Thursday, May 24, 2018

Regional Recreation and Sustainability Planning

When I headed out to last night's Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee meeting, I glanced at the agenda and figured the big story would be Sanatoga Green.


Boy was I wrong.

It was on the agenda, but there was not much to say. It has been tinkered with, but remains the same basic plan.

More interesting was the presentation by John Lesher, chief environmental planner for the Montgomery County Planning Commission, who talked about Pottstown's sustainability plan.

It's the only one in the state, to his knowledge anyway, that includes both a borough and a school district, so let's polish our buttons on that one.

One of the more interesting snippets to come out of Lesher's talk -- we covered the plan fairly extensively back in January when it was adopted -- was how much the environment in which we live affects our health.
Here is the graphic.

He showed a graphic from a study that showed how much more important environment, lifestyle and special factors determine our lifespans -- more than genetics or infectious agents.

We spend 90 percent of our health money on medical care, but it is only response for 10 to 20 percent of how long we live or how healthy we are.

Here's the sound bite, "zip codes are more important than genetic codes" in determining our lifespan and over health, he said. Meaning that effort put into things like making Pottstown a nicer place to live actually help us to live longer.

Along those lines, the regional planners took an important vote and agreed to once again be the umbrella organization for the Pottstown Area Regional Recreation Committee and, hopefully, the retaining of director Michael Lane.

Upper Pottsgrove Township Manager Carol Lewis outlined that Lane and his predecessor, Justin Keller, had collectively obtained about $300,000 for each of the six towns that participate in in paying for his services.

Each town currently pays about $5,000, this due to a $100,000 grant from the state which expires next year, and a matching grant from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.

Next year, without the state grant, the price may rise to about $8,000 unless New Hanover and East Coventry -- the two towns which do not participate -- decide to jump into the pool with the other towns.

"Pottstown has definitely benefited from this," said Councilman Ryan Procsal.

The planners voted unanimously to continue to be the umbrella organization. Lewis said the recreation committee will make presentations over the next few months to the boards of the participating municipalities -- and the non-participating ones if they want to consider it -- to get their approval for the funding.

And now, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Attorney General's Help Sought in YMCA Fight

Photos by Evan Brandt
About 40 people showed up for Tuesday's meeting called to find ways to prevent the closure of the Pottstown YMCA branch.

The fight to prevent the closure of the Pottstown YMCA branch soon may be taken up in Harrisburg.

At least two Pottstown Borough officials -- Mayor Stephanie Henrick and Deputy Police Chief Michael Markovich -- have contacted the office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro asking for help to prevent the closure.

Specifically, Henrick, an attorney, said she spoke with the office of the senior deputy attorney general for charitable organizations, which outlined the process for filing a formal complaint.

She said it has to be made in writing, and evidence provided, before they will investigate, something she hopes to organize shortly.

The Rev. Vernon Ross, pastor of Bethel Community Church,
said he once served on the board of the Philadelphia-Freedom
Valley YMCA and he is glad he no longer does given the
actions that board has endorsed.
Markovich, on the other hand, went straight to the top.

In a letter to Shapiro read aloud at the meeting by Invictus Ministries Inc. Pastor Bishop Everett Debnam, Markovich wrote "I have seen Pottstown get left behind when it comes to the rest of Montgomery County."

"Everything Pottstown offered its youth, seems to be closed," said Markovich, who was joined by Upper Pottsgrove Police Chief Francis Wheatley and Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Michael Foltz in expressing concern that crime among juveniles my go up this summer if the YMCA closes.

"One thing that doesn't close, is the streets and the corners," Markovich wrote. "Once the children end up there, it is usually no turning back."

"It's a cycle," he wrote, "that we are trying to break. That's why we need to put the brakes on the YMCA closing. We're reaching out to you for help."

Further, Bob Stauffer, who was on the Pottstown YMCA Board of Directors in the 1990s, offered up a formal resolution calling for Shapiro's office to investigate what he says is behavior at variance with the YMCA mission.

Those were just a few of the more serious actions discussed during last night's second meeting of the coalition of activists and groups -- led by the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP -- working to reverse the decision by the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA to close the Pottstown branch on North Adams Street.

The meeting was held at the YWCA Tri-County Area on King Street.

Local attorney Bob Stauffer
holds a resolution calling
for an investigation by PA
Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Lawrence Cohen, who is both a member of the NAACP and the task force put together by the Y which defied instructions and argued to keep the branch open, has been penning letters to large donors of the Conshohocken-based organization to let them know how their money is being used.

