Pattye Benson

Community Matters

The Spoke

Will Conestoga High School Students Return to Hybrid Learning Tomorrow?

As the snowstorm looms today, the clock is ticking for the District’s high school students return to the classroom. If you re-read Dr. Gusick’s message from Sunday, December 13, Conestoga HS is remote learning only through today. The District’s plan is for the high school to return to hybrid teaching starting tomorrow, December 17.

But here’s the question, will the District have sufficient CHS teachers for in-person teaching tomorrow? It is my understanding that 54 teachers at the high school were out on Monday. Has the teachers union opposition to in-person now changed?

It is unclear as to why the safety of the teachers in the classroom is focused primarily on the high school. Shouldn’t any health concerns associated with in-person teaching be District-wide and include the those teaching at the two middle schools and five elementary schools.

The widespread support and concern that many CHS students have shown this week for their teachers is strong. In the past, only occasionally have students responded to Community Matters posts yet a review of the latest comments indicates the safety of teachers in the classrooms has struck a chord with many.

The District students took to social media and created a petition titled “Give teachers the option to teach virtually or physically”. The opening paragraph of the petition reads as follows,

This petition is in support of the teachers’ petition to boycott the school with their sick days because the Tredyffrin Easttown School District requires all teachers to go physically to school while students have the option to go hybrid or virtual. The primary goal is to force the school board to allow the option for both physical and virtual teaching for teachers.

In a matter of a few days, the petition has already received over 1,000 signatures of support.

Regarding the District’s return to hybrid teaching, TEEA union president Amy Alvarez read a strongly worded statement of opposition and asked questions of the school board at its meeting last week. Without responding to Ms. Alvarez, the school board voted unanimously (9-0) to return to hybrid teaching. Why did no member of the school board answer the union president?

No one likes to feel marginalized or not heard. Whether it’s a resident asking a question at a school board meeting, or in this case, the president of the teachers union, all deserve a response. School board, silence is not a response. The topic of the question does not matter, communication is expected, and answers are deserved.

There’s another week of school before winter break — will all students return to hybrid learning tomorrow, December 17? We understand that these are unprecedented times, but communication is critical. School board, our community needs leadership from you.


A couple of notes: Since my previous post, I have been inundated with a firestorm of calls, emails and many, many comments. However, there are nearly 50 comments that were not posted because sadly their content was abusive, offensive or harassing.

In addition, the managerial board of The Spoke, Conestoga’s news source released the following statement:

Politics & Government Start at the Local Level: Vote For the Person, Not the Political Party

Politics and government start at the local level – Election Day 2017 is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 7.

The local 2017 campaign season has taken a toll. It has been difficult (and disheartening) to watch as friends and neighbors turned on each other; sometimes over important campaign issues and other times with unfounded personal attacks. (From my vantage point, both sides are equally at fault.) Sadly, the political unrest we see at the national level has played out in our own backyard. Regardless of who wins our local supervisor and school board races tomorrow, the difficult task to come together and move forward will remain.

Local elections do matter. Take schools: Neither the president nor Congress can have as much effect on local schools as the school board. In addition to overseeing a $140 million budget, the T/E School Board is tasked with balancing their responsibility to provide quality educational programs with the need to be effective stewards of public resources. The job requires dedication, experience and commitment to the students, parents and residents. (Click here for The Spoke interview podcast of the seven T/E School Board candidates. Thank you to Multimedia Editor Neil Goldenthal for providing the link).

Our local government has much to consider: the adequate funding of fire and safety, our library services, real estate development and redevelopment, preservation of open space and our historic structures, infrastructure improvement needs, etc. With three of the seven Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor seats on tomorrow’s ballot, this is an important election. Which candidate’s views best aligns themselves with you? If you are undecided, a quick Google search of the supervisor candidates may provide helpful information.

In addition to the sea of individual candidate signs, the political parties have placed signs suggesting voters “Stop the Madness, Vote Democratic” and “If You Love Chester County, Vote Republican”. As a registered Independent, I never believed that it was the letter of the alphabet next to your name that would determine your success as an elected official. Whom you support on election day is a personal choice but please consider my appeal to “Vote for the Person, Not the Political Party”, before you pull the straight-party handle tomorrow.

