It’s Official — Covered Wagon Inn is saved! Local history will coexist with CVS Pharmacy – thank you Summit Realty Advisors!

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At last night’s Planning Commission meeting in Tredyffrin, the proposed land development project to construct a new CVS pharmacy building with drive-thru on the corner of Old Eagle School Rd. and Lancaster Ave in Strafford was back in front of the planning commissioners.

Much has happened since the developer of the project, Summit Realty Advisors, first presented their redevelopment plans for the property in January which included the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn.

As I have said from the start, the property owner John Hoopes and the developer for CVS Pharmacy, Summit Realty Advsiors and owner John Zaharchuk, were within their legal rights to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn as originally planned. There is no current historic preservation ordinance in Tredyffrin Township that protects the community’s historic buildings — not even those that are registered as National Historic Register properties!

To change the redevelopment plans  for CVS Pharmacy project to include saving the Covered Wagon Inn was time-consuming and expensive for the developer — John Zaharchuk met the challenge and was successful!

It is important to acknowledge and thank those involved for saving the Covered Wagon Inn which I did publicly last night on behalf of myself and Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. We know that redesigning a significant redevelopment plan to save a 250 year old inn was not easy (and was not legally required) — yet you did and we thank you!

It was a pleasant surprise to see writer Michaella Bond of the Philadelphia Inquirer in the Planning Commission audience. Michaella’s continued interest and support of the Covered Wagon Inn has been much appreciated — her latest installment appears in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Plans for new CVS store in Tredyffrin that preserves historic inn advances

by Michaelle Bond, Staff writer

Plans to build a CVS pharmacy in Strafford, revised last month to preserve a historic Main Line landmark on the property, moved forward Thursday when Tredyffrin Township officials approved the new preliminary proposal.

The plans that Ambler-based developer Summit Realty Advisors submitted to the township on April 22 call for a 12,900-square-foot store with a drive-through and a stone facade. The proposed project no longer includes the demolition of the Old Covered Wagon Inn, an 18th-century fieldstone structure at Lancaster Avenue and Old Eagle School Road. The inn, which measures about 800 square feet, would remain on the corner of the property with the CVS beside it, according to Summit’s latest application.

The six members of the township Planning Commission who were present voted unanimously to approve the preliminary land development plans. The developer still must meet several requirements, including measures to control storm water runoff, streetscape improvements, and a written promise that the inn would be preserved.

The developer will restore the exterior of the inn and provide four parking spaces for any potential tenant that moves into the building, said Lou Colagreco, a lawyer for Summit.

Summit first brought the project before the commission in January. But after residents learned that the developer planned to raze the inn, citizens and preservationists rallied to save the building, where Duke Ellington and other famous musicians performed, where residents attended wedding receptions and got together for family meals. More than 4,300 people have signed an online petition to save the onetime tavern along the first turnpike.

The developer said in February it would come up with a compromise.

“They’ve come back successful,” said Victoria Snyder, chair of the Planning Commission. “We thank you so much for that.”

The company went with a plan that had worked in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County. There, the Audubon Inn, built in the 1750s, was included in the development plans for a CVS and kept on the corner of the property. The Audubon Inn houses law offices.

Plans for the CVS in Strafford still include the demolition of an addition put on the Covered Wagon about 50 years ago that housed several restaurants through the years and provided space for the Thos. Moser furniture store, the most recent tenant of the Covered Wagon building. Residents focused on saving the historic building.

Pattye Benson, president of the nonprofit Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and leader of the campaign to save the inn, acknowledged that the developer and property owner would have been within their rights to demolish the historic building.

“To me, this represents really good development and how you can put a new building in and still save a historic building,” she said.

Are voter ID laws good policy? Will the laws impact the general election in November?

Image result for voter identification

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 34 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. 33 of these voter identification laws are in force in 2016. West Virginia’s law, signed on April 1, 2016, goes into effect in 2018, missing the November general election.

In Pennsylvania, a law requiring voters to present photo identification was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett in March 2012. However, the PA Commonwealth Court held that the in-person proof of identification requirements were unconstitutional. The Court’s ruling on proof of identification applied only to identification requirements for voters who appear to vote at their polling place – the ruling left in effect previous rules regarding identification requirements for first-time voters at the polling place. If a voter is voting for the first time in an election district, the voter must show proof of identification, either photo or non-photo identification. Returning voters need not show any identification.

Nothing is more fundamental to American democracy than the right to vote. As the November general election nears, how much of a difference could voter ID laws make in the results across the country? I read recently that some are speculating that voter identification laws could be the next “hanging chads” in the upcoming election.

On the issue of voter identification, I received an editorial from Dr. George Anderson of Devon, titled “The Importance of Voter IDs”. (You may recall that Dr. Anderson was a TE School Board candidate in the last election cycle. However, he withdrew from the race citing the work demands of international travel during the campaign season.)

Dr. Anderson supports identification requirements for voters —

The Importance of Voter IDs

For a nation to exist there does not have to be agreement on every issue but there does need to be a generally accepted set of civic norms;  the processes by which things are done. The perceived validity of the decision making process is in fact, more important than individual decisions. That is why the myth of “Cultural Diversity” is so dangerous.

It is not the fact that the concept of “All Cultures are equal” is demonstrably nonsense. If the myth of cultural diversity is accepted, the societal common bonds start to disintegrate, ultimately leading to competition between groups, social and economic chaos.

For a Constitutional Republic to exist there needs to be a general acceptance of the importance of the Law, the process which creates and upholds the law. Without such acceptance and obedience to the Law, at best we are a tribal society with each tribe competing to enforce it’s will upon the others.

Since the disappointing loss suffered by the Democratic Party in the 2000 Presidential election the division between Americans has been growing. There were Democrats who claimed the election was invalid even though there were multiple counts of the same ballots by members of both parties and witnessed by a judge. (Disappointing yes but invalid, no.) There were Republicans who claimed the 2012 election was invalid, with counties reporting more votes than registered voters and precincts reporting 100% participation and 100% straight Democratic vote. (A statistical impossibility.)

What you see very much depends upon where you stand. Attempts to institute voter ID Laws have generally been denounced by those on the Left as an attempt to restrict voting.  Those on the Right respond it is true, limiting the vote to one each for US Citizens over 21 is appropriate. The tragic truth is, if we cannot agree that American Elections should be limited to one vote per mature citizen then the divide in this country is truly wide and the civic norms which tie us together have become very tenuous.

The terrifying prospect is the logical conclusion to such civic separation.

Sincerely;
George E. Anderson III, PhD

 

Fritz Lumber, the oldest place of business in Berwyn, is closing its doors after 150+ years!

Sadly, Fritz Lumber, the oldest place of business in Berwyn is closing its doors after a century and a half of service to the community and is residents.

The history of the William H. Fritz Lumber Company began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was in office. Henry Fritz and his soon-to-be wife Mary Lobb decided to open a coal and lumber business in their hometown community of Reeseville, known today as Berwyn. Within a few short years, the business would prosper.

After 153 years, the fifth-generation of Fritz Lumber has decided to close its doors. Howard Fritz sent the following letter to the Easttown Board of Supervisors, detailing the sale of the business.

I would like to formally announce to you that the Wm. H. Fritz lumber company’s property is under agreement of sale to Eadeh Enterprises. Eadeh Enterprise is a very responsible and community minded organization as you all know. The business at Fritz, will remain open till all inventory is sold. Presumably by September 1, 2016.

This decision has been a very long and painful process. Wm. Fritz (Bill) is in his eighty seventh year and wishes to retire. I am sixty two and have health issues and concerns for both myself and my dear wife Roberta. My two adult children do not have an interest or desire to continue in this business. Neither have building experience or knowledge of it, nor do they have the required, management skills needed to sustain a viable and prosperous supply company.

It is very disappointing to have to close a family business that has been in existence since the civil war…153 years ago. With that said…I am very grateful to our community and the Easttown Township for the many years of support. The Fritz family has been active community members….past and present. From helping to start a bank, a church and Station II. To most recently, our vocation for the Berwyn/Devon business Assoc., Veteran Assoc., Easttown Tricentennial, and the park and recreation committee to name a few.