These include the Mary Porter Foundation, the Christina and Lawrence Smith Foundation, Cigna Foundation, Comcast, Wawa Foundation BB & T Bank and Pew Charitable Trust to name a few.

And Shona Williams is in charge of writing letters to donors who have given $25,000 or less to the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA.

"We're raising our voices, and we have so many voices, so we can offer so many perspectives," she said.

One perspective the group hopes to harness are those of two members of the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles -- Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins.

A letter from NAACP branch President Johnny Corson to the Chris Long Foundation begins with an important caveat: "We aren't asking for money."

Rather, Corson's letter is instead asking for Long to add his voice to the call for the Y to remain open. "We can't let this happen to our young people -- they need and deserve their Y -- for sports, mentoring, community, stability and opportunity," according to the letter.

From left Lawrence Cohen, Johnny Corson 
and Everett Debnam.
It also notes "the association recently closed an in-town YMCA in Norristown, leaving young people with a local Y.

Instead of serving communities where the need for  YMCA services is greatest, the Association is choosing to build 'county club' fitness centers serving wealthy suburbanites."

Despite the united voice of the community and its officials and remaining institutions, "YMCA management is ignoring the needs of our youth," read Corson's letter. "We need the power of your voice to help us stop this unnecessary closure that will devastate our community's young people."

Whether or not the star power of Chris Long or Jenkins can help reverse this course or not, there are also efforts underway to organize a march on the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA headquarters in Conshohocken in the hopes that the power of people can get the job done.

A date for the march has not yet been set, although Flag Day was mentioned as one possibility, so keep your calendars as open as you can folks. A date will likely be announced on the new Save the Pottstown YMCA Facebook page, which you can join by clicking here.

The march would be the perfect opportunity to deliver the petition calling for the Y to remain open, which now making the rounds and has already collected more than 1,200 signatures. You can sign that petition by clicking here.

The date of the next meeting has not yet been set.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

$107M Owen J. Roberts Budget Hikes Taxes 2.4%

Photos by Evan Brandt
A LINE OF CHAMPIONS: Members of the Owen J. Roberts High School Track and Field Team, this year's PAC-10 Champions, were recognized by the school board at Monday night's meeting.

The Owen J. Roberts School Board unanimously approved a $107 million budget for the 2018-2019 school year Monday night that will raise property taxes by 2.4 percent.

The exact amount budgeted for spending is $106,878,490 and includes a $10 million capital budget and $7.1 million of debt.
TOPS IN BUSINESS: Some of the 26 Owen J. Roberts 

students who qualified/competed in the DECA
International Career Development Conference who were
recognized by the school board Monday night.

Chief Financial Officer Jaclin Krumrine said the tax hike is "at the index," or the maximum allowed by the state's inflation-based tax cap.

She also said the district did make use of any of the "exceptions" which state law allows districts to exceed their index, for things like construction costs of special education.

The board also unanimously adopted the millage rate of 31.2366 mills.

Those who pay their full tax bill by Aug. 31, are entitled to a 2 percent discount on the amount. Those who don't pay by Oct. 31, face a 10 percent penalty.

No one from the public spoke either for or against the budget.

However, there was one speaker of note -- Lucas Gray.

Gray is the student government executive council president. This was his last meeting as he is graduating and the school board presented him with a small gift.

He presented them with a appeal to stop behaving badly.

While thanking them for the opportunity, he confessed that he left almost every meeting feeling "frustrated and embarrassed."

Not because of anything he had done, but because of the board's behavior toward each other.

Lucas said he was disappointed "by the undertone of mistrust, the mudslinging" and the "petty jibes."

This behavior, he said, embarrasses a district "that deserves better."

Click this link to read more about the school's board's dysfunction.

And now, the Tweets. Amid them, you will find speeches by the high school valedictorian and two (? must have been a tie) salutatorians.

They're worth a look, successful scholars talking about the teachers who inspired them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

$10K Donations Keeps In Ian's Boots on Track

Last year, In Ian's Boots provided Sneakers, flip-flops and croc-style shoes are most in need in flood-ravaged Texas.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by In Ian's Boots.

We are blessed and so grateful to announce that In Ian's Boots has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Altria Companies Employee Community Fund.

This grant will allow us to pay our warehouse rent throughout the remainder of 2018 - which will allow us to continue to serve our community and the world. 