To my fellow disenfranchised Independents who were not allowed to vote in the May primary election, our day to be heard has come. The number of registered Republicans and Democrats are about even in Tredyffrin Township, which makes the Independent votes all the more important. Please join me — our votes do matter and can make a difference in the outcome!

Supervisors, school board, County offices and judges are all on the Election Day 2017 ballot. The message is to get out and vote tomorrow! In the words of Napoléon Bonaparte, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”

If you are a registered voter and don’t know your polling precinct number, use the PA Polling Place Search here.


Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors Candidates

Township Supervisor at Large – Vote for 2

  • Robin Bond (R)
  • Matthew Holt (D)
  • Raffi Terzian (R)
  • Murph Wysocki (D) *

Township Supervisor District 2 (Middle) – Vote for 1

  • Beth Coppola (R)
  • Kevin O’Nell (D)

TE School District School Board Candidates – Vote for 1 in each region

  • Region 1: Scott Dorsey (D)* unopposed
  • Region 2: Doug Anestad (R)
  • Region 2: Kyle Boyer (D)

TE School District School Board Candidates – Vote for 2

  • Region 3: Doug Carlson (R) *
  • Region 3: Virginia Lastner (R) *
  • Region 3: Heather Ward (D)
  • Region 3: Tina Whitlow (D)

* Incumbent

Conestoga Students Not Supportive of Possible High School Programming Changes

In today’s mail, we received an update from the T/E School Board – focused on the 2011-12 budget and the corresponding challenges facing the school district. The looming deficit facing the school district is a staggering $8.8 million. Reasons for the deficit include continuing decrease of revenue, salaries, increased teacher pension contributions and rising health care costs. These factors remain relatively unchanged from the 2010-11 school year.

The million-dollar question (or rather the nearly 9 million-dollar question) is how to solve the deficit problem. The school board will undoubtedly vote in favor of increasing property tax by 1.4% for the 2011-12 school year, which is the limit permitted by the Act I index set by the State. This move will provide the district with approximately $1.2 million in revenue . . . clearly, not close to the $8.8 million deficit. The district already has some cost cutting measures in place including the elimination of the FLES (foreign language in the elementary school program). There is also discussion of requesting an Act I exception that would provide an additional $2.4 million in revenue by increasing property taxes by an additional $2.8%. These suggestions will help decrease the deficit situation but do not eliminate the problem.

So what other cost-cutting measures can the school district take? Suggestions include (1) optimizing staffing – additional high school teachers will teach 6 periods instead of five; (2) restructure the high school program for 42 periods instead of the current 48 periods; (3) eliminate German and Latin in the middle school: and (4) continue to implement operational efficiencies.

There are some important T/E School Board meetings coming up in January. There is a special School Board meeting on January 3 at 7:30 PM to vote on using eligible Act 1 exceptions. If the Board votes to apply for exceptions, the School Board will present a preliminary budget on January 4 for public comment. The School Board will vote on the 2011-12 budget on January 24.

If you do not have children in the school district, it can be difficult to understand the impact of the cost-cutting suggestions. Conestoga High School students will be impacted if the school board members decide to restructure the high school program. I was curious if the students were surveyed (or asked) to offer their opinion on the proposed programming changes at the high school. By chance, I saw the following editorial in the recent edition of ‘The Spoke’, Conestoga’s newspaper. The opinion article speaks directly to student concerns in regards to possible programming changes.

No to proposed class cuts

Posted on 21 December 2010 by the Spoke Newsdesk
This article originally appeared on page 7 of the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of The Spoke.

The school district has proposed a plan that would cut down certain Conestoga elective courses from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle, a proposal that, The Spoke editorial believes, would have drastic repercussions in the future.

When asked what makes Conestoga unique when compared to other high schools, most students will not hesitate in answering that it is the wide variety of classes that the school offers. Elective courses offered here, ranging from AP Music Theory to Culinary Arts, allow the school to foster a sense of creativity and imagination that goes far in providing a well-rounded education.

Because of the ongoing budget crisis, however, the school district has proposed a plan that would, if passed on Jan. 3, jeopardize these elective courses. The district plans to remove some classes from the program of studies while cutting down the majority of them, including popular courses like Beginning TV and Ceramics 1, from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle. While this initially might not seem like a substantial decrease, it is sure to have repercussions in the future.

