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A Closer Look at Education in Our Area

By Erin Burke, Marketing Manager, Southeast PA, Barry Isett and Associates

The Leadership Tri-County Class of 2020 embarked on its second month of the 2019-2020 program year with a Tri-County Area Chamber member breakfast at the Copperfield Inn, Limerick, PA. The morning began with networking and the event programming focused on education in the Tri-County region. The panel featured the superintendents from Boyertown Area, Owen J. Roberts, Pottsgrove, and Pottstown School Districts. In addition to the chamber members present at the breakfast, many districts invited student representatives to participate in the event.

Each district had an opportunity to highlight their district’s recent successes and discuss the challenges of public-school education in the region. The morning’s audience was very engaged in the discussion with many questions for the panel after their presentation.

After the breakfast, the Leadership class met with Mr. Stephen Rodriguez, Superintendent with the Pottstown School District. He has been an educator for more than 20 years, beginning with the Reading School District and served in leadership roles at Gov. Mifflin, Hamburg Area, and Pottstown High Schools. In 2016, Mr. Rodriguez was appointed Acting Superintendent of Pottstown School District and formally appointed as Superintendent in 2017.

Mr. Rodriguez led a discussion focused on the education funding process of Pennsylvania’s schools. The group learned that funding comes form a variety of sources—state dollars, federal money, foundations (charitable organizations), property taxes and income taxes. In the Tri-County region, there is a disparity in funding levels across districts. With one high school, one middle school, four elementary schools, an early learning center, and virtual learning academy educating 3,200 pupils, the Pottstown School District is underfunded by approximately $13M per year. He talked about the change in the funding formula for districts from the 1990s to present. Simply put, more pupils resulted in more funding for districts in the 1990s. In 2016, the formula was examined, and the Fair Funding Formula was established. This decision dedicated specific funds to students with special education needs and 11% of overall funding is earmarked to special education. The remaining 89% is distributed “hold harmless,” meaning if a district’s pupil population decreased, the funding levels from past years would not decrease.

The group walked away from this discussion with a greater understanding of the nuance and challenges of public-school funding in the Commonwealth as well as the impact of charter schools. From there, the group traveled to Pottstown High School to hear from Mr. David Livengood, Director of Career and Technical Education (CTE), tour the facilities and hear more from the educators in the CTE program.

The Pottstown School District is unique among schools in Montgomery County as their CTE program is housed on-site at Pottstown High School. The program offers 10 approved programs, supported by 13 teachers. By retaining the CTE program at the high school, the programs are seamlessly integrated into the traditional curriculum and there is no need for travel to/from a technical program facility. This results in a time savings and reduced transportation costs. Students at Pottstown are exposed to introductory CTE classes as early as their freshman year. They can take AP classes in the morning and then pursue CTE programs in the afternoon. The programs offered by Pottstown’s CTE program include:

· Management Information Systems (MIS) – students serve as the in-house IT help desk for teachers and students

· Early Childhood Education – the program immerses students in Pre-K classrooms

· Engineering Technology – one of the more popular programs and growing; students gain hands-on exposure and learn to scale up projects; students become subject matter experts and serve on a team (much like industry); the program develops problem-solving skills

· Entrepreneurship – newer program featuring juniors and seniors; the program has three main projects – BBQ (3x year), game boards for elementary schools, magazine highlighting local businesses; students in this program are looking to develop their network and raise funds by interviewing local entrepreneurs and selling advertisement space

· Healthcare Technology – this program serves as a foundation for nursing school programs and enables students to earn college credits while in high school; this is one of the larger CTE programs due to the need for nurses in the workforce

· Construction Technology – offers education in plumbing, construction scaffolding, masonry, and electrical work; students acquire hands-on experience by collaborating with the District’s maintenance staff

· Automotive Technology – the program competes with full time career tech centers; now offering programming for Teslas and autonomous vehicles; the vehicles in this program are customers from the community; upon graduation, the students in this program are given a toolbox and a full tool set—all funded by customers’ fees and donations; one of the more affordable shops in the area and has served 800 vehicles in the last year

· Cosmetology – students in this program can return for a 5th year after graduation to secure the required number of hours to attain licensing from the state; this program has a partnership with the local Manor Care Health Services to provide cosmetology services to community members

· Marketing – done in partnership with the DECA club and operates the school store in the before- and after-school hours; the program teams up with local businesses for fieldwork opportunities and enables students to serve on actual projects

· Culinary Arts – students in this program provide catering services to programs within the school and area businesses; in addition, they operate a take-out and sit-down lunch for school staff on Thursdays and Fridays

Each CTE program has a task list that must be accomplished to complete the program and it varies across each concentration. While enjoying a lunch prepared by the students in the Culinary Arts program, the Leadership Tri-County class learned more about what drives the curriculum and partnership opportunities that can support the advancement of students enrolled in Pottstown’s CTE program. Businesses and leaders can help enhance the student experience by providing goods/materials, financial support, on-site exposure (internships/co-ops) and mentoring to the CTE students.

The group returned to the Chamber offices for an afternoon packed with learning and discussion. Joe Broderick, Founder of STEEL VETERAN, met with Leadership Tri-County to share more about the mission and goals of the organization he co-founded with his wife, Jenessa. Joe served for 14 years in the United States Navy and now works as an ER trauma nurse. He developed STEEL VETERAN as a community and resource for veterans. Increasingly, veterans face challenges when returning to civilian life after service, experiencing mental health issues and PTSD-related trauma without appropriate access to resources and support. The class heard more about what is lacking in the region when it comes to organizations dedicated to veterans’ issues and the desire to engage with veterans and those that care about them. STEEL VETERAN is one of the non-profit organizations the Leadership Tri-County class will be serving during the program year.

The final session of the day featured Mindy Lee M. Lipsky from Innovative Coaching Services to learn more about DISC assessments and tools to understand individual styles and adapt to communicating with others who hold different styles. DISC assessments embrace four characteristics – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Prior to the session with Mindy, the Leadership Class completed personal DISC assessments and learned more about the pace and priority of each style. The group observed videos of the varying style and engaged in a dynamic discussion as to our reactions and responses to the presentations. Later, the group moved throughout the room and self-identified with qualities/characteristics of one of four groups that aligned with the style that was most comfortable to the individual. From there, the four groups engaged in role-playing exercises that embodied the opposite of the DISC style and learned adaptability and tools to communicate with the various styles.

The day was complete with a combination of instruction, debate, understanding and tools for improving and enhancing the ability to serve as leaders. Next month, the group will expand their knowledge on Energy (the kind that powers our homes, businesses and community institutions).

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