In Ian's Boots' "Shoebox" is the epicenter of our organization. Aside from storing over 60,000 pairs of shoes at any one time, the Shoebox welcomes people from our local community on the First Tuesday of every month to get shoes. 
 It is a Community Service site for everything from Churches, Scouts and National Honors Society volunteers to those needing community service hours through the legal system.

It is a center for education on volunteerism and local, national and global need.

And thanks to the Altria Companies Employee Community Fund (ACECF) it is funded throughout 2018!

ACECF was established to provide employees from the Altria family of companies an opportunity to be more actively involved in serving their communities. Employee volunteers make all ACECF funding decisions, and every employee dollar raised goes directly to support area nonprofits.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rupert Students Get Early Look at Possible Futures

This Rupert student learns about being a firefighter.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.
Student's learn about the dental health profession.

We have all faced the question of what we want to be when you grow up.

At Rupert Elementary School Principal Matt Moyer and his staff took that age-old question and turned it into a Career Day Fair for third and fourth grade students. 

With clipboards, survey sheets and pencils in hand, the students had a chance to visit with representatives of more than 30 different career paths and ask questions about their work and what education is need to enter the job market. 

 Moyer said, "this is a tremendous learning experience for our students, to speak face to face with so many representatives." 

Father and son lawyers Levi and Jack Wolf were 
on hand to talk about the legal profession.
Moyer added, "lawyers,veterinarians writers, photographers,bakers health care providers,firemen, members of the military and many more were on hand to give insight into their profession."

Steven Park, Pottstown High School's Director of Career Technical Education, attended along with student presenters who showcased each of the departments programs. 

"This was as much a learning experience for the high school students as it was was the Rupert students," he said. 

The future leaders of the country are in our classrooms today.

Maybe this Rupert student will be your X-Ray Tech some day.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Barth's Kelli Wolfel is Pottstown Teacher of the Year

Photos by Evan Brandt

The 2018 Pottstown Teachers of the Year are, from left, Britney Oxenford from Rupert, Dana DiDonato from 5-6 middle school, Jason Bergey from 7-8 middle school; Jill Bolonski from Lincoln, (School Board President Amy Francis), Kelli Wolfel from Barth, (Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez), Kristen Ellis from the high school, Susan Hallman from Franklin and, of course, Trojan Man.

“Enthusiasm and pride” are the words Barth Elementary School teacher Kelli Wolfel’s peers use to describe her work ethic, and they are just a few of the many things which helped her on the way to being named Pottstown School District’s Teacher of the Year Thursday.
Wolfel with School President Amy Francis

and Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez

Wolfel was one of seven teachers, each elected by teachers in their own school, who were recognized as part of the annual Teacher of the Year ceremony held by the school board.

“In the classroom, she works tirelessly to identify and meet the needs of each child under her care,” according to the narrative written about Wolfel for the ceremony.

“As a proud Pottstown parent, her own children, both inside and outside of school, are a reflection of her core values,” according to the narrative, read aloud by Human Resources Director Deena Cellini.

“In addition to volunteering to serve on nearly every district-wide committee during her tenure at Pottstown, she is currently involved in Family Literacy Nights, the STEAM committee, Wellness/SEL programming, and the math curriculum adoption.”

Franklin's Susan Hallman

Franklin Elementary

“Arriving early and leaving late gives this teacher an opportunity to ensure that each of her students’ needs are met and it also gives the rest of the staff ample time to reach out to her for collaborative efforts,” is what was written about Susan Hallman.

“Her professionalism and positive energy go a great distance in making her colleagues see her as a perpetual “go to” person in the building, whether it is for brainstorming new strategies to use with students or best practices and data mining,” it was said of Hallman.

Lincoln's Jill Bolonski

Lincoln Elementary

Jill Bolonski “does not work in isolation. She recognizes the value in the idiom of ‘it takes a village.’ Whether it is the principal, intervention team, speech, occupational, or physical therapists, or the rest of the faculty and staff, this teacher recognizes the importance of each area in taking an initiative off the page and making it a living, breathing, dynamic program to benefit students’ academic and personal growth,” read the description of Lincoln’s nominee.

“She is regularly improving instruction and intervention by using data to establish high but obtainable goals for her students,” Cellini read, adding, “. The positive rapport she creates with students and parents alike is a constant in her career.”

Rupert's Britney Oxenford

Rupert Elementary

“Any good teacher will tell you that routines are crucial to a successful classroom. The routines and environment created in this teacher’s classroom are critical to having early elementary students grow and feel successful and cared for as they continue to challenge themselves to meet the expectations she establishes for each student, individual to their needs,” Cellini read about Rupert nominee Britney Oxenford.

