Tredyffrin Township’s neighbor Phoenixville didn’t want Digital Billboards – The town stood up to Catalyst Outdoor Advertising and won!  Why can’t we do the same?

Aside from the fact that Catalyst Outdoor Advertising has been in discussion with the township supervisors for 18-24 months regarding the proposed digital billboard at the Clockworks location without the community’s knowledge – there’s the threat of litigation that the township solicitor and supervisors are touting as a reason that the community needs to go along.  The implication is that the township could not win against Catalyst because seemingly no one can.

Should our community be held hostage over an electronic billboard ‘welcome’ monument that no one wants and the loss of a historic building over the threat of litigation – an absurd argument! But further – facts do matter – Catalyst Outdoor Advertising does not always win as some would have us believe.  We need to look no further than to our neighboring Phoenixville Borough to show us how they stood up when it counted!

A few years ago, the Phoenixville Borough found itself in a similar situation as the Tredyffrin Township community, not wanting digital billboards that Thaddeus Bartkowski III and his billboard company Chester County Outdoor (now known as Catalyst Outdoor Advertising) was proposing.

Back in 2011, Bartkowski used the same argument with Phoenixville as they are now doing with Tredyffrin – claiming that our zoning ordinance was illegal.  But herein lies the difference – the Phoenixville community didn’t want electronic billboards and the Phoenixville Council members fought back on their behalf.  In May 2014, Chester County Court judge dismissed Bartkowski’s zoning ordinance lawsuit against Phoenixville as detailed by the Daily Local article “Billboard baron loses fight over Phoenixville zoning”.

Just goes to prove that the little guy doesn’t have to finish last – if Phoenixville Borough can stand up to Catalyst why can’t Tredyffrin?


UPDATE:  In less than a week since I created the Change.org petition, “BAN the Digital Billboard” we are now at nearly 2,000 people opposing the electronic billboard and the demolishing the historic Clockworks building! Community is voicing its opinion loudly.  If you haven’t yet signed, click here for link.

UPDATE:  We need “BAN the Digital Billboard & Save the Clockworks Building” lawn signs. There’s a GoFundMe with a goal of $1,000 for the sign order – we’re over half way there with $440 to go — can you help us get to the finish line so we can order the signs? We need to place the order, no donation is too small and can be made anonymously.  Click here for the link.

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Change.org BAN Digital Billboard petition: Over 1,400 signatures — GoFundMe & Yard Signs Next

Since launching the social media campaign less than 5 days ago to bring awareness to the proposed digital billboard in Paoli, the response from the community has been overwhelming. Thank you Caroline O’Halloran for updating readers in the latest issue of Savvy!

The Change.org petition has garnered over 1,400 signatures from people opposing the proposed digital billboard. The ‘welcome to Tredyffrin Township’ digital billboard monument planned for the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli would include the demolition of the historic R. Brogard Okie (“Clockworks”) building. The opposition to the proposal is significant – with comments ranging from safety concerns to the destruction of a historic building. (Remember folks, Tredyffrin Township is the township on the Main Line without a historic preservation ordinance of protection!)

One of the more disturbing issues with this proposed digital billboard is the fact that the public was kept in the dark for 18-24 months as the Board of Supervisors entertained the Catalyst Outdoor Advertising proposal. As I have repeatedly said, the public does not need to be involved with the details and decisions of all township business. However, I find it incredulous that something as significant as a digital billboard proposed for one of the busiest intersections in the township (41,000 cars daily) was not presented to the public until the 11th hour with a threat of a lawsuit.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the supervisors to have engaged the public from the beginning – to get a pulse from the community on this important and landscape-changing issue? How often have we seen taglines from political candidates touting support for transparency in local government? 

Sadly, since launching my BAN Digital Billboard campaign, some of the supervisors are now responding with statements to residents that the proposed digital billboard is “now in the hands of the Solicitor” and that the Change.org petition is “unsupported by data and/or are inadvertently misleading” and that digital billboards are actually safe. Really? Maybe digital billboards are safe if they are on Interstate 95!

One of the supervisors refutes my claim on the petition that there is no financial gain for the township — he states that “the proposed project will generate real estate taxes”. Let’s be real clear, the owner of the proposed digital billboard location (1819 Lancaster Avenue) already pays real estate taxes. The property is not changing ownership, it’s a lease agreement with Catalyst.

