Southern Tioga parents’ group yields consensus on issues

MANSFIELD – In an informal group discussion setting, about two dozen people from around the Southern Tioga School District discussed topics of concern at the high school here Wednesday.

Among those in attendance was high school Principal William David and school board member John Martin.

The meeting, facilitated by Sean Bartlett and Jennifer Levin, covered topics of discussion including:

Extracurricular opportunities;

AYP/PSSA testing, referring to Adequate Yearly Progress and the state system of school assessment tests;

Student motivation;

Secondary curriculum issues;

Academic rigor;

Career vocational opportunities;

Parent involvement and communication;

Behavioral expectation;

Well-rounded education; and

Elementary curriculum issues.

“We hope this is the first step in a process of engaging parents, community and school,” Bartlett said. “We really want to engage everyone and have everyone empowered to realize they can impact the schools in a positive way, and make sure our voices are heard.”

By the time an hour had passed, the three groups came up with items of concern, along with potential solutions, which seemed, according to David, to be “all on the same page.”

Agreed upon by all was the importance of developing diverse career opportunities from business vocational to the trades.

“We agree vocational is important. The challenge is, how can we offer it with our small size?” David said.

He noted that the district has delved into a childhood education training program new this year with hopes to develop several others including health careers and culinary arts and to continue the agriculture program.

“It is a challenge because there is a minimum number of hours a student must be enrolled in such a course of study in order to get funding from the state,” he added.

Another idea one group came up with was to maintain music, creative arts and industrial arts programs.

“Those programs a lot of times don’t cost a lot of money and they need to stay,” said parent Amy Miller.

Parent Robin Stetter agreed, encouraging the growth of programs such as the FFA and making vocational education more possible.

Parents also discussed the way state testing, such as the PSSAs, often “keep teachers from feeling empowered because they feel they must ‘teach to the test.’ “

“It is driving education, so students are limited. We feel somehow the message (should) be, ‘the PSSA is not an end, it is a means.’ Let’s educate the whole child,” Stetter said.

Parent Cindy Compton said her group, looking at student motivation and parent involvement and communication, discussed the need for teachers to send emails instead of sending notes home with kids, “because we don’t see them.”

They suggested adding a school newsletter, as North Penn has done, and updating the district and school websites more often, as well as using Facebook groups and fan pages for announcements.

Bartlett asked each person to add their email address next to the topics they want to research and pursue.

“We want to create something actionable, not just come and talk,” he said. “Let’s have a conversation and enable action.”

The group is scheduled to meet again Feb. 25 at the cafeteria.