“Her knowledge of strategies to help meet students’ needs is a resource utilized by many staff members who seek her expertise when they are seeking the right strategy for a particular student or just a better, more engaging way of doing things in their own classroom,” she said.

Pottstown Middle School's Dana DiDonato

Middle School
Grades 5/6

“Returning from a maternity leave to a team with two new members was not enough to shake this teacher from doing what she does best. With students and colleagues, she sets high expectations and commands respect,” is what Cellini had to say about Dana DiDonato.

“Regardless of the venue, 6th grade team meeting, math department meeting, or Sunshine committee; this teacher identifies the needs, the most efficient way to accomplish those tasks, and goes about doing it with a smile on her face.”

Pottstown Middle School Jason Bergey

Middle School
Grades 7/8

“For this teacher, excellence comes as a quiet force; a force that sees what needs doing and does it…without complaint or want of recognition,” Cellini said about Jason Bergey.

“New special education teachers utilize this teacher as a resource for academic as well as behavioral advice. His presence in a co-taught classroom ensures that not only special education students will gain extra support but that also regular education students who need extra support will have access to his instruction and attention. “

Pottstown High School's Kristen Ellis

High School

“This teacher has worked at all three levels throughout the district, starting as a third grade teacher, earning multiple teaching certificates, and moving into family and consumer sciences and most recently to the library,” Cellini read about high school nominee and 26-year veteran Kristen Ellis.

“With experience at all three academic levels, she is comfortable serving on committees that service our K-12 population including our Wellness program, participating in Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds; as a Family Literacy Night teacher, a Reading Olympics advisor, and even serves her fellow teachers as Treasurer for the Federation of Pottstown Teachers.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pottstown School Board Nixes Uniform Policy

I would like to pretend that the news readers care the most about from last night's budget was the adoption of a budget that hikes taxes 3.5 percent; or the naming of the Teacher of the Year for the Pottstown School District, but I would only be fooling myself.

The big news was not even on the agenda.

After more than 90 minutes of the usual school board antics, Emanuel Wilkerson brought up his favorite subject; the one that got him elected to the school board when he was still a high school senior and the subject, if last night was any indication, on which can wax on for quite some time.

Yep, you guessed right folks, it's school uniforms.

But here's the news part.

They made a decision.

Two of them.

Both of them unanimous.

Are we done with subject?


Please, please please?

Board unanimity on the matter made Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez happy. Before the vote, he said the administration would carry out whatever policy the board decided best, but he implored them to be decisive.

"If you do this with a 5-4 vote now and then change your mind in June, you're really going to knee-jerk the district," he said.

Wilkerson's first motion was was take the dress code now in place at the high school -- which is technically "temporary" -- and make it permanent.

That passed unanimously.

The second motion, which was a bit trickier, would remove the school uniform requirements in the middle and elementary schools. It also charged the board's policy committee to come up with a comprehensive, "professional" dress code in time for the start of school in August.

Raymond Rose and Bonita Barnhill were the only board members to express a fondness for the uniforms, but Barnhill said she recognized it could be a financial burden and given the board had passed a tax hike earlier in the evening, decided to try to lessen the financial burden on parents.

Both Wilkerson and Vice President Katina Bearden said the issue had been discussed to death.

"It's been on the agenda ad nauseum," said Bearden, perhaps riffing on the irony that a matter of this magnitude was in fact, not on that night's board agenda.

"Our concern should be that the students are properly clothed, not what color shirts they wear. Our job is to give them the education that they need," Bearden said.

Parent Clinton Bradshaw told the board that the school uniform "carries a stigma. It is not very empowering for students when the neighboring school districts don't have them."

David Miller, who ran for the board and applied for the board seat made open by the resignation of Ron Williams, had the opposite view. He said the uniforms kept bullying down and instilled a sense of pride in the district.

Board President Amy Francis, who spearheaded the effort to establish the uniform policy in 2008, said she had done so with a desire to improve the district. At the time, she also touted the ability of uniforms to cut down on school violence.

However, she said, the issue had also dogged her through her many years on the board. "Different times," she said, adding "I'll be happy to have this issue decided."

And so it was.

We'll have coverage of the budget adoption and Teachers of the Year either in The Mercury or later here as neither topic deserves to be overshadowed by this silliness.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting.