East Penn Press

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Wednesday, April 25, 2018 by ED COURRIER Special to The Press in Local News

School board studies science curriculum

The East Penn Board of School Directors learned about proposed revisions to the way the district teaches kindergarten through grade 12 science at the April 23 meeting.

The panel of educators proposing updating the curriculum included Elementary Curriculum Supervisor Michele James, Secondary Curriculum Supervisor Laura Witman and teachers Mike Mauro, from Wescosville Elementary, Heather Slatoff, from Lower Macungie Middle School and Emmaus High School Department Chair Brent Ohl.

“Our team is here tonight, in honor of Earth Day, to present science to you,” James said, as she began to walk the directors through the committee’s recommendations. “We haven’t revised our science curriculum since 2004,” James said as she described the district’s need to update to a National Science Teachers Association model which integrates science with math and literacy at the kindergarten through grade five level.

Mauro and Slatoff explained these changes are needed to better prepare the children for the future. “The data all points to the fact 80 percent of all jobs in the next 10 years will have something to do with STEM-related activities,” Mauro said. Instead of each subject treated separately, as had been done in the past, science and math would be integrated to “make learning purposeful and meaningful,” Mauro said.

Slatoff said positive student feedback supports the transition from rote learning to encouraging the students learn through investigating, understanding and designing solutions with more hands-on experiences.

This would continue for middle level students, where they would be defining problems and designing multiple solutions individually and collectively.

Global Science Inquiry revised curriculum standards would be addressed in context of people and places. Science and engineering practices would be studied through problem and project based learning, according to Witman.

Ohl explained the high school level would include the addition of Physics of Movement (biomechanics) as a new course of study.

The educators presented this approach as one that will keep the students more intellectually and actively engaged.

Board President Alan Earnshaw, Vice President Ken Bacher, Directors Alisa Bowman, Ziad Munson and Adam Smith voted to approve. Voting “no” were Directors Carol Allen, Paul Champagne and Chris Donatelli.

A new board policy regarding walkouts/protests proposed by Allen, added to the agenda for a first reading, was defeated 6-1, with Donatelli abstaining.

Allen cited safety issues in proposing a policy she adopted from another district. Earnshaw, in voting “no,” took issue with a policy restricting such events to before or after school hours.

“It struck me as a solution in search of a problem,” Munson said as he voted against it. Bacher, Bowman, Champagne and Smith were opposed as well.

Prior to the vote on the school policy proposal, several from the audience came forward to address the board with their opposition to it.

Anne Keller Smith, of Emmaus, supported the administration’s handling of the earlier student walkout and a student’s right to free speech.

Emmaus High School student Lena Heier said, “This proposal shows a distrust of the EHS administration and the student body.” She said the walkout and unbiased April 20 “Day of Action” events were a powerful learning experience for her.

EHS student Ben Lewis recounted how the school’s new activism club served to unite the politically divided student Democrats and Republicans while organizing the “Day of Action.” For Lewis, the club has provided the opportunity for “getting people to talk to each other.” He “did not want to see anything passed that could possibly hurt this flower that’s blooming right now, that is positive discourse in the school.”

Samantha Smith, a student at the high school, also opposed the school walkout/protests policy proposal.

To explain his opposition to any new policy that could potentially stifle student participation in peaceful protests, Wally Vinovskis, of Macungie, described his recent experience as a chaperone for his son’s EHS Chorale trip to Boston. Vinovskis said “I saw a group of 70 young people act more maturely and thoughtfully than I’ve seen adults act in the same situation.”

On a different topic, Emmaus resident Barbara Tantaros, of Emmaus, suggested videotaping board meetings as a hands-on vocational opportunity for high school students. She cited the school’s student-run automated teller machine as an example of such a learning experience.

School Superintendent Dr. Michael Schilder weighed in on the issue later during his district update. He staunchly supported the administration’s handling of the walkout and other like events held at the schools. Schilder described how the nonpartisan “Day of Action” featuring student speakers and a Q&A with State Sen. Pat Browne, R-16th, and others was a great educational opportunity. Besides calling and writing letters to their representatives, “over 100 students registered to vote,” Schilder added with pride.

The board unanimously voted in favor of the special education comprehensive plan for July through June 30, 2021 previously presented to them by Dr. Linda Pekarik.

The administration’s 2018-2019 proposed final budget in the amount of $153,262,763 with the senior citizens real estate tax rebate program for the 2018-2019 school year passed five to three. Voting “aye” were Earnshaw, Bacher, Bowman, Munson and Smith. Voting “no” were Allen, Champagne and Donatelli.

Schilder introduced newly appointed EHS Assistant Principal Jordon Fortier to the board. Fortier replaces Dr. Mark Covelle who resigned effective June 25.

On other personnel matters, the directors accepted the resignations of Eyer Middle School sixth grade teacher Lisa Walker, Shoemaker Elementary School third grade teacher Loribeth Knauss and EHS English teacher Jillian Zarnas.

The board also approved the retirement of fourth grade teacher Jonas Ewing at Jefferson Elementary School and EHS guidance counselor Ellen Malone.

Allen’s proposal to direct the administration to research and present the function and pricing options for BoardDocs, a paperless option for district paperwork, was passed seven to one after a “friendly amendment” was introduced to not limit paperless meetings to a single vendor by replacing “BoardDocs” with “paperless meeting solutions.”

Earnshaw explained his dissenting vote reflected his concern providing paper copies of the agendas and minutes to the public at meetings would be difficult.

EHS Student Government Association representative Sophie Pickering updated the directors on both sports and other school activities.

There was no executive session scheduled for the evening.

Earnshaw mentioned executive sessions were held April 12, 16 and 17 on personnel items.

The East Penn Board of School Directors meet regularly 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for May 14 in the board room of the administration building.