Also interesting to note that when responding to residents and attacking the Change.org petition, a couple of these supervisors neglect to address the lack of transparency issue over the proposed digital billboard and conveniently ignore the demolition of a township historic resource. Oversight or misleading?  I guess me and the other 1,400 petition signers will have to decide.

So where to go from here?  A number of residents have asked for BAN Digital Billboard lawn signs and as a result I have created a GoFundMe site with a goal of $1,000. The amount of money raised will determine the number of lawn signs. If you are interested in supporting the BAN Digital Billboard social media campaign, here’s the link for GoFundMe contributions.

It Takes a Community to Stop the Digital Billboard!

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BAN Digital Billboard in Paoli!

Digital billboards, electronic billboards, changeable variable message centers – whatever you call them they are the same thing: a huge safety hazard, motorist distraction and an aesthetic catastrophe.

For many of us, the notion of putting a digital billboard anywhere in the township is ridiculous let alone at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli! But our Tredyffrin Township supervisors are seriously entertaining a proposal by Catalyst Outdoor to install a large 20 ft. high “TV in the sky” electronic billboard at arguably one of the most congested intersections in the township.

I rewatched the Board of Supervisor meeting from Monday, October 1, paying particular attention to the opening remarks by solicitor Vince Donohue regarding the electronic billboard.  We learned Catalyst Outdoor first approached the township 1-1/2 years ago about constructing a digital “welcome” monument sign at the Clockworks location in Paoli.  According to Donohue, Catalyst CEO Thaddeus Bartkowski stated that Tredyffrin’s “zoning ordinance for outdoor advertising was illegally restrictive” and that as a result, the company was prepared to commence litigation.

The basis for Catalyst’s claim that the township’s outdoor advertising ordinance is illegal is that the “size, height and number of faces” is not consistent on the three township billboards and that restrictions are not enforceable. The three township billboards are located on Bear Hill Road/Rt. 252, Lancaster Avenue across from the BMW dealership and at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli.

After Catalyst came to the township with its position regarding the illegalities of the outdoor advertising ordinance (as stated by Donohue) the township entered into “certain settlement negotiations” to consider the proposed digital billboard in Paoli. The solicitor further stated that in the upcoming weeks or months, the township may be entertaining a settlement agreement with Catalyst regarding this matter.

My first thought was just “wow”, how is it possible that all this discussion had been going for so long and the community had no idea. I understand that as residents, we do not need to be kept in the loop on every aspect of township business but it appears wholly unfair that something so important — that will forever change the landscape of Paoli, affect safety, demolish a historic Okie house, etc.  — was not mentioned in public until the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

A thirty year lease arrangement was signed in January 2016 between the property owner (Dale E. Nelson) and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising; no large transfer tax windfall coming to the township. (My guess is that the discussion with the township was well underway before the lease was signed!)

To be clear, the township and its residents do not benefit financially from this proposed digital billboard although the community will be ‘gifted’ with occasional free electronic notices.  In my opinion, there is little gain for the township and its residents should this digital billboard be approved by the Board of Supervisors but a lot to be lost.

A disappointing and discouraging situation; as it now appears that the township/Catalyst discussion has been long ongoing. The supervisor discussion is no longer about the appropriateness of a digital sign but rather has advanced to the design features of the “welcome to the township” monument. If this digital billboard is eventually approved, it’s a legacy that that each supervisor will carry forward.

Since writing my last Community Matters blog post, I have received emails and phone calls from residents all opposing the proposed digital billboard. They oppose the billboard for a multitude of reasons, ranging from safety concerns to the possible demolition of an original Okie house. Contrary to what some of the supervisors may want you to believe, I have heard from NO ONE who thinks a digital sign in the middle of Paoli is a good idea. My guess is those 3 or 4 people who expressed support at the last supervisors meeting (including the Del Chevrolet owner), may just be the only township residents in favor of this proposal.

