Board votes to reject hiring additional teacher for Hillendale
By Karen Cresta, Staff Writer, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH – The Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) Board of Education held its regular meeting last night that went past 11:00 p.m. as much more debate was held regarding adding a new .4 language arts teacher to the third grade at Hillendale based on class size. Newly elected board member Elise Anderson, retired member Keith Knauss’ replacement, cast her vote against adding the additional teacher as her first order of business on the board.
Anderson won the final vote with the five necessary for the appointment over candidates Al Iococca (two votes) and Jeanne Best (three votes). Board president Vic Dupuis swore in Anderson and welcomed her to a seat at the table.
During the fourth week of public and board comment and debate regarding classroom size, the board finally voted on the issue of adding a .4 teacher (and not about adding a third section). The vote occurred after a lengthy presentation by board member Robert Sage about each elementary school’s 3-5th grade class sizes, Pocopson being a larger school but also at its max in some classrooms, and that the circumstances at Hillendale are not unusual. He went over PSSA data, although limited, and it did not indicate class size made any difference in student outcomes. Sage also concluded that the administration consistently and fairly administered class size guidelines and made exceptions under narrow circumstances in the best interest of all students in all schools.
Do responded to the presentation by stating, “The class experience is in my mind the priority…While I appreciate the time that you spent with the study and you obviously spent a lot of time on it, I’m not sure you addressed that issue and I know that is the issue the parents are most concerned.”
Dupuis addressed the Hillendale parents in the audience by saying, “It’s been suggested that this advocacy group deserves a vote. I respectfully disagree. You deserve a decision, not a vote. Sometimes votes are necessary but when we already know the outcome, they are merely points of inflammation that add no value to the continuing discussion. I personally do not think this deserves a vote. As to the issue at hand and specifically the proposal to force the administration to add a section, I have to say we have still not heard any tangible, documented, irrefutable reason from any board member as to why this is necessary.”
“Perhaps more frustrating to me is this..,” Dupuis continued, “none of the board members proposing the change have visited, monitored, or observed the actual classes in action for extended periods of time, in some cases, none at all… Finally, none acknowledged, when pressed on their concerns, the parents of this advocacy group representing these classrooms aren’t advocating that class sizes be reduced by one or two students. They are advocating the reduction of four, five, or six students… That’s not a solution were prepared to deal with as a board, particularly tonight. It requires more study.”
Dupuis concluded that the only ones who have studied the class sizes in depth throughout the school district is the district administrators and that their judgement is best and should not be questioned toward a “vote of no confidence.” Dupuis mentioned his greatest fear of creating a wedge between parents and teachers, teachers and administrators, the district and the community and ended by saying, “Responsible board governance demands better behavior from us.”
Along with newly elected Anderson, board members who also voted against adding the .4 position at Hillendale was Sage, Dupuis, Jeff Hellrung and Steve Simonson. (Do, Gregg Lindner, Michael Rock and Carolyn Daniels voted for the additional position.)
The motion did not carry and moving forward, the board honored Do and recognized the mark she made as a board member over the last four years.
“You should be proud of the legacy you are leaving behind,” Superintendent of Schools John Sanville stated.
“You taught me how to be a better board member… You’re going to be sorely missed,” said Rock.
Daniels added as she presented flowers to Do, “You are passionate and you are just excellent in everything you do.”
“Your message has been heard. You made a difference,” said Hellrung.
Do wiped tears as Lindner spoke, “We went on this path together and once we were on the board, Kathy taught me things that I didn’t know existed within the school system…I couldn’t have done what I did without Kathy doing what she did…I’ve made a friend for life and to me there is nothing that could replace that.”
Dupuis echoed what the board already said and added that Do was an active listener and “will continue to advocate.”
Do received a standing ovation, made her last curriculum report, and read her prepared statement that thanked the board, administrators and principals, teachers and students. She cried when she addressed the students by saying, “Challenge yourselves to be the best you can be. Do not ever be intimated by fear you cannot keep up with the next student. Above all – be kind. Care about each other. Stand up for each other. I will never stop rooting for you and the wonderful adults you will become. If you want to dance, then dance.”
Do got up to leave the room during her second standing ovation and gave hugs to board members. She left with her family members as the board went back to business.
The principals of each of the six schools in the district provided the UCFSD Growth and Achievement Report. Each principal, Shawn Dutkiewicz (Chadds Ford Elementary), Steve Dissinger (Hillendale), Clif Beaver (Pocopson), acting principal John Nolen (Unionville Elementary), Tim Hoffman (Patton Middle School) and Jim Conley (Unionville High School), took turns presenting their respective school’s points of pride, standardized testing results, and goals for improving in opportunity areas.
Even though the meeting reached past the 10:00 hour, Rock made a lengthy prepared statement disparaging all the weight put on the PSSAs.
“Given the fads in education, this too shall pass. I want to applaud our teachers and our administrators for making the best of a very bad situation. I doubt these test have any long running effects but we’re stuck with them,” Rock said.
“My fear is that we do less of the latter, that is, engage kids in creative stuff then we would otherwise do because we’re trapped in a testing system that really pushes us in a direction to do things that was never designed for us and it takes up an enormous amount of energy. My hope is that we, the school board, can take the same kind of time and energy that we did this evening to explore and learn about the great things that our students and teachers do that don’t have a damn thing to do with standardized tests. I’d much rather spend my time doing that than listening to this although I know your trapped in it and you’ve got my condolences,” Rock concluded.
Hellrung agreed with most of Rock’s comments but mentioned that it’s only a test taken once a year that the district learns and grows from the results.
All board documents can be referenced on the district website at www.ucfsd.org. The reorganization meeting will be the only meeting held on December 7, in the district office. The proposed preliminary budget will be voted on at that time.