York City School District’s community action committee takes shape

Carol Saylor, chief recovery officer for the York City School District, said about 50 people have been tapped for the community action committee she and York Mayor Kim Bracey are to lead.

Here’s a look at who’s on the list. Keep in mind that the committee is less formal than a typical committee that meets regularly.

Annette Anderson

Elodia Barajas, a parent liaison in the school district

Kim Bracey, York mayor

Sara Bradley

Michael Breeland, school board member

Jeanne Buckingham

Warren Bulette, leads the York County Taxpayers Council

Carla Christopher

Jane Conover, York County Community Foundation

Felix Diaz

Wanda Dorm

Michael Doweary, York City’s business administrator

Beth Fogleman, a district parent

Lois Garnett, school board member

Manuel Gomez

Sara Gray-Bradley

Pamela Gunter-Smith, York College president

Carol Hall

Christine Heine, York Country Day School head of school

Michael Helfrich, city council member

Carol Hill-Evans, city council president

Michelle Hovis

Michael Jefferson

Michael Johnson

Harry Kehler

Jeffrey Kirkland, former school board president

Juanita Kirkland

Gary Kraybill

Monica Kruger, parent

Robert Lambert

Pat London

Eric Menzer, York Revolution

Michael Miller, school board member

Richard Miller

April Murray

Deloris Penn,

Genevieve Ray, former city council member

Judy Ritter-Dickson

David Satterlee, city council member

Kevin Schreiber, state representative

Charles Sexton

Bobby Simpson, Crispus Attucks Association

Stinson Stroup

John Sygielski, HACC president

Sandra Thompson, NAACP president

Bob Tome, local pastor and school volunteer

Sandie Walker, school board member

Sherry Washington, Thackston Charter School president

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School construction reimbursement part of budget battle

Districts around York County are among those awaiting reimbursement from the state for construction costs. Just how those costs should be covered by the state is one of the many issues associated with the state budget.

Here’s a look at what’s being considered.

What’s PlanCon? 

It’s the system by which the state reimburses school districts for some school construction costs.

What’s wrong with it? 

By all accounts, it’s an antiquated (think large binders and microfilm), paperwork-heavy, multi-step process that’s a pain to navigate.  And in recent years, a number of districts have become stuck at steps G and H – right before money actually starts flowing. There was a moratorium on new applications, money stopped flowing for those applications already in, and many districts are still waiting for funds they expected to receive.

What’s happening now?

PlanCon changes are maybe not the hottest part of the budget battle, but they’re part of it.

The GOP-backed budget would have zeroed out the line item for PlanCon. Instead, that plan would have had the state, in the future, take out a $5 billion bond, which would be used to pay off those districts stuck at step G or later. (The state would of course have to pay off the bond down the road.)

The governor’s budget proposal included flat funding of more than $300 million for PlanCon payments next year, essentially leaving things as they are now.

What’s the difference?

State Rep. Seth Grove, who has long been lobbying for streamlining PlanCon, said the change in the GOP budget would catch school districts up on money they are owed and help lower their debt load. It clears out the queue of projects waiting, he said.

Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, said Wolf’s proposal is status quo, but it’s status quo of a broken system.

Himes called the proposed change innovative. It should save the districts and the state money, he said.

“It should be a win win,” he said.

Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said Wolf understands PlanCon funding is important, especially with other school funding cuts in recent years. As as budget talks continue, the administration will work with school officials to ensure they have “the flexibility to make decisions about where to best invest education funding, including on construction projects,” he said.

What’s happening in York County?

According to lists shared by Grove, there are three districts – Dover, Northern York County, and South Eastern – with projects stuck at step G, and seven – Central York, Dallastown, Hanover Public, South Western, Southern York County, York City and York Suburban – at step H.

What about future projects?

In the future, if there isn’t another moratorium, a line item in the next budget would be used to cover new projects and other costs, Grove said. A school code bill, also vetoed by Wolf, would have created a committee to make recommendations on PlanCon reforms, he said.

Grove discussed the proposed changes in the video below.

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She helped a garden grow at Windsor Manor Elementary

A garden at Windsor Manor Elementary will be removed this month, according to Melanie Markowski. She's helped students tend it for 15 years.

A garden at Windsor Manor Elementary will be removed this month, according to Melanie Markowski. She’s helped students tend it for 15 years. (Submitted)

For 15 years, Melanie Markowski has helped the Junior Garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School blossom. But all good things, it seems, eventually come to an end.

Markowski, of Windsor, said the garden will be removed in July because of renovations the Red Lion Area School District plans to make. She started the garden with a grant and since has advised the Junior Garden Club at Windsor Manor and Mazie Gable elementary schools.

Students have been tending the garden for 15 years, and Markowski estimates that thousands of children have toured it during that time. The 1,200 square feet of beds include are gardens certified as a Monarch Waystation and a National Wildlife Schoolyard Habitat Site, she said.

Markowski – a volunteer – reached out because she wanted to thank those who have helped with the effort during that time.

Here’s what Markowski wrote:

Students have worked in a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School for years.

Students have worked in a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School for years. (Submitted)

“For the past fifteen years the elementary students of Windsor Manor and Mazie Gable have created a garden oasis for wildlife at the Windsor Manor Elementary.  Due to renovations by the school district the gardens will be removed in July and permanently closed.  I would like to reach out to the many students who have both contributed to, and toured the gardens, to say thank you for your efforts on behalf of wildlife and to beautify your community.

Though the Junior Garden program at Windsor Manor has ended, students and other gardeners are encouraged to continuing to garden at your own homes and with your families; and plant flowers and trees to attract wildlife like butterflies, bees, birds, small mammals and amphibians to your homes.

Melanie Markowski started a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School 15 years ago. (Submitted)

Melanie Markowski started a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School 15 years ago. (Submitted)

Students as Windsor Manor Junior Garden Club members and in general people who garden, learn the basics of gardening, such as tool safety, planting, trimming, composting, mulching, and weeding as well as enhance their abilities to work in a group, work together on tasks, make decisions, problem solve, and accept their different ways of doing a task all while reaching common end goals.  Gardeners enjoy mild exercise and  learn patience waiting for the garden to develop.  Discovering nature and learning to care more about the environment are bonuses.”

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York City schools see principal changes

Melanie Still - who was assistant principal at Hannah Penn K-8 School in this photo - has been named principal at Ferguson K-8 School in York.

Melanie Still – who was assistant principal at Hannah Penn K-8 School in this photo – has been named principal at Ferguson K-8 School in York. (File photo)

Principals in York City are shuffling around for the 2015-16 school year.

A large school board agenda Wednesday night contained a lot of personnel related items, including the rearranging of some principals in the district.

Here’s a look at the new lineup:

Devers K-8 School: Denise Blackwell (previously at Ferguson)

Jackson K-8 School: Philip Livelsberger (previously at Hannah Penn K-8 School)

Hannah Penn K-8 School: Brandon Hufnagel (most recently assistant principal at William Penn)

Ferguson K-8 School: Melanie Still (previously assistant principal at Hannah Penn)

Davis K-8 School: Mindy Sweitzer (most recently at Devers K-8 School, previously led Cornerstone)

Brandon Carter was named principal at William Penn – a role he was already filling in an “acting” capacity. It appears that Randy James, at Goode K-8 School, and Danielle Brown, at McKinley K-8 School, are staying put.

Lulu Thomas, who was principal at Davis, has moved to the administration building as director of pupil personnel services.

Asked about the changes, Supt. Eric Holmes said the district takes a look at each administrator’s strengths and tries to match them with the various schools. He added that last year, there were about 11 administrators in “acting” roles around the district, so some appointments were officially filling positions.

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Superintendents get letter on spending Wolf’s proposed education increase

A letter to Pennsylvania superintendents from acting education Secretary Pedro Rivera describes how the state wants school districts to use proposed additional funds in classrooms.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would increase basic education funding by $400 million, the letter says, and Wolf’s proposal includes two accountability measures for using it.

All districts will be required to use “a portion of their basic education funding increase that exceeds the inflation-based index” for evidence based programs such as: early childhood education programs like pre-kindergarten, summer learning programs, additional instructional time, smaller early elementary classes, hybrid learning options, and more.

Wolf also wants to see the effectiveness of the additional investments, the letter says, so districts will choose benchmarks for that purpose. Those could include looking at the percentage of additional students able to read on grade level by the end of third grade, progress in closing the achievement gap, improvements in high school graduation and dropout rates and more.

The letter says they should submit plans mid-May.

Read the full letter below.

Update: Senate Republicans issued a news release late today saying it is premature to mandate districts submit plans for the proposed funding.

“This latest political stunt by the Wolf Administration completely disregards the need for the legislative process,” Sen. Joe Scarnati said in the release.  “Governor Wolf and his Administration are placing a significant burden on our school officials by mandating that they complete these reports for funding, which has not been vetted by the Legislature.”

Read that news release here.

Letter to Superintendents by Governor Tom Wolf

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Are mini-horses coming to school? Probably not, but just in case …

This tweet first drew my attention.


That’s when I learned York Suburban School District was looking at updating its service animal policy (among a host of other policies). It includes the addition of a section on when a miniature horse can be used as a service animal. (See the draft here.)

I asked Steve Whiteley, a teacher at York Suburban, if someone was actually seeking to use miniature horse as a service animal, and he said he didn’t think so, but found it odd.

As did a few other people who emailed us.

So I sent an email to Supt. Shelly Merkle, who wrote back “Believe me, we also had a little bit of fun with the idea of miniature horses in the buildings.”

"Chipper", a minature horse from EquiTeam support services, appeared at the Autism Walk in 2014. (I don't think Chipper is a service animal as defined by the proposed York Suburban policy, but Chipper helps therapists working with children who have communication or sensory issues.) (File photo)

“Chipper,” a minature horse from EquiTeam support services, appeared at the Autism Walk in 2014. (I don’t think Chipper is a service animal as defined by the proposed York Suburban policy, but Chipper helps therapists working with children who have communication or sensory issues.) (File photo)

But apparently, recent court appeals have ruled in favor of the use of miniature horses as service animals. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association recommends policy revisions that incorporate the latest court decisions so that districts are prepared, she said.