Many have asked what can they do – I have suggested writing to the township supervisors. Here’s the link to the online form:

http://www.tredyffrin.org/Home/Components/Form/Form/22c4b68e8e5e48e98c1bf8b1f141bb5f/163

For those that know their elected officials, send a personal email or make a phone call. Sadly, several people have reported receiving emails from supervisors with remarks such as “the township is afraid of being sued” or “if we don’t agree to the electronic billboard, it could be worse”.  Worse,  how?  Seems to me a 20 ft. high flashing screen is pretty bad!

As for the threat of a lawsuit?  My response is are the residents of Tredyffrin Township supposed to be held hostage by a sign company?  Why should we be forced to live with a dangerous blinking sign that no one wants?

Because there is not yet a signed agreement between the township and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising is there time for the community to loudly ‘Say No to Digital Billboard in Paoli” and have their elected officials listen?

Would a social media campaign opposing the digital billboard have any chance of succeeding? At this point, it is uncertain but I’m willing to try. I had a logo designed, set up a Facebook page, “Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli” and a Change.org petition.  Here are the links:

Facebook Page Link:  Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli

Change.org Petition Link:   Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli

If we are to stand a chance, all those opposing the proposed digital billboard need to send a loud message to our elected officials. 

Contact township supervisors, leave comments on Community Matters, like and follow the Facebook page, sign the Change.org petition and then send the links to everyone you know and ask them to do the same thing!

Contact me at tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com or by phone 610-644-6759 if you have suggestions or questions.

Scenic America, the only national organization that stands up to the powerful multi-billion dollar outdoor advertising industry, can you help us?!

It takes a community to stop a digital billboard!

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Proposed digital billboard and demolition of R. Brognard Okie building – Tredyffrin Township, is this progress?

The Trust’s 14th Annual Historic House Tour this past Saturday was a huge success, raising over $30,000 for historic preservation and the completion of the Jones Log Barn as the Living History Center at Duportail. We are grateful to the wonderful historic homeowners for opening their beautiful historic homes to the public … and for the generous individuals and company sponsors who make this annual event possible. (Click here for list of sponsors). We thank the sponsors and homeowners for prioritizing the importance of our local history and its preservation. And to the many volunteers and Trust Board members, I say thank you – including sixteen student docents from Conestoga High School who gave up their Saturday afternoon to help!

With the annual historic house tour in the rear view window, I turned on the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting last night to watch a presentation by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising. Catalyst is proposing the installation of a monument billboard in Paoli to ‘welcome’ people to the township. This proposed large electronic sign (similar to the digital billboard on Rt. 202 in East Goshen) is planned for the corner of the busy intersection at Lancaster Avenue and Rt. 252.

Image result for catalyst billboard chester county, pa

I am not a fan of billboards in general and yes, there is currently a small traditional billboard on that corner by the Septa train overpass. Although the Catalyst presentation was wrapped in landscaping plans for the corner, featuring seasonal plantings and offers to provide free advertising for township announcements, events, etc., there is major revenue for Catalyst in these image-shuffling, highly lucrative digital billboards — bringing in many times over the income of traditional billboards.

When the Catalyst presenter named the types of digital advertisers, car dealers topped the list; making the support from a Del Chevrolet representative in the audience no surprise (the dealership is walking distance of this proposed billboard!) By design, these large 20 ft. high digital signs are intended to be attention getting. Our lives are becoming increasingly digitized – these digital screens are popping up everywhere. Have you ever tried not to watch a flat screen TV mounted in a restaurant or public waiting area?

There was not a large audience at the supervisors meeting and a few people, maybe three or four spoke in support of the digital sign (including the Del Chevrolet representative).  However, one resident brought up exactly what I was thinking as I watched the presentation – safety concerns with the proposed digital sign at one of the busiest intersections in the township!

Although safety concerns were quickly dismissed by the Catalyst representative as not a problem, there are many available accident studies about driver distraction as a result of digital billboards that would counter his position.  These digital billboards are extremely bright and are designed to be visible in bright sunlight. With images rotating every few seconds, this type of signage is designed to be eye-catching (read distracting), and they are.

Perhaps an argument could be made for these “televisions on sticks” on long stretches of highways but please don’t try to sell the residents that Tredyffrin Township needs one as a ‘welcome’ monument to our community – in my opinion, a huge TV screen that plays moving ads by the side of the road does not represent our historic 300-year old township.

Aside from my strong aversion to these large computer generated billboards, I have saved the best for last. To accommodate the installation of this large 20 ft. high billboard, Catalyst will need to demolish the historic Clockworks building that is located on the proposed site.