We also joyfully received the same high paying compensation the supervisors receive for all their hard work and efforts!! All jokes aside…l am honored to be allowed the opportunity to serve this very fine community which I lived in for twenty plus years. Obviously timely communications between us is an absolute must. We may be reached at our office at 610 – 644-0608 for any questions or concerns on this matter. Once again… we sincerely thank you all… and wish everyone the very best.

Sincerely, (and perhaps regretfully),

Howard Fritz

V.P. WM. H. Fritz Inc.

Redevelopment decisions by the new owners of the property, Eadeh Enterprise (another old business name in the community) will be guided by Berwyn Village zoning ordinance changes of 2013.   At that time, the plan approved by Easttown supervisors placed the Berwyn Village properties into three districts: Village Business, Village Residential and Village Transition.

The ordinance change allowed that the buildings located in the Berwyn Village could stay exactly as they were in 2013 – whether retail, multi-family or single family. However, if the building was sold, torn down or re-developed, it would need to conform to the new zoning requirements.  At the time the zoning ordinance was passed, some local residents were concerned that the neighborhood feel of Berwyn could be lost, depending how redevelopment were to occur — pointing to multi-story East Side Flats on King Street in Malvern as an example of what could happen.

For those concerned about the demands that the various land development projects are placing on the TE School District — Wayne Glen, Parkview at Chesterbrook, Station Square, etc.- the redevelopment of the Fritz Lumber site may pose another.

But regardless of Eadeh’s plans for the property, it is safe to say that after 150 years, the appearance of Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn is about to change.

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Paoli’s Station Square Redevelopment Project Proposes Apartment, Office & Retail Complex

Paoli Station aerial view

In early 2014, Home Properties, a Philadelphia-based developer proposed a 250+-unit multifamily building with structured parking plan for Station Square, the 7.475 acre commercial site at the corner of Central and North Valley Roads in Paoli, owned by the Palmer Group Properties.  Although the current Town Center District zoning allows for 135 apartments on the property by right, the developer sought approval for greater density.

The proposed 4-story apartment complex was viewed as a radical change for the immediate community and concerns were raised as to whether this high density project was a good fit for the neighborhood. Major issues surrounded the proposed project, including increased traffic, density, height, change to the character of the neighborhood, impact on school district, public safety, etc.  Ultimately, faced with many unanswered questions from the Planning Commission and major pushback from the local residents, the proposed 2014 redevelopment plan quietly disappeared.

The Station Square office building complex remained for sale with a $9 million listing price and the tenants on month-to-month leases. On April 21, 2016, Linden Lane Capital Partners appeared before the Planning Commission to present a new redevelopment plan for the Station Square complex.  Following a lengthy discussion and public comment period, no action was taken by the Planning Commissioners and the application received an extension until the May meeting.

On Thursday, May 19, Linden Lane Capital Partners will present its conditional use application for the redevelopment of Station Square to the Planning Commission. The proposal is to construct three new mixed-used buildings, with structured and surface parking.  Uses include apartments and rental space for office, retail and/or personal services.  Linden Lane is seeking a recommendation from the Planning Commission for approval by the Board of Supervisors. Upon recommendation (for approval or denial), Linden Lane will appear before the supervisors for a Conditional Use Hearing.

In 2014, residential neighbors of Station Square were successful in their efforts opposing the proposed multi-story apartment complex.  Knowing that increased traffic in their neighborhood was a major concern for Paoli residents, the 2016 redevelopment plan seeks to address those concerns. According to the conditional use application, the developer will work with the township and the PA Department of Transportation to mitigate the traffic issues although no specifics are given. With respect to the parking, the applicant intends to provide for a minimum of 75% of the required parking with a structured parking facility.

Exciting News: No Demolition for the Covered Wagon Inn!

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What’s the saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Late tonight, I learned from Tredyffrin Township supervisor Sean Moir that an agreement has been reached to save the Covered Wagon Inn from demolition.

Over the last couple of months, there has been much discussion about the saving the old field-stone building located on the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Old Eagle School Road in Strafford.

Meetings were held with the township staff, supervisors, planning commissioners, CVS pharmacy developer Summit Realty and owner John Zaharchuk and property owner John G. Hoopes. At one point, it was suggested that a nonprofit historic preservation organization needed to step in to save the building. As President of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and with a unanimous vote of support from our Board of Directors, the Trust stepped in and offered our help in saving the building!

But in the end, Hoopes and Summit were able to come up with an agreement. The new plan will allow the construction of the CVS pharmacy but also preserves the 18th century Covered Wagon Inn.  Hoopes will retain control of the Covered Wagon Inn, handle the interior renovations and lease the space. Summit will restore the exterior of the Covered Wagon Inn as part of their CVS land development project.

The saving of the old Covered Wagon Inn is a home run for historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township! I am thrilled that the Covered Wagon Inn is to be saved and that local history will coexist with CVS.

Thank you John Zaharck, John Hoopes and CVS Pharmacy for listening to the community and saving an important part of our community’s history!

Global Warming: Important Meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM

Global warming graphic

You are Invited to Attend:

Open Land Conservancy of Chester Counthy Annual Meeting
Guest Speaker: Climate Change Expert Richard Whiteford
Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM
Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2026 Swedesford Road, Malvern

The Open Land Conservancy has scheduled ‘Global Warming’’ as the important topic for its Annual Meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM at Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2025 Swedesford Road, Malvern, PA.  Light refreshments will be served.

Following a brief business meeting, internationally acclaimed climate expert Richard Whiteford will present the keynote presentation on global warming and lead the discussion. This meeting is an opportunity for the public to learn more about global warming and what it means to us here in Southeastern Pennsylvania and you are encouraged to attend.

How will global warning impact our streams, trees and pasture?  How will global warming affect our way of life, our health systems, and our grandchildren? Should I be worried about climate change, will it affect me personally?

Have these and other questions answered by an expert. Richard Whiteford has experience and a broad background in the field of environmental climate change.  Advocating for stronger environmental protection, Whiteford is involved at the local, state and federal levels. He has worked for the Sierra Club, Highlands Coalition, Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife. Serving as a environmental; consultant to universities, high school and environmental education centers, he has also appeared on BBC and Korean television, NPR, AccuWeather, and Northern Deutsch Radio. Whiteford wrote a three-year series about endangered special for the Philadelphia Inquirer and in 2006 wrote the book “Wild Pennsylvania”.  In addition, Whiteford has served as an advisor on the White House Interagency Climate Adaption Task Force and was a founding board member of the PA Biodiversity and a consultant to PA 21st Century Environmental Commission.

We are grateful to Open Land Conservancy of Chester County (OLC) for inviting the public to attend this meaningful presentation on global warming. For those that may not know, OLC is the oldest Land Trust in the US. Established in 1939, OLC now protects 493 acres of open space, most of which is located in Tredyffrin Township – 375 owned acres in 8 nature preserves that are open to the public and 118 acres of private property under conservation easements.  OLC is the largest non-government landowner in the township.

Completed volunteer supported and managed* , OLC is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. The Conservancy has acquired its properties through gifts and through state and country grants.  Volunteers provide the ongoing maintenance with some contracted services.   OLC is leading the effort to preserve the local community’s remaining open space, by caring for hundreds of acres of protected land.

To find out more about the OLC, becoming a member and volunteer needs, visit their website:  http://www.openlandconservancy.org/

TESD: Proposed Tax Increase of 4.3% Drops to $3.875% — School Board to leave $20 in taxpayer pockets

Tax-increaseFor the 13th year in a row, it looks like the TE School Board will vote to increase taxes to its residents.

At the District’s budget workshop last night, the public learned that the proposed 2016/17 tax increase has decreased – the tax increase has reduced from the 4.3% contained in the preliminary budget approved in January.  The proposed tax increase is now 3.875%.  This ‘decrease in the increase’ means homeowners will keep roughly $20 of the proposed tax increase in their pockets.

T/E School District has one of the largest fund balances in the state – in 1996/97, the District had a fund balance of $4,333,661 and in the last decade we saw the fund balance increase to more than $28 million.  The total fund balance as of June 2015 was $32,381,047 – that’s $32.4 million in taxpayer dollars. Continuing to grow the fund balance, the District shows a budget surplus for the fifth year in a row yet residents continue to feel the sting of an annual tax increase.

Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan were in attendance at the budget workshop and their comments from the meeting are appreciated.  Thank you both.

If residents care about the proposed ‘thirteen years in a row’ tax increase, they should plan to attend the TE School Board meeting of April 25 and voice their opinion.

Budget Workshop Notes from Ray Clarke:

Three hours of discussion at last night’s TESD Budget Workshop culminated in some good news for taxpayers – although you’d need a microscope to see it.  The Board will vote at its April 25th meeting for a “Preliminary Final Budget” that includes a tax increase of 3.875% – down from the maximum allowable by a token 0.4% (worth about $20 for the average taxpayer, who is still faced with an increase of more than $200).

Notwithstanding well-articulated positions from members Dorsey, Sweeney, Burger and Hotinski (and from the audience) for a lower rate, more considerate of the increased fees to families and the fixed, inflation-linked incomes of retirees, the outcome seemed pre-ordained, driven by the same majority that voted for the senseless VFMS fences.  That majority seems pre-occupied by risk and unable to appreciate that every number they are given by the Administration is conservative.  For example:

–  Half of the adjustments to the Preliminary Budget could arguably be higher – most notable being the use of approved rather realistic estimates to budget the impact of staff retirements.

–  There was much lamentation of the possible impact of the next union contracts (due in 2017/18), without recognition that the projections already include 7-10% increases in the benefits costs (worth 1-2% in total compensation).

–  Revenue projections are especially murky.  This year’s transfer tax is already $1 million over Budget, as are even base real estate revenues – the most predictable of all line items!  It’s not at all clear if next year’s Budget, developed months ago, considers these developments.

Years of operating outcomes favorable to Budget show that the Administration is skilled at managing its resources.  Superintendent Gusick read a scripted plea for the Board to set the District’s tax parameters and pledged to implement a process next Fall to conduct the oft-advertised “deep dive” into expense strategies that would address any apparent operating deficit that resulted.

The April 25th Board vote is not final, but is nevertheless significant.  Anyone that believes that our School District should be managed more like the County Intermediate Unit, which also last night presented its Budget and a commitment to live within the Act 1 2.4% Inflation Index, should come out in support of our Board members who are trying to hold the line here in TE

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Budget Workshop Notes from Neal Colligan:

-Current Year operating projections now show an estimated $984,000 Surplus for the District for the 2015-16 fiscal year (this year).  Current year’s budget was passed with an anticipated deficit of $1.654 MM.  It’s a miracle…a $2.5 MM swing!

-This “miracle” of Deficit Budget morphing into an Actual Surplus has now happened in EACH of the last five years.

-As a result of these Surpluses; the District has added almost $12 MM to its Fund Balance over the last 5 years…that’s a pretty profitable operation!!!

-With over $32 MM in Fund Balance (about to be over $33 MM with this year’s Surplus); at what point is that adequate?

-The growth of the Surplus is remarkable as we always seem to be “up against the wall” when it comes time to set a new tax rate.  Possibly this pattern is a result of the budget forecasting methods employed when looking at the next year’s budget.  On average (10 years); the District collects a bit over 100% of budgeted revenue and spends about 95.5% of budgeted expenses.  Perhaps this speaks more to the budget estimates used at tax setting time than actual operational changes employed during a given fiscal year.

-At 3.875%; the tax increase this year will be higher than the 3.84% increase imposed on the community for this year.  Not sure the new Board Members ran to increase taxes.

-Perhaps it is time to look at using a small amount of our Surplus (88% funded by local sources) to dampen current tax increases?  One could certainly argue that the Fund Balance is now super-adequate and it is taxpayer money that they were told would go to education….!!!???

TESD: Meetings tonight to discuss football team hazing, VF Middle School fencing, student computers and reapportionment

TE School District administrators and school board members are responding to the community on range of important topics tonight.

