Jonathan Kassa-North Penn Neighbors for Progress
If re-elected, what are your biggest priorities post-pandemic?
1) Fair and Proper Funding — school board directors must be public education champions, this is not a partisan issue. When Harrisburg short-changes North Penn, we are all stuck with the bill and the consequences. Proper funding that accounts for skyrocketing unfunded mandates, this is the bedrock of progress for all: benefiting students, families, taxpayers and long-term economic development.
2) Safe, Secure and Vibrant Schools — there can be no student success without the most primary needs being met; if we are mindful of well-being and create a culture of proactive safety, communication, trust and responsiveness, then students can focus on education. This strategy needs to continue to be supported with investments in evidence-based best and promising practices which extend beyond 20th century-based, reactive security tactics. A holistic safe schools program needs to be inclusive and reflect the needs and goals of the entire community, with transparency, data-based accountability, student input and cultural proficiency at the forefront of efforts.
3) Infrastructure — a 21st century education means that we have a comprehensive strategic plan to maintain and renovate facilities, with the appropriate resources, to support academic, experiential and professional pursuits for students to attain their personal goals. Such a plan didn’t exist before I took over the Facilities & Operations committee, it does now. A key North Penn Neighbors for Progress plank in our campaign platform was to facilitate an honest, ongoing community discussion of the district’s needs, based on facts and independent assessments. Now, we now have an updated Crawford complex that is significantly more inclusive of our community members and groups that can use the facility, air conditioning in all elementary schools and a long-overdue renovation of Knapp Elementary — both on-time and on/or under budget. This approach needs to continue as we look to address North Penn High School, decades-old “temporary mods” across the district and HVAC and other significant upgrades in our middle schools and beyond. The can was kicked down the road for decades by prior school boards and now isn’t the time to go backwards.
What are the biggest things you’ve learned, personally and/or professionally, from your experience as a Board member since the start of the pandemic?
You learn how to adjust to a reality with changing or incomplete information, facts and challenges. I learned the importance of developing consensus and communicating openly with the public when there were times no decision was a good decision but we needed to determine the most reasonable path forward. We also realized the importance of the brave discussions and actions central to the fairness and goals of the social justice movement. Throughout the past year, the entire community learned about the importance of local government in the lives of people and the differences we can make by listening and keeping the humanity at the center of our actions. This pandemic era and its repercussions are far from over, I’m still learning what I can do to support the resilience and success of our North Penn families and community.
I learned that can never think that we have all the answers ourselves. As elected, volunteer school board directors, we spent thousands of hours personally responding and listening to people about the vast array of topics raised throughout the pandemic. I learned that people can be very upset with you and that doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed because this pandemic was traumatic for people, families, the community and especially students. Through it all, with the personal and professional stresses of the pandemic, my passion for service drove me to focus our district’s role in advancing the health, safety and educational goals or our community. Ultimately, this experience reinforced what an amazing community we have and I’m grateful for the staff, teachers and leadership that were flexible, creative and dedicated to supporting the North Penn community.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently over the past year?
We were in constant contact serving families with pressing questions and needs. However, we could have communicated better between the district and special needs families about how thorough the work had been by our school teams to serve exceptional students at the start of the school year; especially the plans to get these students back in buildings first, as fast and safely as possible.
What is your proudest accomplishment from your time on the Board thus far?
Pre-pandemic, finally completing a comprehensive ten-year capital plan for infrastructure improvement and investments which resulted in the renovation of Knapp Elementary is symbolic of delivering on promises and why I ran: to get things done and ensure we do it right without cutting corners.
Since the pandemic, the well-over 1million meals that North Penn has distributed across the community is a source of pride. These are healthy, essential meals that our district is able to provide in order to reduce food insecurity, and therefore possibly reduce other family stressors, across a large community of nearly 100,000 people during a pandemic. This would not have occurred if we weren’t in the financial shape to do so, this is what good local government is all about, doing what is right for the people and the community. Good government is possible when you have people that believe government can do good.
In other years, SB elections may not have had a direct impact on the day to day lives of all students and families. Now, with the ongoing re-opening process, that is not the case. In those terms, does this election feel especially important?
SB elections have always had a direct impact, that’s why I decided to run 4 years ago, to get things done and make a difference… it’s just that people usually weren’t paying as much attention. Now, out of this pandemic-era, we have increased engagement and many more people that are passionate about what direction the district should take, this is never a bad thing for democracy — the goal now is to stay in a fact-based reality that lifts-up the community discourse. Common sense before politics, you know? SB races across the region seem really important at this time, the rhetoric has heated up earlier than ever because there is a revenge-based politics that I reject. We should be pulling together coming out of this pandemic and realizing all that we’ve accomplished and still have left to do – this is exactly why I’m running for re-election. Yet, I’m confident in North Penn voters’ ability to discern genuine, transparent candidates from the others.