The Clockworks building was chosen as worthy of protection and was included in Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey. The building dates to 1900 and is built in the Colonial Revival architectural style. Although it is not an 18th century toll house, it was built to replicate a toll house which was originally located on the site. The best part of the story is that the building’s design was by none other than famous American architect R. Brognard Okie. The Clockworks building is a complete Okie house (versus an Okie restoration or addition) and is a prized building by many and meaningful in the architectural development of the township.

Three years ago, many helped fight the battle to save the Covered Wagon Inn, the ‘welcome to the township’ building located on the corner of Old Eagle School and Lancaster Avenue. If you now travel west on Route 30, you enter Tredyffrin Township greeted with the beautifully restored 250-year old inn – representative of our local history.

The proposed ‘welcome to the township’ monument on the opposing side of the township in Paoli does not represent our community’s 300-year history. And members of the Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors, the inclusion of field-stone in the digital billboard design does not replicate the township’s historic roots.  (Look again at the Catalyst billboard photo on Rt. 202 above – does that make you think ‘history’?)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress and thoughtful development but do we really need or want digital billboards in our 300-year old township? Remember, there are two other traditional billboards, one on Rt. 252/Bear Hill Road and another on Lancaster Avenue across from the BMW dealership — are they next for digital billboard advertising?

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14th Annual Historic House Tour – Saturday Sept. 29, 12 Noon – 5 PM

To those who have sent me emails, text or phone messages that may have gone unanswered, it has been a very busy several months. Between a family reunion, an out-of-town wedding, a first birthday party for granddaughter Audrey in Seattle and a trip to our Port Royal Island, SC house (for those that have asked, Hurricane Florence did miss our 100 yr old ‘little pink house’ in SC) in addition to the management of the Jones Log Barn rebuilding project in Chesterbrook, it’s been crazy!

Squeezed in between all of the activities has been the ‘care and feeding’ of my annual historic house tour. Hard to believe but the 14th Annual Historic House Tour is almost upon us — it’s next Saturday, Sept. 29, noon – 5 PM (tickets available at www.tredyffrinhistory.org) The preview party was held last Sunday at Duportail House and was a wonderful turnout of the historic homeowners, sponsors and community members.  The countdown to the house tour  is on — fingers-crossed, we will have perfect weather for the fourteenth year in a row!  Weather gods, are you listening!?

There’s much going on in the township and the school district and I have a list of issues and topics to discuss as soon as the house tour is over.

Without a historic preservation ordinance in Tredyffrin Township to protect our beautiful historic properties, the annual historic house tour is all the more important!  Local history and its preservation does matter!  Please purchase a house tour and join us as we celebrate historic preservation — another important reason that makes this community special. In addition to Trust Board members and other adult volunteer docents, there will be nearly 20 Conestoga High School volunteers assisting at the house tour. In addition, there will be CHS students playing the piano at Tredyffrin Library for ticket pick-up!

Below is the 14th Annual Historic House Tour poster and the final list of our wonderful house tour sponsors — individuals and companies who make historic preservation a priority!  As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and chair of the 14th Annual Historic Preservation Trust, we thank them and the generous homeowners who make the annual historic house tour possible.  All proceeds from the house tour go toward the completion of the Jones Log Barn as the Living History Center.

Thank you 14th Annual Historic House Tour sponsors!

 

 

 

 

 

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Redevelopment plans proposed for Picket Post Swim Club property in Chesterbook – Plans include saving the historic 19th century barn

In the last few weeks, I have received many emails and phone calls about a privately owned historic barn in Chesterbrook. Rumors have swirled about the deteriorating 19th century timber post and beam barn, its possible demolition and a proposed redevelopment plan of townhouses for the Picket Post Swim Club owned property. For those that do not know the property, here’s a photo of the barn which I took last night.

Referred to locally as the Chase Road barn, its historic name is the Green Valley Farm Barn and is listed in the 2003 Tredyffrin Township Historic Resource Survey with a c. 1890 construction date.

