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U-CF School Board prepares for new school year

08/22/2017 09:59AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

A relatively short meeting for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board on Aug. 21 included some last-minute hiring and staff adjustments for the school year, which begins on Aug. 28.

In his opening remarks, district superintendent John Sanville set the tone for the year by saying, “We are preparing to welcome 4,000 students, 700 employees and 3,500 families to the 2017-18 school year. We will be opening our arms as wide as we can to embrace everyone. In a year when we are so divided as a nation, I am thankful to be part of the U-CF community that accepts differences and focuses on common goals. We are a thoughtful, respectful and caring place. A place that has not, and will not, tolerate harassment, intimidation or hate of any kind. A place where every person can feel safe and be respected.”

Before a vote on a list of tentative school field trips for the year, board member Gregg Lindner reiterated his comments from a previous meeting that, “Some of these day trips are too expensive. Particularly, there's one that costs almost $200 to see a play in New York. My concern is that places a burden on many parents, and we should avoid those kinds of trips.”

Assistant superintendent John Nolen agreed, saying, “We did have a discussion with the high school administration about this last week. They concur 100 percent. We will continue to be very careful. For that specific trip, we're going to look for alternatives.”

Lindner said, “Thank you for such a fast turnaround.”

“It's important to us that these activities are available at a reasonable rate to all students,” Nolen responded.

The bridge in Pocopson, which has been under construction for months, is slated to be completed on Sept. 1, Sanville said, adding that the company has a firm deadline, with penalties for being late. “We have sent messages to families whose students are part of that bus route over that bridge,” he said. “For the first four days, students will be on a slightly longer bus ride until the bridge opens up.”

At last week's school board meeting, the board heard from school nurses about an updated immunization rule from the state that had some families scrambling to get their children to a doctor before the start of school. The district is adjusting its policy to align with the state guidelines.

“The immunization policy came up for first reading last week,” Sanville said. “Administrators and nurses and support staff in all six of our buildings contacted the families of 250 students who were not in compliance with the new immunization policy for start of the school year. We are feverishly receiving immunization notifications from families.” The number of students who do not meet the requirements “is now about cut in half,” Sanville added.

During comments regarding legislation affecting the district, board member Jeff Hellrung addressed the delay in an approved state budget, saying, “I'm rather dismayed to see that. We're just not getting a revenue package out of the legislature. I did not think they should have been taking vacation this summer without giving us a budget. The state is quickly getting into trouble regarding cash reserves to pay bills. It's not a good situation in Harrisburg.”

Hellrung then read from his statement about a reduction in state PSSA testing for elementary school students that was approved by Gov. Wolf. “One test section will be eliminated in the math and English language arts PSSA test, amounting to a 93 minute total time reduction,” Hellrung said. “Also, approximately 22 minutes will be saved by eliminating questions from the PSSA science test. We all know our elementary students are subjected to far too many state and federally mandated, high-stakes standardized tests, right? So this reduction in time must be a fine idea.

“But wait,” he continued. “PSSA tests are designed to measure student achievement versus our Pennsylvania core content standards, and year-to-year growth for individual students. They are the only federally mandated or state tests for our elementary students. Math and language arts are tested annually in grades 3 to 8, and science is tested in grades 4 and 8.

“We devote approximately 0.5 percent of elementary school time from kindergarten through eighth grade to mandated testing. Is that excessive? The PSSA gives us our best and most comprehensive single measure of student learning. So why did we just diminish the value of the PSSA by reducing test time?

“The campaign against state testing is driven by a false narrative from many of our top educational leaders in Pennsylvania. Too many of these leaders claim that we are swamped by too many standardized tests. That's false. They also claim that test preparation takes an extreme amount of time and forces out creativity, exploration and collaboration. But school districts that overdo test preparation have only themselves to blame. They shortchange students in the futile hope that the result will be a better report card for the district. Instead, they should integrate PSSA content into their curriculum and trust their well-qualified teachers.

“PSSA scores have no influence on promotion, placement or grades for our students,” Hellrung said. “For teachers, they offer valuable feedback that can lead to continuous improvement in their educational practices. The PSSA does have the potential to embarrass school districts. I believe most senior administrators who criticize the PSSA are trying to escape accountability for the performance of their students and their schools.”

Updated information on the school district is available at www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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