As we return, take heart in so many positives

As we return, take heart in so many positives
Posted on 01/03/2021

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a delightful and restful Holiday Break.  For the Harners it was no doubt the most restful Holidays in more than 33 years.  With our two children in Washington and Tennessee, and in-laws in Arizona, our Holiday consisted of cardio-walks and workouts, reading newspapers and the Economist, and making our way through a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle (still not done).   


Before 2020 gets too far back in our rearview mirror, I want to acknowledge that it was an extremely challenging and stressful year for nearly everyone.  But, there were so many positives!  I want to reflect on a few celebrations that come to mind. Many of our blessings and successes were overshadowed by so many of our personal and organizational challenges.  Right before our lockdown, light years ago, the Quakertown Wrestling team won the District One Championship for the 4th year in a row and competed for the PIAA team title in Hershey.  At the beginning of April, teachers made an instructional paradigm shift from the classroom to all virtual settings. With creative scheduling last spring and fall, teachers made a huge leap in their skill and use of technology platforms. They accomplished phenomenal instructional growth in a relatively short time.


Alongside teachers, for the past nine months, was the QCSD Tech Department.  Their tireless efforts, and years of investment into the district’s 1:1 program, made our transition into an all-virtual environment seamless.  The Tech Department’s work was non-stop with a priceless “can do” approach! Through contributions by our Education Foundation, Cares Act and other grant funding, students who did not have connectivity at home had it provided. Food service continued unabated throughout the pandemic with a couple of our teachers even taking food to the homes of those without transportation.  One of our many high school student stars is senior Mason Smith. His Eagle Scout project supported the Quakertown Food Pantry. And since it worked so well, when COVID-19 hit the community last spring, he organized a food drive with each Quakertown municipality to again benefit the pantry with 2,056 pounds of food. Mason and two other QCSD students, senior Raymond Slifer and Strayer seventh-grader Alivia Remick, were among a small group of 10 from Bucks County students to win the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce 2020 Young Citizen Award. Raymond, in fact, a Machining Technologies student at the Upper Bucks County Technical School, is the first UBCTS student to be selected a Pennsylvania Career and Technical Education Presidential Scholar! 


Excellence also took place on athletic fields and in the arts. QCHS Sr. Tyler Merwarth, a three-year starter on both offense and defense for the Panthers, was selected to the All-State Football First Team. And if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch the high school choirs and alumni presentation of O Holy Night.


There were also several highlights at the end of last academic year!  The first was the performance of HS students on the end-of-year Advanced Placement exams. More students than ever in QCHS history took the exam, with more AP exams passed!  As a key indicator of college readiness, hats off to students and teachers for continuously seeking to improve!  For the entire community, a highlight was the clever workarounds that made graduation for the Class of 2020 memorable.  Between guidance counselors and HS administrators hand delivering caps and gowns to the graduates with local fire truck escorts, to the QCHS TV production teacher producing a graduation ceremony video, and to the Graduation Parade, the QCSD community had so many things to be thankful for.


Getting ready for reopening schools in the fall became a seven days a week task throughout the summer.  More than 100 parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and support staff members participated in developing the QCSD Reopening Plan.  To put it all into perspective, most school districts across the country have yet to offer any live instruction.  Special shout outs to our school nurses. Since August, they have been critical links in defining and implementing the protocols in our health and safety plan so we could offer live instruction safely. They worked throughout the winter Holiday with the Bucks County Department of Health with COVID case investigations identifying close contacts and providing notices.  They were busy while many of us were relaxing.  Since we left school two weeks ago, QCSD has had 11 employees and 20 students identified with COVID, along with 44 close contacts.  Another little seen and mostly unsung group of heroes this fall and winter is our custodial team of employees and members of the SSC staff - wiping down high touch areas by day and conducting deep cleaning by night and weekend.  It will be the hard work of these folks that will rapidly turn around a school when it needs to be deep cleaned, meeting the Governor’s requirements for us to remain open for live instruction.  


A significant highlight for the entire Quakertown community was the completion of the Reconstruction/Renovation project of Neidig Elementary School.  It is a beautiful school new building, that is now aligned/equitable with the programming of services at three of the four other elementary schools in the district.  It also added an additional 200 students seats to the district.  We look forward to a future celebration of its renovation and reopening.


Tomorrow, January 4th, we will be back in school again!  Our plate will be full!  In the next couple of months the Board will have several heavy lifts that will have an impact on next year’s budget, and quality of services over the next few years.  The first will be in early February when the Board receives the Community K5(6) Redistricting Committee’s Final Report.  If you recall, the district has not redistricted its elementary schools since “Open Areas” were eliminated six years ago, other than to reassign TV students when that building was closed.   This has caused a significant student and staff imbalance that negatively impacts class sizes and equity across schools.  The Community Committee has diligently worked since August.  If you are an elementary parent in the coming years, please take a look at the Committee’s webpage and provide your feedback to the Committee, and once the recommendations are presented in February, to the Board.  The Board will have several months to consider the redistricting recommendations, with a decision expected in mid to late spring.  


Also, on the Board’s winter-spring agenda is reviewing transportation proposals for bus services, negotiating the QCEA (professional teaching staff) collective bargaining agreement (CBA), tracking the impact of other state-level decisions, such as PSERS increases and state budget, and local decisions that will impact the development of next year’s budget. Coming off of last year’s first no-tax increase year in QCSD history, and thanks to fiscally thoughtful decision-making this year, QCSD continues to be in a healthy financial position.


Thanks for reading!  Looking forward to moving deliberately into 2021 and the remainder of the current academic year primarily focused on teaching and learning, and improving student performance.


Bill Harner

Superintendent

wharner@qcsd.org

@BillHarner


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