Hidden in the middle of the Ridings, one of the 28 Villages in the Chesterbrook community is a group of original Green Valley Farm properties – the Federal manor home, a tenant house and the barn.  In the 1700s the Green Valley Farm of 800 acres adjoined the Chesterbrook Farm owned by Alexander Johnston Cassatt. Cassatt, the 7th President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, bred thoroughbred race horses on his 600 acres.

Fast forward to 1969, and Richard Fox from Jenkintown bought the property (which would become Chesterbrook) for $2.3M.  There was strong opposition from the neighboring residents to the development of this land. A battle that went as far as the Supreme Court ended and in 1976, they began grading and clearing the 865 acres originally known as “Green Valley Farm”.

In 1985, the large manor house was architecturally developed into three separate condominium units, while maintaining its original style. The tenant house to the property is a single-family private residence and the barn became a part of the community swim club and tennis courts (Pickett Post).

Although the manor house and tenant house are enjoyed and successfully maintained by their owners, sadly the historic barn has not fared as well.  During the last decade, Picket Post Swim Club membership and revenues has declined.  In 2016, the swimming pool on the property was closed to save repair and operational expenses. The property’s sole current use is for tennis while the maintenance, taxes and insurance of the entire 4.8 acres is paid by Picket Post Swim Club.  And without attention, the condition of the 130-year old barn has continued to deteriorate.

In 2018, the community is at a crossroads, with opinions divided on the swim club property and its future.

Picket Post Swim Club placed the 4.8 acre site up for sale and my understanding is that several developers looked at the property but for various reasons did not move forward. One of the significant stumbling blocks for development is the property would need to be re-zoned to R-4 (currently the zoning is Rural Conservation RC).

According to several sources, including John McFadden, the president of Picket Post Swim Club, the township is not interested in the property – although some in the community believe that the township wants the tennis courts and will manage them.

But the Picket Post property is more than the tennis courts, there is a closed swimming pool and more importantly, a deteriorating historic barn. And although the large 19th century barn is a Tredyffrin Township Class 1 historic resource (see below), the structure is not protected from demolition. Remember, the township does not have a historic preservation ordinance.

To further explain — In 2003, historic resources were identified and listed in the township’s Historic Resources Survey and classified into three categories – Class I, Class II, and Class III.  Viewed as the most important historic structures (and therefore most worthy of preservation), Class I resources are identified as resources that are listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The survey identifies 47 historic resources, including the Chase Road barn, in the Class I category.

I met with the swim club president John McFadden three years ago about the Chase Road barn and its future. At that time, the barn had already fallen into disrepair, which is more obvious from the inside. Major issues included a weak, sagging wall and roof problems.  The meeting resulted in no clear-cut direction and the barn’s condition has not improved in the intervening years.

As mentioned, a major obstacle for the property is the Rural Conservation  (RC) zoning designation. RC zoning permits one single family home. Since advertising the Picket Post property for sale, one company emerged as willing to taking on the challenges of development. Green Bridge Development LLC has entered into an Agreement of Sale with the swim club and will seek to have the property re-zoned.

As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, whose mission is to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in Tredyffrin Township for the benefit of present and future generations, I take the role seriously.  When discussing the proposed Chase Road project with the Green Bridge developers, my first question was “what about the barn”? Knowing that the cost to stabilize the large barn had to be over $500K, any plans for the barn would require a significant financial commitment.

After thorough discussion and review of the plans with the developer, I am pleased to report that the barn will be saved. In addition to townhouses, the proposed redevelopment plans include the adaptive re-use of the barn. A fan of re-purposing historic buildings, this is a way for old buildings, such as the barn, that have outlived their original purposes to have a ‘new future’.  With agreement to retain the integrity and historic features of the barn, I support the developer’s adaptive reuse of the Chase Road barn into 4 condominiums.

Green Bridge Development has hired local architect Rene Hoffman of R.A. Hoffman Architects in Paoli to design the project. Below is the rendering for the proposed adaptive re-use of the Chase Road barn —

If you attended the Trust’s 12th Annual Historic House Tour in 2016, one of the featured stops was the Westthorpe Farm Barn, c.1915 in Berwyn. In 2015, Bob Coppock of Coppock Properties and R. A. Hoffman Architects (the same firm hired for the Chase Barn conversion)meticulously crafted two luxury homes, retaining original architectural and historic elements — adaptive reuse of a historic barn at its best!  (See below)

There are some community members who want the Picket Post Swim Club property to remain ‘as is’.  Unfortunately, that is not a realistic option – the swim club cannot afford to keep the property and needs money for its other Chesterbrook swimming facility at Bradford Road. Additionally, the barn continues to deteriorate and in my opinion, is standing on borrowed time. Without financial intervention, the barn will probably need to be taken down at some point in the near future. When that happens, the community loses another historic resource.

