and has the support of the whole community. And no more snow days.
Q: What are the school district's greatest strengths, in your opinion?
A: We have some very strong leaders, including the new superintendent, Dr. Marchese. I'm been very impressed with his leadership, vision and willingness to reach out to the community. He's a great addition to the district. Many of our teachers are just outstanding: passionate, caring and highly skilled. And I'm continually amazed at the dedication and commitment of so many of our parents. A terrific example of parent and community involvement was the recent high school production of "Hairspray" (it was a great show, by the way). It had a very large cast (including a few of our wrestlers), and almost all of their costumes were hand-made by parents; the sets were built by parents and local residents; much of the sound and lighting equipment was donated by a very generous parent and local business owner. With that kind of support, combined with well-designed instruction and highly capable teachers, our students can achieve anything.
Q: What is your favorite spot in Landenberg?
A: My running route along the White Clay Creek. Despite the hills and narrow roads, Landenberg is a great place to run, both on the road and on trails.
Q: What three dinner guests, living or dead, would you invite to dine with you?
A: Hatshepshut, the first female pharaoh of Egypt (she was way cooler than Cleopatra); John Cleese, from the British comedy group Monty Python; and Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director ("The Seven Samurai" is one my favorite movies).
Q: What food is always in your refrigerator?
A: Milk, locally-grown vegetables, and leftovers.