The Chester County Intermediate Unit: Supporting education across the county

By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

I’ve driven by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) Boot Road campus dozens of times.  Except for attending a Forensics (Speech and Debate) competition there once and knowing my neighbor provided CCIU-contracted early intervention services in area homes, I knew nothing else.

Apparently, I am not alone in my ignorance.

That’s why the Unionville Chadds-Ford School Board invited the CCIU to make an informational presentation during their April 9th work session.

Executive Director Joe O’Brien explained that the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania are serviced by 29 Intermediate Units.  The CCIU works with the 12 school districts in mostly Chester County to provide regional services and programs more cost-effectively than if each district provided the services themselves.

The CCIU board of directors meets monthly and is composed of twelve members—one each from each Chester County school district board.  Their $243 million budget is paid for through government sources and the schools, based mostly on the specific programs and services each district contracts (to compare, Unionville and Kennett district budgets are around $86-87 million).

Student services, including special education, provide the bulk of the CCIU’s programing.

Special education services include many areas, including occupational and physical therapy programs, autistic, behavioral and learning supports, life-skills services, job transitioning—83 programs in all for students 3 to 21 years of age.  Some schools keep programs in house with their own or CCIU-contracted staff.  Many classes are also held at the CCIU.  Pediatricians and hospitals routinely refer cases to the IU.

Other educational services offered by the CCIU include county-wide enrichment opportunities like science fairs, spelling bees, forensics and other academic competitions.  They also offer a schedule of  teacher professional development seminars, and multi-course teacher certification programs endorsed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

CCIU maintains and operates three Technical College High School campuses—Pickering in Pheonixville, Brandywine in Downingtown, and Pennock’s Bridge in West Grove.  Students can attend part or full-time (with tuition paid by their school district) and get industry certificates or college/high school dual credits, depending on the program (the CCIU has dual enrollment arrangements with 6 colleges).   Students can train for many different careers, including nursing, teaching, robotics, marketing, cosmetology, and the culinary arts.

Also run by the CCIU, Brandywine Virtual Academy gives students an on-line learning option allowing them to earn high school credits going towards their home brick-and-mortar school diploma.

Unionville High School Principal Jimmy Conley confirmed that the Technical College staffs a booth at UHS’ course selection night, and brochures are always available in the Guidance office.

By using the districts’ combined purchasing power, the CCIU negotiates for consumables such as electricity, oil and gasoline, getting the districts a significantly better price than if each one had to bargain separately.  According to the CCIU presentation, approximately $8 million has been saved due to this joint purchasing arrangement.

They also assist with the member districts’ hiring needs.  They just held a job interview fair for newly graduated teaching professionals, sharing recommended resumes with the districts.

O’Brien is proud of the fact that the CCIU treats the school districts as their customers and will do whatever it takes to develop customized program to meet their needs.

He ended the presentation with a wonderful story about his first experience with the CCIU.

“I was the assistant principal at the high school level, and a very difficult student, who had been extremely disruptive and my (school) board needed him to go elsewhere, so we were basically expelling him from our schools.  But they also felt that the young man had the potential to be saved…They would pay whatever it would take to find a place for him, but it would have to be outside of Springfield Delaware County High School.  I called our local IU–and they said no.  The kid had quite a reputation.  I called Philadelphia who said no, and then my local IU called back and said, ‘why don’t you try Chester County IU?  They don’t say no.’

They accommodated that young man…That young man graduated with his GED program, went into the United States Navy, served for 20 years.  And I remain in contact with him today.  He’s the proud father of two daughters…he’s a productive citizen today…It was CCIU who did that.  It was the program out here (Chester County).  All I did was get lucky enough to make that that one phone call to a group of good people that would go out of their way to accommodate that young man.  I think honestly he was probably headed to jail, if there hadn’t been an intervention by the CCIU.”

UCFSD Superintendent John Sanville added.  “We have never called the IU and gotten ‘no’ for an answer.  We always get ‘yes.’  No matter what the request is, you always find a way…and we appreciate that.”

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