Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board says goodbye to member Keith Knauss
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
The regular agenda items largely took a back seat to public comment and saying goodbye to board member Keith Knauss at the Oct. 26 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board.
The first hour and a half of the two-hour meeting at Unionville Elementary School began with a choral concert and presentation from the students and teachers at the school, which is currently under interim principal John Nolen.
Board member Jeff Hellrung read the agenda item to accept the resignation of Knauss, effective immediately.
Board member Gregg Lindner, who most recently served with Knauss on the teacher contract negotiation team, said, “It is never helpful to speak into an echo chamber of people who have the same ideas. Usually, bad things happen because nobody brings up the other side of the issue. When smart people bring up other opinions, usually good things happen. I thank Keith for always bringing an educated perspective, even if you were usually wrong,” Lindner said as Knauss laughed. “Thanks for making me think. At times, it moderated my own views, and at a minimum it made me think through the process better in order to make my own points. Keith has given large amounts of time to the board. Nobody gives that much time if they do not care, and Keith cares. I enjoyed the debates with Keith, and I will miss them very much.”
Board member Steve Simonson told Knauss, “I appreciate and am grateful for the years of service you have given to the school district. I think the district is in good shape because of a lot of factors -- the parents, the students, the teachers, and also because of dedicated school directors like you. I think you've been a successful advocate for a sound financial approach. Your approach has influence me, and I feel your departure will leave an important void on the board.”
Board member Kathleen Do, who often found herself on the opposite side of issues with Knauss, said, “When I was thinking of what I wanted to say tonight, a lot of words came to mind -- words like stubborn, intransigent, obstinate, and maybe tenacious. But in the end, and despite my roller-coaster relationship with you, I'd have to say the one word that I believe describes Keith the best is steadfast. Over the last four years, when it came to matters of spending in the district, no matter what argument I and like-minded board members came up with, Keith always had a counter argument. And it was always delivered without emotion or dramatic flair. As long as I have been on this board, I have said, 'Thank God for Keith.' I've always felt that you voiced an opinion that needed to be stated, that needed to be represented, even if I disagreed with it. I never stopped respecting you for the dedication you displayed each and every time you took a position.”
Hellrung added, “I've been friends with Keith for almost 30 years and worked with him on school board issues for almost 20 years. Keith knows how I feel about him, both personally and in terms of school board service, because I've told him. So, respecting his sensibilities, I will simply say thank you Keith for your service -- well done.”
The board stood to applaud Knauss, who said, “I put a lot of time in for the school board and the district, but it's returned personal growth and personal satisfaction many times over. I can say it was a difficult job, but I can also say it was very rewarding. Tonight I'm going to leave the district business in the hands of this very intelligent school board, dedicated administrators, great teachers, and great support personnel. I appreciate all the people who make this district really great.”
Board president Victor Dupuis added, “Rather than talking about what we're going to miss, I'd like to talk about the legacy of transparency. When Keith was not on the board, he was the champion of requesting right-to-know, and he may be one of the leading experts on right-to-know in Pennsylvania. As a board member, he has been a very strong advocate for transparency in our deliberations, and even in our discussions, so our constituents can know how we feel about the issues. The board is much more fiscally responsible today. That's a result of Keith's insistence. We all say, 'Thank you. Job well done.'”
Knauss left the stage, but added with a smile, “Don't mess up or I'll be back in two years.”
The board's student representative, Alice Liu from Unionville High School, gave a report on student news, and introduced Matthew Daniels, who addressed the board from the audience about a student-led effort to alter the start times for classes in the district.
“Alice and I have been working with the Chester County Student Forum to progress the concept of delayed school start times,” Daniels told the board. “The concept started in my freshman year, after the American Pediatric Association released studies finding that high school students really performed better when they start school at a later time than the traditional 7:30 start time that we currently have. Now, 24 months later, we have had an approval for continuation of this concept, so now with the Student Forum, students are going back to their schools and are doing an independent study, talking to administrators, teachers and students to find the pros and cons behind pushing back the start of school. At the end of this year, we will have a final proposal for the Chester County Board of Education. We're excited about this sleep study and we're seeing a lot of support from the community.”
Hellrung, who has been working on the proposal with the student team, said, “The Youth Forum is an open invitation to all high schools -- this year, nine out of 12 are participating. We hope that we will soon have all 12 school districts participating. We think this is a perfect real-world project. It's going to be a wonderful learning experience for the students.”
About 20 parents of third-grade students at Hillendale Elementary School attended the meeting or spoke to the board regarding what they see as excessive numbers of students in third grade at the school.
Leslie Newberger, a Pennsbury Township resident, said, “Last week, we raised to the board our issue about our somewhat large third-grade class size. We made an argument for the addition of a language arts section in Hillendale's third grade. This group of kids has been squeezed by larger-than-average class sizes throughout their tenure. This year we're feeling the pinch a bit more with the PSSA tests coming up in March. With fewer students, our language arts teachers could become more nimble and offer more individualized instruction. We ask that you reduce class size to allow teaches to spend more time with deep dives into the text, in order to support all students.”
Dupuis responded that the board and district superintendent John Sanville have discussed the situation. “There are two issues – the immediate relief to the language arts section, and the bigger issue of limits to class size in general,” Dupuis said. “To the latter, that's a budget issue that will be addressed as part of the normal annual budget process, which begins in January. As for the immediate issue of language arts, I have asked the administration to bring specific information to our curriculum meeting in November on the rationale for their current position, and if they are in a position to consider a different position about the language arts situation.”
Board member Do responded, “I am concerned about the length of time. Under that scenario, even if a change were to be made, it would not happen until halfway through the school year at the earliest. The parents have argued that relief is needed much sooner than that.”
Lindner added, “I think we need to move forward with more velocity. I understand the position to move this to next month and have it go to the Curriculum Committee, but if we could also look out for who might be a fit for that job, we could have a name in place to allow us to do this quickly.”
“If that' s the will of the board, we can definitely start the process of a potential opening,” Sanville said. “It's simple to do.”
In a dissenting argument, Hellrung said, “The class size issue is a recurring issue. That makes it ideal for a policy decision. We have a policy for establishing class sizes. We spend a few hundred dollars less than $20,000 per student to educate our students at Unionville-Chadds Ford, and I think we get a value for that and I don't recommend we spend anything less. But I do recommend that we be careful stewards of our financial resources. If we have lower class sizes, that means more teachers and more classrooms, and ultimately that means more schools. If we have a significant change in our class sizes -- and I've heard 18 as maybe an ideal class size -- we'd find we don't have classroom space, that we need a new school, and that's something we can't do.
“Our class sizes have been 21 or 22 for kindergarten through second grade. They've been 25 or 26 for grades three through five. That's been the case for 20 years or so.Tthose numbers are based on research and experience here with our teachers and out students. I read the packet the Hillendale parents have provided. Where does this information come from? If it comes from an advocacy group, we need to be cautious.”
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.