Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pottsgrove Asks for 'Head's Up' on Major Projects

Despite not being on the agenda, the potential impact the 508 homes proposed for Sanatoga Green might have on the Pottsgrove School District's bottom line was a subject of  discussion for regional planners Wednesday night.

Perhaps the most significant thing to be discussed during Wednesday night's meeting of the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee wasn't even on the agenda.

For the first time in recent memory, the agenda slot for a member of area school districts to offer comment was actually filled by an actual school district representative.

David Nester, business manager for the Pottsgrove School District, was in the audience and was ultimately drawn into a conversation about why he was there.

The answer can be expressed in two words -- Sanatoga Green.

Alarmed by headlines about the size of the project and the potential for the children living in 508 homes to swell the school rolls, Pottsgrove School Board members expressed concern during Tuesday's meeting about being more in touch housing proposals in the townships.

Tuesday night, Nester told the planners that he recognizes that decisions affecting housing proposals are often spread out over years and not always easily interpreted by educators.

Nevetheless, he said, it would be nice "as good neighbors" if municipal governments could "give us a heads up" on projects which might affect the number of children filling seats in district schools.

Also of significance, and also not on the agenda, was Pottstown Borough Council President Dan Weand's "guess" that there will probably not be enough money for any Independence Day activities in Pottstown this year.

He asked the surrounding towns to consider making contributions of either money or police personnel to help defray the costs of hosting the celebration, which he estimated at $50,000.

You'll find the rest of the news in the Tweets below:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Money, Policy and Hard Questions in Pottsgrove

Tuesday night the Pottsgrove School Board covered a broad range of topics, nearly all of which can be boiled down to money, policy and some hard questions for the administration.

New (and former) board member Robert Lindgren, a lover of data, was pretty hard-charging in echoing frequent complaints by other board members that the administration is not providing enough information to make an informed decision.

"I don't have a box, I have a thin piece of paper," he snapped when Superintendent Shellie Feola described a proposal to train some staff in "Restorative Practices" methods for dealing with behavior as "thinking outside the box."

That particular proposal was tabled to gather more information. Of particular interest to other board members was experience from other districts who have used the method.

(Hint, Pottsgrove's neighbor on three sides, the Pottstown School District, has been using it for almost 10 years and saw a distinct drop in behavior problems. Shouldn't be too hard to get them to talk to you about that ....)

There were also some hard questions about change orders for the $30 million Pottsgrove High School renovation project.

Although the project remains budget and, at 84 percent complete, has only used half its contingency costs, board members wanted to know why project designers had not accounted for the need to buy a new control system for the new HVAC system being installed in the administration building.

It also looks there are some interesting policy conversations pending about having naloxone on hand, and using it, in case of an opiod over-dose in a school building, as well as facing the national conversation on schools developing policies for transgender students.

It's all below in the Tweets man, look in the Tweets.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Teachers of the Year, and a Softening of Tone

Photo by Evan Brandt
OK, so they're not The Avengers but what they do can be just as heroic, they are Pottstown School District's Teachers of the Year. In the center is Ben Hayes, Pottstown Middle School music teacher who was named the district's teacher of the year. From left are the other nominees from their respective buildings: Deena Alexander from Barth, Eileen Basham from the high school, Michael Koman from Lincoln, Darla Stout from Franklin, Debbie Wilson, also from the middle school, and Nicole Leh from Rupert. They are congratulated by Superintendent Jeff Sparagana and School Board President Kim Stilwell. 

It's that time of year.

For whatever reason, spring is award season.

So, the Pottstown School Board meeting Monday was full of them.

First and foremost was the high schools Air force JROTC program winning the Outstanding Unit Award for the 18th straight year.
The district's music department receives its award.

And then Tom Kelly from Zeswitz Music presented the district's music educators
with an award from the National Association of Music Merchants, naming them as one of only 400-plus districts in the entire country to be recognized for their music program.

State Sen. Bob Mensch presents Jeff Sparagana with
a proclamation from the state Senate.
Then it was time for state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24th Dist., who stopped by not to explain why he's done nothing to fix Pennylvania's completely skewed education funding system, but to give an award to Superintendent Jeff Sparagana who, I suspect, would rather that Mensch fixed the funding system than hand him another nice proclamation.

Then it was on to the annual Teachers of the Year ceremony.

Some of the students and teachers who went on the recent AP Government trip to Eastern Europe reviewed their travels and lessons learned.

Then the school board did some quick stuff, like adopted its second consecutive budget that will not raise taxes as well as vote to make human resources director Stephen Rodriguez the interim superintendent and guarantee him a job as assistant to the superintendent when a new superintendent is found.

Polly Weand was not happy, and said so.