At 6 PM in the Conestoga High School auditorium, the District residents have an opportunity to comment on the recent events involving the football team.  My guess is that the administration will have little to say regarding the criminal charges filed against three senior players for their alleged assault of a freshman 14-yr. old student. Now a legal matter, the issue is in the hands of district attorney Tom Hogan and the courts. However, I would expect comment from the administration and school board regarding “No Gay Thursday”, the weekly hazing tradition in the locker room. The letter of March 17 from the District indicated hazing occurred. The implementation of a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward is needed.

The administration has conducted its own internal investigation and the community should expect an update on their findings.  We know that Conestoga’s head football coach John Vogan resigned from his position and the other varsity and junior varsity football staff – five people – have been relieved of their coaching jobs in all sports through the fall season.

The regular meeting of the school board follows the public meeting regarding the football team – 7:30 PM in Conestoga High School cafeteria. Priority discussion topics on the agenda include the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, one:one computing initiative, and reapportionment plan.

According to the agenda, the Valley Forge Middle School construction documents include options for 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet chain link fencing and 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet black estate fencing.  According to the agenda, “The base bid will be per the recommendation of the safety and security consultant of a 6 foot chain link fence with the other options being bid as alternatives”.  The $15,500 consultant’s report recommended a minimum of 5 feet fencing (and 6 feet fencing preferred), so why is 4 feet a consideration? I thought the public was told that 4 feet fencing does not meet school security standards. But more importantly, … where’s the ‘no fencing’ option?

“To fence or not to fence” was at Valley Forge Middle School was a  major campaign issue in the November TE School Board elections. Several candidates, now school board directors, used ‘no fencing’ as part of their campaign platform. In District 2, school board directors Michelle Burger and Ed Sweeney, were both extremely vocal in their fencing opposition; promising voters they would not support additional fencing at VFMS.  By some accounts, former school board president Kris Graham lost her bid for re-election over the VFMS issue and her support for the fencing. Tonight it looks like the fencing project may finally be coming to a head and it will be interesting to see how each school board member votes.  A vote for no fencing remains an option.

On the plan to outfit students with District computers, not everyone in the community shares the administrations’ interest in the student computer initiative — for a variety of reasons, product choice, leasing vs purchase, privacy issues, costs, etc.  Has the proposed one:one computing initiative been thoroughly vetted? The taxpayers are facing a significant tax increase for 2016-17, is the school board satisfied that they should move forward to implement this computer plan?

A reminder that in January, the school board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget, which contains a 4.3% tax increase.  At that time,  the Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million.  If the 2016-17 budget passes with a tax increase, it will mark the 12th straight year of a tax increase. Some of the school board members publicly voiced concern over the proposed tax increase, vowing to work to lower the increase in the final budget.

TESD Administration reacts against Conestoga High School hazing with strong words and offers course for change

Hazing abuseIn the two weeks since Chester County DA Tom Hogan filed charges of assault, conspiracy, unlawful restraint and other crimes against three Conestoga football players, the hazing scandal has brought nationwide attention to the TE School District. Allegedly, the senior boys penetrated a freshman teammate with a broomstick after he refused to help other underclassmen clean the locker room while wearing just their underwear. According to Hogan, the “No Gay Thursdays” was a tradition started by the football team at least three or four years ago, in which behavior the team normally considered to be “gay” was considered “not gay” on Thursdays,

The hazing scandal has quickly gained national attention and continues to appear in articles from the New York Times to the Washington Post.  Locally the community appears divided between those students and parents suggesting that the October 15 incident never happened to others in the public who were outraged and wanted answers.

I have found myself caught in the middle of the two camps. I fully support ‘innocent until proven guilty” regarding the three Conestoga football players – the presumption of innocence is essential to the criminal process. We know of mistakes made by overzealous district attorneys and lawyers who were quick to judge – look at the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006. The mishandling in that case cost that district attorney his job and his law license, not to mention the millions of dollars paid by Duke University for legal bills and lawsuits.  On the flip side, it is hard to believe that the highly respected Chester County DA Tom Hogan and his office were not thorough in their investigation. Regardless … the boys are innocent until proven guilty.

There are important issues at play here. One is the criminal charges filed against the football players for the alleged assault. On that score, it is up to the legal process to decide the fate of those accused not the school district or the residents.  But another important issue is this so-called “No Gay Thursday” weekly hazing tradition – and the expectation from many in the community (including myself) that the administration can (and should) institute a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward.

