Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board
By Katie Crawford
The Strath Haven High School update was the focus topic of the September 12 Wallingford Swarthmore School Board meeting. High school leaders identified two goals for each of the following areas of growth: professional, academic, and school climate. Principal Dr. MaryJo Yannacone and assistant principal Khris Brown outlined these school goals for the 2016-17 year.
Professionally, the administration will have their own “student learning objectives,” seeking to provide teacher supervision and evaluation that will most effectively support staff. Administration and staff will also participate in a book study as a means of improving their understanding and ability to respond to the social and emotional well being of students.
Eight books have been selected for review: The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen; Grit by Angela Duckworth; Spark by John Ratey; Poor Students, Richer Teaching: Mindsets that Raise Student Achievement by Eric Jensen; Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour; Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian with Kathy Stevens, Patricia Henley, and Terry Trueman. All teaching staff will select and participate in one book study, and administrators will participate in two.
The academic goals put forth for the coming year seek to increase and solidify personalized learning opportunities for high school students both at area universities and colleges, and through accredited online programs. In addition, the staff and administration are looking at how best to educate students on maintaining academic integrity in an increasingly digital age, noting that most universities and colleges have a zero tolerance policy for any violation.
As part of the school climate goal, student mentees will be handpicked this year to meet regularly with both student and teacher mentors. Noting the increase in teenage anxiety and depression, both nationally and at SHHS, Dr. Yannacone stressed the faculty and administration’s commitment to improving the mental and physical well being of students. To this end, a speakers series has been created in Delaware County focusing on wellness.
All county principals will be invited to this series, since real discussion surrounding some topics (such as the possibility of later high school start times) would never be possible without countywide collaboration. The series is organized in such a way as to accommodate time for parents, students, and community members to attend.
Dr. Brad Walgast will discuss helping teens understand the benefits of a good night’s sleep, Dr. Kyle Holsinger will discuss developing mental health and resilience in teens, and Dr. Dwight De Wirth-Pallmeyer will discuss cellphone dependency and addiction.
Dr. Yannacone noted the high school’s remarkable academic achievements over the past several years, stating, “we are in a good place academically,” thus the current focus on social and emotional well being of students.
Labor Contract Approved, With Dissent
The collective bargaining agreement between the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and the Wallingford-Swarthmore Education Association was approved by a vote of 7 to 1, with board member Paul Schregel voting against the agreement.
Schregel addressed the board with his concerns. In the short term, he noted, the contract will continue to allow for the district to attract teachers of the quality and caliber that the community has come to expect, and that if he were an administrator, “I would want this contract.”
But he stressed that he fears that the salary increase approved over the next four years, coupled with the ongoing increase in PSERS and special education costs, will eventually force the district to make program cuts, given that taxes are already among the highest in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Over the longterm, Schregel expressed his disappointment in elected representatives, senators, and judges who have consistently “put their personal interests ahead of the children,” stating that he no longer expects this to change.
Board member Jerry Ballas shared Mr. Schregel’s concern, however he stressed his “high degree of respect for the negotiation process,” and his confidence that all parties have a deep understanding of the district’s financial situation finding the final contract, “well balanced.” Schregel agreed that the contract negotiation team was “the strongest team possible to deal with these challenges.”
Board president Dr. Richard Sonntag noted that while teachers did receive a salary increase over four years, they also accepted decreases to their benefits package, resulting in an overall increase of 2.94%.
Superintendent Dr. Lisa Palmer noted the positive beginning of the school year and her particularly joyful visits to district elementary schools during the opening week. New student representative Valerie Henderson was also welcomed to the board.
In addition, Dr. Palmer informed the board about the first of what are hoped to be ongoing meetings with the superintendents of the Ridley and Penn-Delco school districts and State representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky. Their shared goal is improving communication with Harrisburg concerning school district needs in the current financial climate.