Mifflin County School Board tables vote on support staff

LEWISTOWN – A scheduled vote on a recommendation to approve a collective bargaining agreement between the Mifflin County School District and the Mifflin County Support Association Education Support Personnel was tabled shortly after the start of a special meeting of the Mifflin County School Board on Thursday.

A second recommendation, this one reducing the size of custodial staff from 38 custodians to 32, six of which would be lead custodians and four part-time, was also tabled.

Following the meeting being called to order, the school board went into a 30-minute executive session to discuss the negotiations with the support staff.

When asked after the meeting why the recommendation was tabled, Superintendent James Estep said, “It is our understanding that they intend to re-clarify some issues within the association. They are hopeful they can do a revote on Sept. 28. We simply tabled it to wait and see if they do a special vote and to allow them more time for consideration.”

The special session was followed by the board’s monthly committee-of-the-whole meeting, which was dominated by presentations from the principals of the district’s four elementary schools. They were on hand to discuss plans to improve performance following results of last year’s several standardized tests that showed numerous areas of improvement that are needed in both math and reading skills.

All four principals, Terry Styers of East Derry and Strodes Mills Elementary, Paul Maidens of Lewistown Intermediate, Mark Hidlay of Lewistown Elementary and Mike LaMarca of Indian Valley Elementary, shared ideas of what they believe is working and other areas where more needs to be done.

All agreed that the reading skills of students in the earlier elementary grades need to be improved. They all stressed the importance of having students reading at the proper levels by the time they finish third grade.

Styers said his teachers are focusing more on vocabulary and literature. With regard to standardized test scores, Styers noted his schools were near the same levels as last year.

“We need to stay the course. Hammer away at what we’re doing and get better,” he said.

Maidens said the test scores at the intermediate school were “very similar to last year.” He noted that reading scores exceeded growth, “so it was a good year for us.” With regard to math, Maidens said that area is a “real challenge.” He said the school will focus on developing higher level skills for the students before they get to the fifth grade.

Other plans for improvement, Maidens said, include maximizing structure time and participating more in classroom and teacher observation.

“I need to be in the classrooms with the teachers and the kids,” he stressed.

LaMarca said teachers at IVES are implementing smaller group instruction and “giving more thought to the specific needs of students.”

“We’re getting away from whole group instruction and we’re moving students along at their own pace,” he said. “They shouldn’t be instructed at their frustration level. It should be at their development level.”

Hidlay noted several success stories at Lewistown Elementary School, including numbers indicating a slower “summer slide,” where kids are retaining more information instead of losing it during the summer. With a school of his size, Hidlay said challenges are numerous.

“LES is a massive building,” he noted. “We’re working on teamwork. They’ve started intervention groups and giving kids an extra 30 minutes of instruction where they need it. They’re going to administer the skills test again in October to identify kids (that need extra help). Then, they’ll adjust according to the kids’ skill level.”

In other business Thursday, Jerry Myers, project manager with Reynolds Construction, was on hand to provide an update on the ongoing renovation project at Indian Valley Elementary School.

“As a result of last month’s meeting, a lot has happened,” Myers said, referring to the packed board room with parents concerned about safety issues at the school. “We’ve taken extra steps to address those concerns. As for the project itself, the ceilings are in. Emergency lighting is in and we’ve sealed the floor to reduce dust and dirt. We’re doing everything we can to address all the concerns from last month. I think we’re over that gap.”

When asked by Board President Walter Harpster if the school is safe, Myers said, “There are a couple of things we did do, including stopping contractors from taking vehicles behind the building so the kids can get to the playground safely. To answer your question, I don’t see any safety issues. I think we addressed everything that we could.”

Other agenda items slated to be voted on during the board’s Sept. 26 business meeting include:

A request from the Burnham Bulldogs to have the $500 fee for use of Mitchell Field waived for its special needs football Super Bowl on Nov. 3.

A recommendation to hire Mariann Filler as a full-time custodian at the high school for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.

A request from the Mifflin County Farm Bureau to hold a “Measure the Candidates” night at the high school Oct. 22 and have the fee waived.

The hiring of Debra A. Yingling to a part-time cafeteria position at the junior high school effective Sept. 23.

The resignation of Richelle Wallick, a part-time cafeteria worker at the Career and Technology Center effective Aug. 23, and be added to the cafeteria substitute list.

The hiring of the following cafeteria staff: Tracy Bastress, MCHS; Dana Shank, MCHS; and Lori Liddick, CTC.

A recommendation to add Patricia Bumgardner to the cafeteria substitute list.

A recommendation to accept the resignation of Rob Warner, technology teacher, effective at the end of the current school year, due to retirement.

The following additions to the 2013-14 substitute teacher list: Jarod Armstrong, general science; Allison Cleary, elementary; Abigail Conklin, music; Brandon Goss, social studies; Jillian Kochenderfer, elementary; Gretchen Miller, early childhood/special ed; Susan Smith, elementary; Sarah Walters, early childhood; Staci Brittain, elementary; and Lauren Hubbarb, social studies.

The hiring of Katlin Lewis as a full-time paraprofessional at the junior high school effective Sept. 11.

The deletion of Betty Jo Knepp from the paraprofessional substitute list effective Sept. 5

Recommend approval of the following volunteer coaches: Jamie Barrett-Fetters and Kevin Diven, both for bowling; David Sheetz, boys basketball; and Greg Wilson, softball.

Recommended approval for the varsity wrestling team to attend the Powerade Wresting Tournament at Canon-McMillin High School Dec. 26-28.