Board addresses Hillendale class size concerns
By Karen Cresta, Staff Writer, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH – Unionville Elementary was the host for the Unionville Chadds Ford (UCF) School Board meeting on Monday night with interim principal John Nolen at the helm. Prior to the board’s comments about Keith Knauss’ service on the board, the students entertained the board and audience with a choral concert and a presentation by teachers on the happenings at the school.
Board member Gregg Lindner was the first to comment after fellow board member Jeff Hellrung announced the recommendation of the board for Knauss’ resignation as an agenda item. Hellrung said, “I thank Keith for always bringing an educated perspective, even if you were usually wrong, into the discussion and for making me think. At times it moderated my own views and at a minimum it made me think through the process better in order to make my own points. Keith has given large amounts of time to be part of the board. Nobody gives that much time if they do not care and Keith cares.”
Steve Simonson, board member followed Lindner’s comments by saying, “I think you’ve been a successful advocate for a sound financial approach to a thorough and efficient educational system. Your approach has influenced me and I feel your departure will leave an important void on the board. I wish you the best as you leave the board to spend time with your family and other pursuits.”
Another board member, Kathleen Do, who was often in opposition of Knauss’ stand on issues, stated, “Over the last four years, when it has come to issues regarding spending priorities for the district, I often found myself on the opposite side of the argument from Keith and no matter what argument I and like-minded board members came up with, Keith always had a counter argument and it was always delivered without emotion or dramatic flair.”
Board member Carolyn Daniels added, “Your willingness to inform and discuss with all of us on the issues was always impressive and appreciated whether or not everyone agreed or disagreed. Thank you for your hard work and commitment.”
Board member Hellrung added his sentiments by saying, “Keith knows how I feel about him, both personally and in terms of school board service, because I’ve told him and the board knows. So respecting his sensibilities, I will simply say thank you, Keith, for your service. Well done.”
Former board member president, Dr. Corrine Sweeney, from the New Bolten Center, presented flowers and took the opportunity to thank Knauss and said, “I’m here to express a very sincere thank you to Keith. Keith, you and I worked together for many years. We agreed often. We disagreed often and I think in many ways we are so different but in one way, I think, one very important way, we are very much alike in that we have always had, I think, in our decision making, the best of intentions and that, to me, is probably the most important.”
Knauss stood in front of the board after a standing ovation and said, “I put a lot of time in for the school board and for the district but it’s returned personal growth and personal satisfaction many times over. So, I can say it was a difficult job but I can also say it was very rewarding.”
Knauss concluded his comments by saying, “Tonight I’m going to leave the district business in the good hands of this very intelligent school board, dedicated administrators, great teachers, and great support personnel, Lucy, the bus driver, who will be with us forever. She picked up my kids when they started in kindergarten and she’s still going around to the neighborhood today. So, I appreciate all the people who make this district a really great district.”
“You are one of the top board members I ever worked with,” added Superintendent of Schools John Sanville.
The president of the school board, Vic Dupuis, said, “As a board member, he has been a very strong advocate for transparency in our deliberations. Not just in our deliberation but even in our discussions so our constituents can know not only what we are talking about but how we feel about the issues and what our perspectives are and what are the facts that we’re deliberating on as we make decisions. He’s been a champion for that and that’s a legacy that’s not going to stop with his departure. It’s a cultural value of this board that will go forward and we owe a lot of that to you.”
Knauss joked and added, “Don’t mess up or I’ll be back in two years!”
Alice Liu, student representative for the high school, reported on the happenings in the school and welcomed Matthew Daniels to the mic to speak about the sleep study work with the Chester County Student Forum and the possibility of delayed start times for students.
Daniels explained that the concept started after the American Pediatric Association released studies finding that high school students performed better with a delayed start time than the traditional 7:30 a.m. start time. He said that after two years, the continuation for the study was approved and the Student Forum is going back to their perspective schools and are doing independent studies and documenting the pros and cons. By year’s end, a final proposal will be brought before the Chester County Board of Education.
In other news, the topic of class size at Hillendale Elementary School for third graders was addressed again – as it was at last week’s work session. Several parents spoke to the board to address the excessive number of students in classes and the need for an additional language arts’ section and the impact it will have on PSSA preparedness in March. The request is to reduce class size to allow teachers to spend more time on individualized instruction and support the students’ needs.
Dupuis responded by saying, “There are two issues, the immediate relief to the language arts’ section and the bigger issue of limits to class size in general. To the latter, that’s a budget issue that will be addressed as part of the normal annual budget exploration process which typically begins in January. So for subsequent school years that’s when that issue will be addressed and as far as the immediate issue of language arts, again, I know that this was brought up in the spring and was brought up early in this fall and was brought up again. I’ve asked the administration to bring specific information to our curriculum and education technology meeting in November on, again, the rationale on their current position and/or if they are in a position to reconsider a different position with regards to the language arts’ section.”
Do responded by informing the board that she was concerned with the length of time and that “relief is needed much sooner than that.”
Sanville agreed and said it was simple to start the process of a potential opening for an additional teacher.
Hellrung argued that class size was a recurring issue and he cautioned the board that more teachers and more classrooms could ultimately lead to more schools. He mentioned that he read the packet that the Hellendale parents provided and also cautioned that the information comes from an advocacy group.
On a very different note, a senior at Unionville High School spoke on the issue of weapons in cars on school property and is in opposition of the current zero tolerance policy. He informed the board that he has a multi-tool that includes a straight blade a serrated knife in his car at the very moment he was speaking. He explained that the difference between a tool and a weapon is the person holding it.
Sanville mentioned that there will be a community forum on schools and student safety on November 13 and urged the students to attend to voice their opinions.
The next board meeting (work session) will be held at the district office on November 9, at 7:00 p.m. All board documents can be found on www.ucfsd.org.