There are those who want the Picket Post property to become a community park – again, not certain this is realistic. The purchase price on the property is $1.5M, where will the money come from to purchase and then maintain the property?  Taxpayers?  Grants?  Individual contributions?

Lots of opinions about the Picket Post Swim Club property and its future. The clock is ticking for this property and in my opinion, to ‘do nothing’ is not an option.

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Anti-Semitism Musical ‘Parade’ Opens at Footlighters Theater – The Perfect Story for our Times!

Footlighters Theater in Berwyn is the oldest community theater on the Main Line, providing quality, reasonable entertainment for over 80 years.  As a theater-lover, there’s nothing better than community theater and Footlighters is one of the best!

A bit of history about Footlighters Theater from their website — the group organized in Wayne in 1929 when T. Baynard Beatty, principal of Radnor High School and himself, an experienced drama enthusiast, held an open meeting for those “whose interest centered on mutual entertainment and the development of dramatic abilities.”  Originally the Footlighters were sponsored by the Saturday Club of Wayne and performances were held at that location.

In 1973, Footlighters moved to Berwyn, to the historic Berwyn M.E. Church (c. 1888). After a period of 10 years of leasing the space, the Footlighters mounted a Capital Campaign and purchased the building.  Improvements have been made to the building but it still retains its original charm, including an intricately carved beamed ceiling and original stained glass window.

Little did Footlighters know that when they planned the final production of the season, “Parade”,  that it would be such an ideal choice for the times! Parade is a remarkable musical which tells the story of Leo Frank, amid a background of anti-Semitism in America in 1913.

“Parade” Show Dates: Jun. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8 PM
Jun. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 at 2 PM

To purchase tickets — click here.

A description of “Parade” from Bill Elms Associates of UK are below. The words, “Parade is filled with soaring music and a heart-wrenching story, offering a moral lesson about the dangers of prejudice and ignorance that should not be forgotten”  are as appropriate in 2018 as they were in Georgia in 1913.  “Parade” is a perfect reminder for all of us — I plan to attend a performance.

With a book by acclaimed playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and a rousing, colorful and haunting score by Jason Robert Brown (Songs For A New World, The Last Five Years, Bridges Of Madison County), Parade is a moving examination of the darkest corners of America’s history.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew living in Georgia, is put on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ. Already guilty in the eyes of everyone around him, a sensationalist publisher and a janitor’s false testimony seal Leo’s fate. His only defenders are a governor with a conscience and, eventually, his Southern wife who finds the strength and love to become his greatest champion.

Daring, innovative and bold, Parade is filled with soaring music and a heart-wrenching story, offering a moral lesson about the dangers of prejudice and ignorance that should not be forgotten.

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Memorial Day – A Day of Remembrance. Honor the Day. Honor Them!

“…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God, …and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”     ~ Abraham Lincoln

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and we honor the day by honoring them!

From local resident Dan McLaughlin, I received the following email along with photos (below) from today’s local Memorial Day remembrance ceremonies. Thank you Dan.

Local Memorial Day Remembrance  –
This Sunday, members of Paoli American Legion Post 646 and Wayne American Legion Post 668 honored local Veterans who gave their lives in service of our nation. Ceremonies took place at the Baptist Church in the Great Valley, the Philadelphia Memorial Park in Frazer, and the Veteran Memorials in Berwyn and Paoli.

At each location fallen service members were honored with prayer, a 21 Gun Salute, and a Bugler playing the National Anthem.

Memorial Day parades to remember our nation’s Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and members of the Air Force will take place in Wayne starting at 9:45 a.m. this Monday, May 28th and in Malvern on Sunday, June 3rd at 1:30 p.m.

 

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Regular T/E School Board meeting tonight + T/E Finance Committee Update

The School Board will meet in regular session on May 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm at Conestoga High School, 200 Irish Road in Berwyn. There are no priority discussion topics on the agenda. Click here for the meeting agenda.

There is no mention of the latest anti-Semitic threat (by a 12 year old student at TE Middle School) on the meeting agenda. There is a comment period at the beginning of the school board meeting but “the Board requests that each public comment made during this first opportunity be limited to items on the agenda.”   Therefore, parents and community members cannot speak about the recent threat at the middle school during this comment period (because it is not listed on the agenda).  The other comment period for ‘non-agenda items’ comes at the end of the meeting — for those willing to stay until the end of the meeting you would have an opportunity to address the school board with your questions and/or concerns on this topic.  Below is the only response that I have seen regarding threats which I previously posted and do so again —

Response Protocols to Reported Threats

Since the February event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the District has received some questions about how TESD responds when information about a potential threat is shared with school officials.  The following is a short summary.

All reports involving threats are taken seriously. Once a report is received, the school opens an investigation.  Depending upon what is learned, District responses may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Application of discipline consistent with District policy and school law
  • Police notification
  • Enhanced supervision and monitoring measures
  • Administration of risk assessment protocols involving mental health professionals to determine whether or not a student is a threat to self or others
  • Appropriate supports for involved students

Parents and students are encouraged to report potential threats to school administrators so the school may begin to investigate and implement appropriate measures.

Ray Clarke attended the District’s Finance Committee last week and offered the following notes from the meeting — thanks Ray and there certainly are several very costly items under consideration by the school board.

Last Thursday’s TESD Facilities Committee meeting was notable for a couple of items with multi-million dollar financial impact to the District.  They will come up on Monday’s full Board agenda, so your readers might want to weigh in.

Of most import: the Administration has modeled classroom utilization at Conestoga given student enrollment projections based essentially on students currently in lower grades – so there’s a high degree of certainty.  Science labs would be at full capacity by 2020/21 and regular class rooms and other room types would reach that by 2023/24.  Solutions include another high school and grade level realignment and construction, but these seem much inferior to the concept of expanding Conestoga, which would also allow the addition of desirable space for, say, engineering labs.  The Committee seemed surprisingly uninterested in whether this is even feasible and how it might be done (an option we elicited was to expand towards Old State Road) but gave the OK to study this (how many classrooms, what types, what other common facilities, what approach, costs, etc.) over the course of the next year.

[This of course would have no impact on today’s parking issues – apparently now three quarters of all seniors (up from half a few years ago) request parking permits, and there is no space left.  The preferred option looks like allowing each student to park for (a different) 4 days out of 5.]

On a more dispiriting note, the Cadillac CCTV system is back on the radar, and the Committee recommended the spending of up to $100,000 to flesh out the design of a system which in the best case is projected to cost $2 million.  The provided materials lacked any statement of project objectives and presented no priorities or alternative solutions.  There was no explanation of how this time around the video can be streamed right through the current data network, whereas last time we saw this project an entire separate network was required.  The best support offered was “the cameras and technology are old”, “the police would like better quality” and “other schools have better systems”.  The District has selected WITH NO BID long term personal consultant Peter Heverin who in turn picked security consultant Kteck Engineering.  Of course there will be protestations that this first $100,000 spending is not a commitment for the $2 million, but note that the district is about to authorize the design of a very specific system by a very specific supplier of that system.

(I should just say here, that Open Land Conservancy and Tredyffrin Police work together very effectively to catch culprits in our Nature Preserves using $100 trail cameras.)

(And another kind-of-related-to-video side note re the discrimination incidents in the district discussed on CM: these are of course not isolated to T/E, and we are seeing more and more captured on cell phones.  Activist Shaun King has a strategy: identify and bring public pressure on the bigots (eg Haverford School alum and NYC lawyer Aaron Schlossberg).  Perhaps if students and parents were very aware of public consequences there might be more civility?)

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TE Middle School Student the Target of Anti-Semitic ‘Dirty Jew’ Attacks by Classmate

Image result for anti-semitismI was sent an Associated Press news article about a middle school student accused of anti-Semitic bullying and of making threats to a fellow student and asked if I was going to write about the situation.  I opened the article, expecting to read about this latest horror story occurring in some faraway place – only to discover that the incident occurred in our own school district at TE Middle School in Berwyn.

