Board shares perspectives on hybrid learning in yearly reorganization meeting

Dr.+Elisha+Gee+discusses+the+lack+of+students+who+are+turning+their+cameras+on+during+class.

Connor Niszczak

Dr. Elisha Gee discusses the lack of students who are turning their cameras on during class.

TOWAMENCIN- In a year of modified December traditions, district business is no exception; on December 7, the North Penn School Board held a hybrid version of their annual reorginization meeting, with three members present at the ESC, and the other 6 joining from home.

The meeting began with the Election of a Temporary President, a position held for about five minutes, with the sole purpose being leading the election of the next Board President.

Christian Fusco nominated Jonathan Kassa, Al Roesch nominated Cathy Wesley and Juliane Ramic (both of whom declined) and Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell nominated herself, then withdrew the nomination to give the title to Kassa.

Kassa then lead the election of Board President for a one-year term. Fusco nominated current President Tina Stoll, which was seconded by Lewis-Campbell. Roesch nominated Fusco, who then declined. Stoll was unanimously re-elected to serve another one-year term as Board President.

The Board then repeated the process to elect their Vice President. Kassa nominated current VP Fusco, which Lewis-Campbell seconded. Wesley nominated Kassa (who declined) and Roesch nominated Ramic. In a role call vote, Roesch and Fusco voted for Ramic, and Lewis-Campbell, Wesley, Timothy MacBain, Elisha Gee, Kassa, Ramic, and Stoll voted for Fusco, giving him another year as VP by a vote of 6-3.

The Board then shifted gears, and shared their takeaways from each of their visits to schools across the district on Monday, December 7. As a whole, the Board was impressed with how students and staff across the district are learning to learn in this new world.

“I was so impressed with our teachers, our students, and the entire school community,” Gee, who visited Bridle Path and Penndale, said.

Roesch added that he was “impressed by all the safety measures” and “surprised by small class sizes.”

Ramic stressed the importance of continued Board engagement, saying “it is so important to stay connected to and interact with the community.”

Kassa shared his suprise by the “shockingly quiet” high school, and felt most have a “can-do attitude”, but understood the “justifiable” anxieties many continue to face.

The Board discussed that the most prevalent issue across the district is the number of students who are not turning their cameras on in class.

“It’s tough to teach when all you are looking at is a blank screen. So I would encourage parents to ensure that students have their cameras on. It would make for better interactions and more engagement,” Lewis-Campbell said.

I would encourage parents to ensure that students have their cameras on. It would make for better interactions and more engagement.”

— Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell

Elisha Gee echoed that, and shared a story of her own daughter’s learning at Penndale. Gee explained how, in a recent class, health teacher Mrs. Shea had a Santa hat on, was throwing tinsel at the screen, and ‘making a total fool of herself,’ but, Gee added, “every camera was on.”

The Board plans to have more conversations about student cameras in the future, and the issue has been added to the January Education/Curriculum/Instruction Committee agenda.

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich then briefly gave updates on the ongoing staffing and substitute shortages facing the district. Acquiring substitute teachers in particular had been an issue long before the pandemic, but COVID has exacerbated the problem.

We have a real situation on our hands here…When you don’t have enough, you don’t have enough. And right now, we do not have enough.”

— Dr. Curt Dietrich

“It is really tough right now to be able to acquire additional substitute teachers. We have some long-term strategies, but in terms of short-term…I know the HR department is working to get as many people as possible,” Dietrich said.

“We’ve had a substantial decline in the number of teaching-certified individuals coming out of our system. It’s very, very concerning. We no longer have that group of individuals who say ‘I’ll sub for a year.’ With that in mind, we have to totally rethink the way we do substitute teaching. We have a real situation on our hands here…When you don’t have enough, you don’t have enough. And right now, we do not have enough,” Dietrich stressed.

The next North Penn School Board meeting will be held virtually on Thursday, December 17 at 7pm.