But what I found interesting about last night's meeting, for what that's worth, is that everyone on the ongoing discussion about funding, salaries and teacher contracts seems to be coming closer together in terms of position, even if from different perspectives.

Let's see if it turns into anything.

Anyway, here are the Tweets:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Batdorf Leaving Pottstown for West Vincent

Erica Batdorf
It looks like Pottstown is going to have to find a new assistant borough manager.

The crack investigative team at The Digital Notebook has confirmed that Erica Batdorf, who first took the job as Erica Weekely, is moving on to greener pastures.

How do we know?

She told us when we asked. Sometimes things work out that way.

Batdorf is taking the job of Township Manager in Chester County's West Vincent Township.

And the borough is not wasting any time. The advertisement to find her replacement is already in circulation.

Batdorf first took the past in January of 2013 after the borough had gone several years without any assistant borough manager at all.

And like her predecessor Dave Forest, her primary responsibilities had to do with transportation, overseeing operations at Pottstown Municipal Airport as well as the PART bus system.

She also spearheaded efforts to get the free bike share program, Bike Pottstown, in place and racks put on PART buses so the bikes can be carried along the route.

Batdorf, who got married last year, also helped the borough and Pottstown School District obtain state grants for the Safe Routes to School program that will create more bike lanes in town, as well as the "walking school bus" system now being used by Rupert Elementary School.

That expertise in transportation recently had her tapped to become a board member of Communities in Motion, a Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association Foundation.

Good luck Erica, we'll miss you.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dueling Salary Info at Pottstown School Board

Its hard to know where to start when you weren't there from the start.

Thursday was a rough day in PottstownNewsVille because there were two meetings I needed to attend at the same time.

So I did what any self-respecting self-loathing local journalist would do, I went to both.

Yesterday loyal Digital Notebook readers read about the relatively straightforward news of the appointment of a new township commissioner and new police officer in Lower Pottsgrove.

Things at the Pottstown School Board were a little less straightforward, due largely to Internet engineers.

I have been using an app on my iPhone to broadcast live video. It's called Periscope.

As is inevitable in our technologized world, engineers decided that something that worked just fine needed an update so it no longer would. (Engineers, undermining customer satisfaction one app at a time.)

End result for you dear reader? Three videos featuring impassioned speeches by members of the Federation of Pottstown teachers are now lost to the cyber-ether.

Periscope videos only live for 24 hours and the only way to preserve them for later viewing is to save them to the camera, and then upload them to YouTube; which is what I have been happily doing over the past few months.

Well, the update hid the "save to camera" option in a place where no one who is not an engineer would look for it. End result? They're gone now.

The good news is I used the mighty Internet to find out how to prevent that from happening again.

Ironically, because my iPhone was fritzing out from all the live video, the only way to record what School Board President Kim Stilwell said at the end of the meeting was to record it the old fashioned way.

As a result, it is the only video you will see in the Tweets below.

But thems the breaks of live coverage peeps.

Roll with it.

Technical problems aside, the news out of the school board boils down to the fact that after months of hearing about stagnant salaries, the administration, through Stilwell, shot back with some salary info of its own.

Friday, May 20, 2016

New Cop, New Commissioner in Lower Pottsgrove

Photo by Evan Brandt
Newly appointed Lower Pottsgrove Township Commissioner Bob Mohollen with, his children, from left, Nick, 19; Samantha, 10 and Bobby, 21.

Two new faces joined the ranks of Lower Pottsgrove civic life Thursday night, although one of them has been around for a while.

The township commissioners unanimously selected Zoning Hearing Board member Bob Mohollen as the replacement for Jim Vlahos, who resigned suddenly two weeks ago.
Photo by Evan Brandt
District Judge Ed Kropp, right, administers the oath of office
to Lower Pottsgrove's newest commissioner, Bob Mohollen.

He was selected from among three candidates, the others being prior applicants to the board, Charles Nippert and former school board member B. Scott Fulmer.

Board Vice Chairman Stephen Klotz said unlike the last time the board replaced a commissioner -- when Shawn Watson stepped down last year under a cloud regarding unpaid taxes -- the candidates were not interviewed publicly.

He did not say why.

Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said the law does not allow a member of the zoning hearing board to also serve as a township commissioner, and Mohollen said he had already tendered his resignation from the zoning board. The board voted unanimously to accept it last night.

Chairman Bruce Foltz said the township must now find a candidate for the zoning hearing board.

Photo by Evan Brandt
Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Mike Foltz, right, welcomes 
David Allan McKenchie after his wife Jackie pinned on his badge.
The township already found a candidate for new police officer -- David Allan McKenchie.

He was sworn in Thursday night by District Judge Ed Kropp and his wife Jackie pinned his badge on him.