According to the story, which the family shared with news media, the bully’s target was their 12 year old daughter who told him she was no longer interested in him.  His response was to retaliate by texting images of Adolph Hitler and ‘dirty Jew’ remarks.  He reportedly also threated to bring a gun to school and go after 33 classmates, including the female student who ‘broke up’ with him.

Although the male student faces criminal charges for his actions, the article states that he returned to school within a week.  The female student was so afraid when the boy returned to school, that the family has removed her from the school for the remainder of the year.

I understand that the administration has to balance the safety of the female student and her classmates with the right to an education of the male student but personally it seems unfair that the alleged victim is the one not attending TE Middle School! According to 6ABC News, “the 12-year-old was charged with harassment and marking terroristic threats. He was suspended from school for five days.”

Chester County DA Tom Hogan was contacted for comment and the AP news article states that “ … he could not comment on pending cases but added he had no reason to think the girl’s parents would give an inaccurate account.”

Since the news article first surfaced, I have heard that the death threat against the 33 fellow classmates was investigated and dismissed by the school.  I have no idea whether that the threat was real or not or if it was dismissed. However, what I do know is that anti-Semitic bullying is not simply a ‘cyber incident’ or a ‘boys will be boys’ situation.   These are scary times we are living in – if a kid makes ‘dirty Jew’ comments and texts Adolph Hitler images at 12 years old, a simple “I’m sorry” does not cut it for me.

Besides the seriousness of the actual incident, in my opinion there is a significant problem with the fact that the other parents at the school were not notified by the school district.  Instead, the parents and the community learn about the anti-Semitic act from the Associated Press!  According to the news article, “School officials made no public announcement about the case, and other parents know only what they heard around town.”   Subsequent to the AP news release, various versions of the story are appearing on the major TV networks.

Why does it take the anti-Semitic story working its way through to AP news channels and publically broadcast coast to coast for us to learn about it?  To my knowledge and unless someone tells me differently, no letters were sent to the TE Middle School parents regarding the anti-Semitic situation.

The following statement is now on the TE School District website – I do not know when it first appeared or it it was specifically added as a result of this anti-Semitic incident as it is undated:

Response Protocol for Reported Threats

Since the February event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the District has received some questions about how TESD responds when information about a potential threat is shared with school officials.  The following is a short summary.

All reports involving threats are taken seriously. Once a report is received, the school opens an investigation.  Depending upon what is learned, District responses may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Application of discipline consistent with District policy and school law
  • Police notification
  • Enhanced supervision and monitoring measures
  • Administration of risk assessment protocols involving mental health professionals to determine whether or not a student is a threat to self or others
  • Appropriate supports for involved students

Parents and students are encouraged to report potential threats to school administrators so the school may begin to investigate and implement appropriate measures.

It seems to me in the last few years we are hearing more and more of these anti-Semitic incidents.  A little investigation and I found that for the last 39 years, the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a yearly audit of anti-Semitic incidents. The 2017 survey reported there were nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents – the highest number recorded since conducting the first survey in 1979 and an increase by 57% over the previous year. The annual audit tracks incidents of vandalism, harassment or assault reported to the Anti-Defamation League by police, media and victims. Only verifiable incidents are included in the survey.

In previous audits, the majority of reported anti-Semitic incidents occurred in public areas, like parks. However, the most frightening statistic to emerge from the 2017 report indicates that 457 incidents occurred in K-12 schools – an increase of 94 percent from the previous year!  And it is not geographic based – the anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 occurred in each of the 50 states, with Pennsylvania having the sixth highest number of incidents behind New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida.

Although I am not an educator, I am a parent and we are living in angry times. I know that there are two sides to every story and maybe I do not have all the facts but I know one thing for certain – hate-filled anti-Semitism has no place in our schools. The world should never forget that under Hitler’s leadership, some 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II.

All children need to feel safe at school. The school district went to great effort and expense to install fences around the schools. However, reflecting over the last several years, the threat has not come from outsiders (not to say that the District should not be prepared!) but rather internally – repeated assault of a female Conestoga student by a male District aide and assault of a learning disabled male student by a Conestoga aide and coach to name a couple.

Don’t sweep anti-Semitism under the carpet and turn a blind eye … use this as a teachable moment.

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