On Thursday, TESD Supt. Dr. Richard Gusick and Conestoga HS Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger released a letter to school district families. (Click here to read letter). Although understandably unable to comment on the legal investigation, the letter provides an update on the District’s internal investigation and findings, including the following:

* Hazing activities occurred with some members of the football team over the past several years, including back slapping, horseplay, and obscene behaviors targeted toward underclassmen.

* These activities sometimes occurred under the label of “No Gay Thursday.”

* No interviews or other evidence indicated that any adult had knowledge of these activities.

* The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur.

Accepting responsibility that hazing had occurred at the high school, the letter went on to say, that the school “… does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying or intimidation within our school community. “No Gay Thursday” is ignorant, intolerant, and has no place in any school. Even though no gay students were specific targets of discrimination, the practice itself is an affront to us all. We are committed to eliminating these activities and providing a positive, respectful environment that is safe for all students.”

These are words that the community needed to hear – a statement containing a clear anti-hazing message and indication that the District is taking the hazing seriously and is taking strong action against it for the future.

We also learned from the letter that John Vogan, Conestoga’s head football coach, had resigned, effective immediately. And that the entire football coaching staff was relieved of all coaching responsibilities in all sports through the fall season. (Does this mean there’s an opportunity for the District to re-hire the coaching staff after the Fall season?)

The administration is recommending hiring a full-time Athletic Director for TESD middle school and high school sports programs. Creating a new position for oversight of the sports programs is a good suggestion – however, for me there’s one caveat, conduct a search and hire from the outside. The District athletic program needs a new start.

This tragedy has shaken all of us and the public needs assurance that the District will take every step to try to prevent this from happening again.  Although originally the stance was no public meetings on this topic, the District has changed course and is now encouraging residents to share their thoughts on Monday, March 28, 6 PM in the auditorium at Conestoga High School.  This meeting will occur before the regularly scheduled school board meeting which starts at 7:30 PM.

TESD: Conestoga Senior Michael Zhang Awarded $75,000 in 2016 Intel Science Talent Search

Michael-Zhang-300x300

Exciting update —

Conestoga High School senior Michael Zhang, 18, of Berwyn, PA won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search last night in Washington, DC. He engineered tiny virus-like particles to deliver gene-modifying proteins to target cells for medical therapy by altering the genome of those cells in a controlled way.

The second place medal comes with a $75,000 award! Congratulations Michael and the Zhang family!

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I previously posted the following on Community Matters (January 20, 2016) when Michael was listed as a 2016 Intel finalist:

The list of finalists in Intel’s 2016 Science Talent Search (Intel STS) was released today and Tredyffrin Easttown School District student, Conestoga senior Michael Zhang. is on the list! Michael’s impressive achievement was based on his ‘Design and Assembly of CRISPR/Cas9-based Virus-like Particles for Orthogonal and Programmable Genetic Engineering in Mammalian Cells’.  Congratulations Michael!

Run by the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public since 1942, the Science Talent Search is America’s oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school students. Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., has sponsored the competition since 1998. Intel STS recognizes 300 students as semifinalists each year.  From that group, 40 finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 1016, where they will compete for more than $1 million in awards.

As an Intel STS finalist, Zhang will participate in rigorous final judging sessions, display his work to the public, meet with notable scientists and compete for three Medal of Distinction awards awards of $150,000 each – one for basic research, one for global good and another for innovation. Additionally, there are three second-place awards of $75,000, and three third-place awards of $35,000.  Each Intel STS finalist receives at least $7,500.

According to Intel STS website, alumni of the competition have made extraordinary contributions to science and “hold more than 100 or the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including twelve Nobel Laureates, eleven National Medal of Science winners, two Fields Medalists, and eighteen MacArthur Foundation Fellows.” Intel STS 2016 finalists are from 38 schools in 18 states. Fifty-two percent of this year’s finalists are male, while 48 percent are female.

As one of the nation’s top high school researchers, congratulations and best wishes to Michael in Washington!

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