A graduate of Liberty University with a B.S. in biology and environmental science, McKenchie also graduated from Montgomery County Community College and most recently worked as a defensive combat instructor at Civillian Defense Concepts in Royersford.

He is a black belt and received perfect marksmanship scores, winning the Sgt. James Miller Marksmanship Award, at the Montgomery County Police Academy, which he graduated in April.

Here are the Tweets from the rest of the meeting.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2nd Annual Jewish Heritage Festival Set for Sunday

The themed basket raffle will return once again at this year's Jewish Heritage Festival.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Congregation Hesed Shel Emet.

Whether you are experiencing Jewish culture for the first time or reconnecting with your cultural roots, Congregation Hesed Shel Emet’s second annual Jewish Heritage Festival will feature an array of traditional foods and fun, as well as entertainment and education for all.

The Festival is scheduled for Sunday, May 22, from 11 a.m. – 5 Pottstown. Activities and entertainment are free.

Congregation president Amy Wolf shares, “We are so excited to present our 2nd Annual Jewish Heritage Festival. Last year, our first year, was a great success and by the end of the day, people were already asking us if there would be a Festival in 2016. Of course, we couldn’t say no!”

This year’s festival will repeat popular offerings and also add some new ones. 

"Last year we found that people were genuinely interested in learning about our customs,” says Wolf, explaining that the Rabbi's Torah Talk was very well-received, so it will be offered twice this year, at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.. 

This year, there will be two Torah study sessions.
Visitors will have an opportunity to see a Torah scroll, the ancient Jewish Written Law, consisting of the first five books of the Old Testament. Time for questions will be included. Another new Festival feature will be a 1p.m. presentation by congregation member Jack Wolf, about the 120-year history of the Jewish Community of Pottstown.

Also new this year, at 12:30 p.m., the group Music Monkey Jungle will provide an energetic, hands-on, music-based entertainment program especially for the kids. There will also be a kids’ craft table, located downstairs adjacent to one of the dining areas. “This way,” said Wolf, “kids can do some fun crafts while their parents enjoy a nosh.”

For adults, the Festival will offer more vendors this year, selling a mix of secular merchandise and Judaica. Another crowd-pleaser last year, the raffle for themed baskets is returning, giving Festival attendees an opportunity to bid on a variety of interesting items.

Favorite ethnic foods will once again tempt Festival visitors. Patrons can purchase lunch and grab dinner or desserts and breads “to go.” Choose a succulent brisket sandwich or perfectly spiced corned beef on rye or an all-beef hot dog. A vegetarian Mediterranean Platter will also be available. 

Those who prefer lighter fare can enjoy a bagel with cream cheese or throw on “the works” – lox (smoked salmon), onions, and capers. Don’t miss “the sides” – potato knishes (savory mashed potatoes and onions in a light dough), kugel (a slightly sweet “pudding” made with noodles), blintzes (thin crepes filled with slightly sweet cheese) – or enjoy them as your meal.

Home-baked goodies will be available for take-home, headlined by Mandel Brot (twice-baked
Last year's Jewish Heritage Festival attracted hundreds.
almond cookies) and Rugelach (rolled sweet pastries with filling). Other bakery items such as Challahs (braided breads that make delicious french toast or are tasty on their own), hearty rye bread, and other desserts will also be available.

For those who would like to test their cooking skills on some ethnic recipes, the congregation’s own cookbook, “Beyond Brisket and Bagels” will be on sale at a special price of $10, available on Festival day only (regular price, $20).

Ending the day on a high note is the return of the lively and entertaining Klezmer With Class, taking the stage at 3 p.m. 

Group members, most of whom are from the former Soviet Union, are under the direction of Mark Sobol, who immigrated to the United States from Odessa, Ukraine in 1989. A classically trained jazz musician, Sobol has performed at many Philadelphia area venues. 

The group describes their music, explaining, “The word Klezmer comes from two Hebrew words, clay and zimmer, meaning ‘vessel of music or song.’ The idea is that each instrument, the violin or clarinet, for example, takes on human characteristics like laughing or crying with a joyous exuberance or soulful wailing.”

Wolf summarizes the congregation’s goal for the day: “We look forward to this year’s Festival being even bigger and better than last year. It takes hard work and coordination, but we really enjoy coming together to offer this event, and to share our heritage and traditions with folks from the surrounding area.”

In keeping with Jewish dietary laws, the kosher food selections are under the supervision of the congregation’s Rabbi Ira Flax. Dairy will be served downstairs; meat and vegetarian foods will be upstairs.

Congregation Hesed Shel Emet is located at 575 N. Keim Street, Pottstown.
Call the congregation office with questions: 610-326-1717.

For more Festival information and schedule updates, visit:

For more information about the congregation, please visit: or

For more information about Klezmer with Class, visit:

For more information about Music Monkey Jungle, visit: