UCF Board salutes retiree, signs teacher pact, OKs suspension policy

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By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, the Times

Retiring CFES teacher Curt Barr. For 31 years, Barr carved his students names individually in wood and gave it to them as a gift just before winter break.

PENNSBURY — The April 16th meeting of the Unionville Chadds-Ford School board was well attended at Hillendale Elementary due to a retirement, items up for a vote, and citizens’ issues.

As is the tradition, Chadds-Ford Elementary Principal Shawn Dutkiewicz took center-stage to honor teacher Curt Barr, who is retiring after serving the district for 40 years—the last 16 at CFES.

Dutkiewicz spoke of Barr’s many talents as an inspiring teacher and an individual.  He recently won the Chester County’s Citadel Heart of Learning Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching.  Only 3 of the 1,200 Chester County teachers—one each at the elementary, middle school, and high school level–receive this honor annually.

The suspension rescission policy, debated since the fall, passed without comment by a 7-2 board vote (Steve Simonson and Vic Dupuis dissented).  The policy is retroactive to the start of the 2017-18 school year.  It allows students with an otherwise clean disciplinary record to apply for the rescission of a single suspension.  The Superintendedent will make the decision based on the student’s record and supporting information.

The “early bird” collective bargaining agreement between the District and the Unionville Chadds-Ford Educational Association passed unanimously to applause from many meeting attendees.  The contract  is effective July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2023.  A “memorandum of understanding” was added to include a step advancement for all but new teachers and those already at step 16.

Dupuis, board chair of the negotiating committee commented on the positive tone of the negotiations.  Board President Jeff Hellrung added that the quality of the UCF teachers is “the main thing that’s benefiting our students.”  He added that as a board, “Having our teachers properly compensated and recognized and appreciated is critical to what we do.”

The roll-out of Chromebooks in grades 10th through 12th was also unanimously approved.  The annual technology fee will increase from $20 to $50 per student.  Dupuis mentioned his concern about the growing total costs to families for participating in school and after-school activities.  He requested, at some point in the future, a review of these charges.

The board had an animated conversation regarding the use of cell phones by students, and which measures should be taken by the board to ensure non-interference with education during the school day.  Some of this was sparked by information shared by the “IGEN” author Jean Twenge’s community presentation last week.

Student Board Representative Gavin Brezski agreed that excessive phone use can become an issue.  He said that teachers have different policies regarding student cell phone use.  In some classes, learning time is wasted because teachers are constantly asking students to put their phones away.  He also mentioned that the app “Snapchat” is ubiquitous.  “Snapchat is the entirety of what they are doing during lunches.  The only conversations that typically gets spurred in the lunchroom is conversations about what is on other people’s Snapchat.”

According to Hellrung, students typically use their phones between six and eight hours per day.  Some board members felt that, with the addition of Chromebooks for all at the high school next year, cell phone use could be limited.  Others felt that for some purposes, cell phones facilitate learning.  Board Member Bob Sage explained that, for example, using the calculator app on a phone is much easier and less bulky than using the Chromebook for a quick calculation.

During citizen comments, an East Marlborough township resident who works in the technology field said that, due to the $482,000 technology enhancements the board approved on March 19th, turning off certain social media and other sites will be as easy as an administrator or teacher “flipping a switch.”  This could keep cellphones in school useful for education purposes only, with distractions limited.

Assistant Superintendent John Nolen informed that appropriate use of technology is part of the curriculum in grades 3 to 12, with a concentrated emphasis in grades 6 and 9.  Superintendent John Sanville committed to a deeper review and conversation about student cell phone use in school at a later date.

During resident comments, East Marlborough township resident and lawyer Scott Cousins spoke on behalf of the “Save the Indian Coalition of UCFSD Residents (the ‘Coalition’).”  As they did during the March 19th board meeting, members again pressed the board to form a Citizen Advisory Committee on this issue.  They are concerned that the “Identity Council,” a student-led organization, would make a recommendation to change the “mascot” without community input.

Hullrung said, “This is not a matter before the board.  It’s a matter that a group of our students is considering.  I think members of the board are interested in protecting our students and giving them an opportunity to conduct a full inquiry with nothing but support from us.  No one on the board, no one in the administration has said a word to me about removing or changing the Indian.  It’s not an issue.  It would be nonsensical to form a commission to do something we are not thinking about doing.  So if in the future our students make a recommendation, if in the future the administration supports it, and comes to the board, in my view, we certainly are not going to remove the Indian symbol other than through board action.”

Cousins showed photos of three student UHS ID cards from the years 2012 to 2014.  The Indian head logo is on the 2012 and 2013 cards, and the “U” with a feather is on the 2014 ID.  He contended that these ID card photos confirm that changes are still occurring, without a vote from the Board nor input from the community.

As of press time, the Coalition collected 638 signatures in support of keeping the Indian “mascot” via the Change.org website.

Hellrung offered to meet with the Coalition along with Sanville and other board members to discuss their concerns.

Cousins concluded by saying, “We want our voices heard.  Maybe it’s not now, when a decision is not going to be made, but reconsider when the decision is going to be made.”

A Newlin township resident brought up the current climate of the country and how few students understand the importance of considering both sides of an issue, identifying fake news, and actually vote.  He would like to know how this is being addressed by the curriculum in the high school.  Sanville committed to following-up with the resident and The Times.

Next Up:  Budget Board Meeting on Monday, May 7th at 7:00 in room 14 at the District Office, adjacent to the High School.

All board meetings are open to the public.  They are broadcasted live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

Board documents:  http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/public

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