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Chester County Press

Avon Grove School Board’s devotion to students shines at strategic initiatives meeting

02/28/2024 01:07PM ● By Colleen Cochran

The dedication Avon Grove School Board members hold for district students is evident at every school board meeting, but at the strategic initiative meetings their commitment to students resounds. It is at these meetings that board members, along with an equally dedicated group of administrators and teachers, brainstorm ways to benefit students and then give those ideas legs.

On Feb. 20, the board held its first Strategic Initiatives meeting of the 23-24 school year. Assistant superintendent of Avon Grove School District Scott DeShong, Ed.D., kicked off the meeting by describing the Avon Grove School District’s Comprehensive Plan, which has been in place since 2022. A comprehensive plan provides the guiding framework for beneficial programs for students, and creation of such a plan is a requirement of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

DeShong said, “Our  plan for the 22-25 school years is to, one, focus on high-quality academics; two, foster supportive learning environments; and three, to establish healthy systems conditions,” a concept that functionally will involve making improvements to school operational conditions and promotion of a diverse workforce.

The ultimate goal for the district is to ensure that students build academic, emotional, and social competencies that will enable them to experience successes not only at Avon Grove schools but well into the future. 

Superintendent of Schools M. Christopher Marchese, Ed.D. said, “Preparing kids to be future ready—there’s this whole other lane that requires us to ensure that, whether they go to college, enter the workforce or the military, they’ll know where their passions, their interests, and their value sets lie.”

Six teams, composed of teachers and administrators, have been formed to focus on specific projects that will bring the comprehensive plan to fruition. Patti Schmaltz, K-12 supervisor of teaching and learning, spoke about the work of her team, which is dedicated to creating a profile of a future-ready Avon Grove graduate. 

She said, thus far, the team gathered a group of community members, parents and caregivers, and other stakeholders to formulate a consensus on skills and competencies that students should possess as they ascend district schools and by the time they make their final departure through the high school doors. 

The profile they devised includes knowledge-based skills, such as mastery of core academics, application skills, such as the ability to think critically, and character-building skills, such as an ability to weather challenges and recover from setbacks—in short, resilience.

She said, “Our next step is to determine how to implement future-readiness competencies in the classrooms, to determine what we are already doing right, and where the gaps lie, so we can fill those in.”

Once Schmaltz completed her presentation, Emlyn Frangiosa, supervisor of teaching and learning in Avon Grove School District, spoke about the work of her team, the Envoys for Equity Team. The purpose of this team is to ensure students are receiving equitable access to education as it relates to curricular and extracurricular activities.

“We have three big initiatives underway right now,” she said, “First, we developed transportation community partners, got a quote from them, and discovered we can afford to provide students with buses from after-school sports at the middle school and high school.”

The team first surveyed students, and the feedback they received informed them that students felt they had equal access to activities that occurred during the school day, but many were unable to participate in after-school programs due to transportation issues. 

Frangiosa explained, “We are providing these buses for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in sports without them.”

A second deliverable of the Envoy for Equity team is to provide free physicals to students who are interested in participating in sports but do not have access to a physician. Free physicals were already offered to students for the spring season, and they will be available again, on campus, on June 3 for fall sports participants.

Finally, the team has instituted a name initiative, a concerted effort to ensure that students and teachers are saying each other’s name correctly. The team made a video in which students stated how they felt when people said their names incorrectly. They also had members of the administrative team, teachers, and students vocally record their preferred names so that all can click on a name in the Schoology computer program and hear how to say it correctly.

Bill Wood, board member, applauded this initiative. He said, “Name is identity. It’s cultural heritage. It’s so many things. It makes me understand where you are and who you are. This initiative makes people aware of the basic dignity of humanity. It’s got huge ripple effects. It’s great.”

Meeting participants went on to discuss the importance of community partnerships. DeShong described one successful partnership that will be expanding during the 24-25 school year. He said, “The school district has had a relationship with Delaware County Community College for many years through a dual enrollment program in which Avon Grove students travel to the college or participate in its virtual classes. Recently, the college received a grant through the Justamere Foundation, out of Exton, that will enable eight of our students to participate, free of charge, in a two-year program during their junior and senior years, which will provide them with an opportunity to earn up to 38 post-secondary credits through the teacher education program.

He went to discuss the benefits of the grant. During their senior years, participants in the program will gain field experience inside one of Avon Grove School District’s classrooms, an opportunity that will not only benefit the participating student, but all the students in the classroom and the district itself. Furthermore, all the credits earned will be accepted by West Chester University, should a student choose to matriculate to that university. If they choose to go to another university, that school will decide how many of the credits will transfer.

If the student does choose to attend West Chester University, they will be equipped with a success coach who will help them develop into a successful learner.

This service is free of charge. DeShong stated that interested students and families could learn more about the program at an informational session to be held on Feb. 28 at Opportunities Night. 

The strategic initiative school board meeting was not just about ways to benefit students. Board members are also charged with being good stewards of taxpayers’ money. The district’s director of business administration and CFO Dan Carsley gave a report in which he outlined ways the district is saving money, including by making changes to utilities billing and removing some personnel positions. He reported that changes made resulted in a net $59,000 reduction in district expenditures and that the district has an overall budget of $114,621,215. His office proposes a “0” tax increase for taxpayers.  

The next Avon Grove School Board meeting dedicated to strategic initiatives will be held on March 12.