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Chester County Press

Avon Grove School Board addresses a variety of items on full agenda

03/26/2018 12:04PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Policy changes, committee reports, an update to the special education comprehensive plan, and the recognition of high school students who advanced in the National Merit Scholarship program topped the Avon Grove School Board's agenda on March 22.

School board member Herman Engel, who serves on the district's Finance and Budget Committee, offered an update to the school board about the committee's most recent work. The Finance and Budget Committee reviewed the proposed expenditures in the 2018-2019 budget, and how those expenditures compared to spending in the current year's budget. Engel also updated the school board about Tower Health's efforts to secure relief from property taxes for Jennersville Hospital. Tower Health purchased that hospital in Penn Township, as well as four other hospitals in the region, in 2017. Previously, when the hospitals were under the ownership of for-profit Community Health Systems, the hospitals paid taxes to school districts, like any other business would. However, Tower Health is seeking relief from the property taxes. Engel noted that three school districts that would be significantly impacted by a tax status change for the hospitals—Avon Grove, Coatesville, and Phoenixville—have requested a meeting with the CEO of Tower Health, but that meeting has not have been scheduled as of yet.

The school board rejected, by a 5-4 vote, the second reading of a policy pertaining to operating guidelines for committee activities. School board members Bill Wood and John Auerbach expressed concerns about some details in the policy, particularly one aspect of it that would allow school board members to participate in meetings remotely, utilizing technologies that are now readily available. Wood, Auerbach, Charles Beatty, Lynn Weber, and Rick Dumont all voted against the second reading of the policy.

The nine Avon Grove students who earned the National Merit Finalist and National Merit Commended designations were also recognized. Avon Grove High School's National Merit Finalists for 2017-2018 are Zachary Aman, Nicholas Chastain, and Bryce De Muth. The school's National Merit Commended students are Devin Trinter, Joseph Snyder, Meredith Raughley, Regan Pavlock, Michael Gidaro, and Isabella Currie.

Avon Grove High School principal Scott DeShong explained that out of the 1.5 million students who take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, only about 50,000, or 3 percent, score high enough to earn the designation of being National Merit Commended students.

DeShong said that the nine students have all made an impact on the Avon Grove school community, and he expects them all to leave a legacy at the post-secondary schools that they will be attending next.

Students involved with AGtv, the high school's television studio, talked about the wide range of experiences that they have had while producing content that is viewed by the school community.

Jeremy Curtis and Cale Hilbolt outlined the update to the school district's Special Education Comprehensive Plan. The comprehensive plan is a compliance document that the state requires school districts to file.

Curtis, the district's director of pupil services, explained that the comprehensive plan talks a lot about staffing and offers a blueprint for the district's special education plans.

Hilbolt, Avon Grove's director of special education, said that the district is working very hard to offer inclusive programs so that Avon Grove can keep as many special education students as possible in the district's schools, rather than having them be out-placed and educated elsewhere.

The number of special education students who are being educated outside of the district's schools has been reduced from more than 50 in recent years to 40 for the current school year. The district is looking to reduce that number even further in the future.

“We are trying to educate every special education student as best we can,”Hilbolt said.

Curtis said that the special education comprehensive plan will be available to the public for review. The goal is to have it approved and signed off on by superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese and school board president Tracy Lisi on April 26.

Shannon Oakes, a student representative to the school board, talked about the student-led walkout at the high school that took place on Wednesday, March 14. The walkout was timed to coincide with similar demonstrations at schools across the country to raise awareness about gun violence in schools in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when 17 people were killed.

Oakes explained that at Avon Grove High School, students were allowed to walk out of their classrooms and into the hallways and other secured areas from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. as a tribute to the Parkland victims. The students were completely silent during the tribute, and each minute one student would walk through the hallway to the office to read the name of a victim and provide a few details about the victim.

Oakes said that the students were very respectful, and having absolute silence in the school was a different experience.

“It was truly amazing,” she said.

Oakes noted that the student-led activity was coordinated with the school's administration, and was very orderly. She said that it was very important for the students to participate because it helped with the country-wide effort to raise awareness and support for school safety.

The next in a series of facilities planning meetings will take place at the Fred S. Engle Middle School on Tuesday, April 3. Another facilities planning meeting is set for Thursday, April 12 at 6 p.m. at the high school. Then, on Thursday, April 26, the school board will hold its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. at the Avon Grove Intermediate School.

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