“So, no, we have not had a request for use of a miniature horse as a service animal but at least one other district has … and we will now be prepared,” she said.

Often, if you see one district making a change like this, you’ll see it in others, too. The York Suburban update will go before the board March 16, according to board documents.

This 2011 Associated Press story says that updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act added miniature horses as service animals. At that point, not many people used mini horses, the story says.

Here’s more info from the ADA on miniature horses as service animals.

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Mentors take York boys to Temple University

Mentors took a group of York City School district students on a trip to Temple University recently. (submitted photo)

Mentors took a group of York City School district students on a trip to Temple University recently. (submitted photo)

A group of third- and fourth-grade boys from York City School District recently spent a day at Temple University, thanks to a group of mentors.

Jeff Kirkland, one of the trip’s organizers, said it was arranged through BT Express, a program Kirkland’s brother Kerry Kirkland founded, that works with students at the high school level. Jeff Kirkland said organizers thought it would be beneficial to reach students at a younger age.

The boys started their day with breakfast at Shady Maple, then headed to Philadelphia for a tour of the Temple University campus. Then they watched Temple win over University of Connecticut in basketball. Kirkland said conversations centered around character, leadership and responsibility.

About 30 students and 15 mentors participated, he said. The students were chosen by their school principals to participate.

“This was the beginning,” Kirkland said, adding that it took a while to gather donations for the trip, and he hopes mentors will be checking in on students periodically. A spring fishing trip is being planned.

Anyone interested in helping with the mentoring efforts can call Kirkland at 434-8504 or Barry Freeland at 848-6700.

Kirkland provided this list of mentors: Continue reading “Mentors take York boys to Temple University” »

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Miss White Rose City to promote early reading around York

Caroline Jones, Miss White Rose City (submitted)

Caroline Jones, Miss White Rose City (submitted)

Caroline Jones, Miss White Rose City, will visit area schools next week to highlight the importance of reading early and often to children, according to a news release.

Through the United Way of York County, Jones will visit the following schools: York Academy Regional Charter School, York Day Nursery, McKinley K-8 School, and Crispus Attucks’ preschool and after-school programs, Conewago Elementary School, Mount Wolf Elementary School and Otterbein Learning Center.

As Miss White Rose City, Jones, from Mountain Top, Pa.,  represents York in the Miss America Organization.

A freshman at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Jones is an advocate for education and childhood literacy and author/illustrator of “One More Book, Please!”

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Scholarships available for York City students

Attention York City seniors: York City Dollars for Scholars wants to give you a scholarship!

Well, they’d like to consider it anyway. But you have to apply.

The organization needs more students to apply for its scholarships, school board member James Sawor told the board on Wednesday night. Seniors who live in the city school district can apply.

Sawor said about 50 students initially expressed interest in the scholarships, but as of last week only 12 had finished and submitted their applications. Scoring starts March 8, so there’s still time to get those applications in.

There are 48 scholarships available typically in amount of about $1,000 to $1,500, Sawor said.

Additionally, there’s a scholarship available for students who are going to be music majors in college that Sawor said sometimes goes unawarded. (One of those many passionate music students we hear from in York City must be planning to major in it, right?)

So the opportunities are out there. Seek information at the school (try your guidance counselor or ask in the office) if you are interested in applying or pass the word along!

Update: I tweeted this blog entry and learned that the York County Hispanic Coalition has scholarship opportunities, too. It looks like you have until March 27 on those, so get moving!

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York County superintendents weigh in on state issues

Three York County superintendents testified before the state House education committee last week on issues including Keystone exams and ever-changing state standards.

Red Lion Area School District Supt. Scott Deisley, Northern York County Supt. Eric Eshbach and Central York Supt. Michael Snell all appeared before the committee on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

According to copies of their testimony, Deisley testified with a Delaware County superintendent, Lee Ann Wentzel, on House Bill 177, which would establish a commission to study and make recommendations on the Pennsylvania Core Standards.

They offered support for the bill but cautioned that schools and families are feeling “a bad case of state policy whiplash” from the frequently changing standards, according to a copy of their testimony. Districts face difficulty in adjusting curriculum to meet standards when they change so frequently. For example, Red Lion has had to adjust its five year curriculum review cycle and instead make changes nearly every year in some curriculum areas, the testimony says.

Eshbach and Snell spoke on House Bill 168, which would keep the state from using the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement, among other things.

The superintendents supported the bill, saying that in York County there’s been significant work to analyze Keystone scores and adjust instruction to try to ensure all students can pass. But while all students are expected to pass, schools are also required to differentiate instruction for each child’s needs.

The superintendents also raised concern that the exams don’t look at critical 21st Century skills and could end up taking away from the time students at vocational technical schools are spending on their career skills, measured by another exam.

Read the testimony below. Click here to see who else testified.


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