Though it is understandable that continuing some classes is economically unfeasible considering our current fiscal situation, the school should not cut down these important courses that offer students a way to creatively express themselves. Because many students at Conestoga take academically challenging courses, often filling up their schedules with Advanced Placement and Honors classes, they look at these classes as outlets that offer them both an entertaining and relaxing break. Such elective courses also allow students to branch out their interests so that they can focus on artistic or vocational skills, rather than center their high school careers on strictly academic disciplines. Most of the classes require students to gain a cumulative understanding of the topic, something that is difficult for the teacher to instill if classes only meet half of the cycle. Students are bound to forget important information and teachers will have to sacrifice valuable class minutes when classes resume next cycle. Therefore, students who eventually progress to the Advanced level classes might not be as proficient as others in past years and so the advanced matter will have to be diluted to compensate for information not taught in the limited amount of time.

By choosing to make these decisions about elective courses, the district will in essence stifle the uniqueness and creativity that thrives in our school community. In the past, students have left Conestoga knowing that they have had the opportunity in our high school to hone their artistic, technical and vocational skills.

Though The Spoke’s editorial board consists of mostly upperclassmen, we nevertheless lament the loss of the six-day elective courses, and are especially saddened by the fact that the underclassmen will not be able to capitalize on the many opportunities that we once took for granted.

We understand that Conestoga is among the elite in the country when it comes to offering students the luxury of elective courses and so we plead the district to reconsider their proposal. By limiting or eradicating some of these cherished courses, Conestoga risks its reputation as a place where creativity is fostered and originality is nurtured.

Views from the High School, Part I: Conestoga Students Support Their Teachers During TESD Budget Discussion

Members of Conestoga High School editorial staff weighed in on the District’s 2010-11 budget deficit in a recent issue of The Spoke. There were a couple of editorials that I found of particular interest and will post them separately. This Op/Ed piece indicates student support for their teachers; attributing their educational successes to the faculty. Based on past TESD budget and teacher union commentary on this site, views from our high school students present another interesting angle. Do you think that the views of these specific students are representative of the student body? Do you think that the teachers influence the students; in hopes that the students will help influence their parents (the taxpayers)? Comments, anyone?

With early dismissal of school today, maybe local teachers and students can offer their opinions. I will provide Views from the High School, Part II in a separate post.

Printed originally on p. 7 of The Spoke’s Feb. 23, 2010 edition.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of The Spoke editorial board, and not necessarily those of the administration, student body, community or advertisers.

Defining our education

The recent economic downturn is affecting all corners of the country, causing numerous financial problems and leading to the loss of millions of dollars and jobs, both at the national and the local level.

As evidenced by the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s budget proposal for next year, the school board is also experiencing economic pressures as it tries to overcome a $9.25 million deficit without sacrificing the quality of the district’s educational program.

Nevertheless, to the consternation of many students and parents, the school board is making an age-old mistake. When tackling budget issues, all businesses naturally target areas with large expenditures. For schools, this leads to the reduction of some very important individuals: the teachers.

In a draft of budget reduction proposals discussed on Feb. 8, the school board’s finance committee acknowledged that “change is particularly challenging in schools where success has become the norm.” While this may be true, the board must also recognize that any success of the students is directly attributable to the high caliber teaching staff we have in the district today.

Still, several proposals in the budget draft will undoubtedly affect some of the most commendable employees in the field. Part of the proposal states that 19 teachers, including those who plan to retire or resign, will no longer be part of the school district next year. An increase in the number of instructional periods for Conestoga teachers is also recommended in the draft.

If this latter suggestion becomes a mandate, high school teachers will have to bear the brunt of extra pressure. An integral part of the school community, teachers serve as accomplished role models for students both inside and outside the classroom. Always available during school, teachers nurture individual student growth and help create learned citizens of the world—all this in a day’s work.

In fairness to the board, we in T/E are facing trying times, and difficult decisions must be made. However, teachers are invaluable resources that cannot be removed simply to alleviate economic woes. They are the most important and influential members of the school community and sacrificing them—though it may offer temporary economic relief—will only have a detrimental effect on the overall growth of students.

The suggestions made in the budget draft are not set in stone, though, and any ideas presented in the proposal can be changed. We, the Conestoga student body, need to step up. If you don’t like certain aspects of the proposal, then make your voice heard. Instead of showing your displeasure through Facebook posts, go to a school board meeting and directly address those who are involved in the decision-making process. It is, after all, your education. It’s your future.

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