After a busy year, Avon Grove looks forward to an even busier 2020
● By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School District just concluded a busy year that included approximately 1,001 decisions about the high school project and a highly contested school board election that swung control of the board to a group of school board members who have supported building a state-of-the-art high school and investing in a broad range of initiatives, including full-day kindergarten, to boost academic initiatives for students.
What comes next after an active 2019?
Another busy year, according to Bill Wood, the school board member who was recently selected as board president. During an interview in mid-December, Wood talked about the large number of tasks that await the school district in 2020.
The Avon Grove School Board will still have another 1,001 decisions to make with regard to the construction of a new high school in 2020, but soon the project will largely be in the hands of professionals—the architects and engineers and construction managers who will help make the new school a reality.
That will allow the school board to have longer discussions about what matters most—the education of students.
Wood said that the high school project is still on schedule for a groundbreaking at some point in 2020. It will be a major responsibility for district officials to oversee the effort to keep the project on time and under budget. But as the high school project progresses, district officials will also be able to shift their focus a bit to the initiatives aimed at increasing academic opportunities for students and boosting student achievement.
Since Dr. Christopher Marchese was hired as superintendent in August of 2013, the school district has undertaken a wide variety of initiatives that he has referred to as a “reinvestment in Avon Grove.” These initiatives have included investing heavily in technology and curriculum to boost academic opportunities for students, funding improvements to school buildings to make them safer for students, and implementing a full-day kindergarten program to help the district’s youngest students get off to a good start. Avon Grove has also been able to boost salaries for staff so that the district no longer suffers from extremely high turnover rates—at one time, not that long ago, the district would hire a lot of new teachers, train them, and then see them leave for other school districts for higher pay.
Add it all up and Avon Grove has made great strides in becoming a school district where administrators and teachers can be very proud of the work that is being done on behalf of students.
“The teachers and staff see the innovative things that are being done. It seems like Avon Grove is becoming a sought-after destination,” Wood said.
Wood, who has served on the school board since September of 2016, is pleased about the idea of having more discussions about things that are taking place in the classroom—and how the school board can make decisions about initiatives that will be beneficial for Avon Grove students from kindergarten through the twelfth grade.
For example, the school district developed a literacy plan that has been a model for other school districts, and Avon Grove is now focusing on reviewing its mathematics curriculum. Avon Grove implemented a district-wide curriculum review cycle and a vast majority of the K-12 courses have been reviewed and modified accordingly to meet the needs of students.
Wood said that the school district is looking at Spanish immersion for students at Penn London Elementary School so that the students can learn a language at a younger age—this has proven to be the most effective way to learn a language, rather than attempting to learn a second language while in middle school or high school.
Making sure that every student has an opportunity to reach his or her potential is a goal of the school district. In the 2018 - 2019 school year, 127 Avon Grove High School seniors took part in college and career readiness programming through dual enrollment and similar programs. Avon Grove officials are continually looking at ways to offer more opportunities to students.
For high school students, the district wants an experience that prepares them for what awaits in college.
“We continue to explore blended learning models—allowing students to work in small groups or individually,” Wood explained.
The number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams and the number of exams administered has been steadily increasing for more than a decade. This also helps prepare students for college.
Wood said that the district is looking at the possibility of offering AP courses in language and culture that are directed at English as a Second Language students who could benefit from the opportunity to take these courses.
One of the ongoing efforts that the district has been working on is ensuring the safety of school buildings.
“The safety and security of students is always a priority,” Wood said. He explained that a big part of the effort to ensure the safety and security of students goes to improving the social and emotional support for students so that no student wants to do anything harmful to themselves or to others. The school district has implemented a multi-tiered system of supports that focuses on both academic and behavioral concerns. Additional guidance counselors have also been hired. Wood said that it’s important for students to feel like they have an adult that they can trust and turn to.
“We want to create a sense of belonging for all the students and the staff,” he said.
Wood noted that Avon Grove has already made strides in this endeavor. “As you walk around the school buildings, I think there is a sense of connectedness,” he said.
Wood said that the school district will take a slow, careful process to roll out any changes so that the students and their parents are aware of them.
A committee-of-the-whole meeting regarding the planning and construction of the new high school will take place on Thursday, Jan. 9 at 6:30 p.m. The Avon Grove School Board will hold its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the Avon Grove Intermediate School audion.