Monday, April 11, 2011

Public can quiz Trinity Area School Board candidates Wednesday

Members of the public will have the opportunity to question Trinity Area School Board candidates Wednesday evening.
The session will take place at 7 p.m. in the Trinity East Elementary School gym.
Each candidate will have three to five minutes to speak about themselves and why they are running for the board.
Then, the public will have the chance to ask questions to the candidates.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Educational excellence campaign to launch in Washington

Four community organizations are starting a campaign for educational excellence in Washington with the hope that others will step up and help toward their goals.
“We’re trying to place education and personal growth as our community’s highest priority,” said Bob Griffin, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The NAACP of Washington County, Abernathy Black Community Development Education Fund, LeMoyne Center and Mel Blount Youth Home are sponsoring the Washington Community Campaign for Educational Excellence.
Griffin said the purpose is to engage the community, including parents, professionals and religious leaders, to help kids understand the importance of education. The campaign’s goals are for every child to graduate from high school and to attend college, technical school or other post-secondary training.
There’s a clear problem that’s been identified in regard to education – kids are not achieving as they could or should, he said. Griffin said plans for the campaign were well under way before the state released data in March showing that 47.54 percent of Washington students graduate from high school in four years. He said those numbers are more evidence that the community needs to emphasize the importance of education.
Griffin said he does not blame Washington School District for those problems because it is implementing a variety of programs to help students succeed.
He said it will take a community effort to help improve education. That effort will not replace the school district or be run by the district, Griffin said.
“This is not a duplication of the classroom setting,” he said. “We want to enhance what the school does.”
Instead, concerned citizens will do things like take kids to college campuses and trade schools, allow job shadowing, mentor children, take them on field trips and introduce them to the arts, history and outdoors.
He said community members can contribute their time, talent or energy to help kids.
“In these times, the community must respond but not let teachers or parents off the hook,” he said.
Griffin said it’s a growing trend around the country. In a variety of communities, like Cincinnati, Ohio, citizens are stepping up to help make education a priority, he said.
In Washington, the efforts will continue indefinitely.
“It’s not a six-month capital campaign,” he said. “This is a campaign that will have no end.”
He said the campaign will call on community organizations to renew their efforts or continue to do what they can to help children.
“We will send kids to organizations that can help them,” he said.
Griffin said the timing for this type of initiative is right.
“It is all of our responsibility to do this,” he said. “I believe that if we do it, we are going to see improvement.”
Griffin said a formal announcement and more details should be forthcoming in early May.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Western Pa. school board calls police in contract spat

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. (AP) — Teachers in one western Pennsylvania school district have a new six-year contract, although the school board president called police when a dissenting board member and some citizens objected.
West Middlesex School Board president Dale Shrawder called township police from his cell phone as fellow board member Thomas Hubert objected to the deal. Hubert was one of two school board members to oppose the contract which passed 5-2 on Monday night, with two other board members absent.
Township police arrived as Hubert persisted in questioning claims by the other board members that the contract with the district’s 88 teachers would save the district money. The deal includes a first-year wage freeze followed by raises averaging about 2.6 percent annually.
Hubert wasn’t arrested and went home after conferring with police, telling The (Sharon) Herald the contract will “bankrupt” the district.
© 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hard work pays off for Wash High student

Hong Jie Chen moved to Washington from China when he was in eighth grade, knowing little English.
Now a senior at Washington High School, Jie is excelling and even taking Advanced Placement courses. But it took a lot of hard work.
For his hard work, Jie was honored last year with the Pencil for Excellence Award by his AP European History teacher, Jeff Bunner. Jie excelled in the class, even though it was given in English.
Jie said that moving here was a shock. His family moved to this area to help his uncle, who owns a Chinese restaurant in Washington.
He said schools are different in China.
“Everything was strange, like a fantasy,” he said of schools here.
Chinese schools don’t have computers in every class, only a computer lab, he said. Students ride bikes to school instead of taking buses. They go home for lunch and then come back for classes in the afternoon, he said.
Jie had 50 to 60 students in his class there. Here, his largest classes have between 25 and 35 students.
That allows him to get much more help from teachers at Wash High.
“American teachers are so nice, like a friend to you,” the 18-year-old said. “Anytime you need help, they help.”
In China, there were so many students in each class that they could not get that kind of help, he said. He also described Chinese teachers as more strict and said they taught directly out of textbooks instead of using additional materials.
He said sports are not emphasized as much in Chinese schools, where they have only basketball and ping pong teams. Here, he is on the bowling and tennis teams.
While he lived in China, Jie took English for about 11⁄2 years. He said he learned basic phrases but hadn’t yet learned complete sentences when he moved to the United States.
That made taking classes here tough, especially when he started high school.
“At first, I did not understand the books,” he said. “It took a lot of time to do assignments.”
Jie was classified as an English as a Second Language student, which meant he was eligible for services to help him in a classroom. He had an ESL teacher help him until this year.
“He devotes a lot of personal time to doing the right thing to excel,” said Jeff Bunner, who teaches some of the Advanced Placement classes that Jie is taking.
Jie’s been taking high-level classes during his high school career and plans to attend Penn State University with a major in engineering or architecture. He will be the first in his family to go to college.
That’s one of the reasons he is taking Advanced Placement classes.
When he started AP European history last year, his answers were short and general, Bunner said.
“Now his essay answers are some of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Bunner, who teaches the AP U.S. history class that Jie is taking this year. “He’s becoming one of the best students we’ve had in this school.”
Jie took the AP test for European history last year and was convinced he failed because he couldn’t get through all of the questions. He was not permitted extra time or a translator even though he was an ESL student.
However, Jie was wrong.
He passed the difficult test, given only in English, which means he will get college credit for the class.
“He was able to pass the test because of his hard work,” Bunner said, adding that Jie earned the most improved student award in his class last year.
Bunner said that led Jie to take even more AP classes this year. In addition to U.S. history, Jie is taking AP calculus and AP chemistry.
“He doesn’t shy away from hard courses,” Bunner said. “He takes the toughest courses.”
Jie described the AP European history class as “cool.” He said it took much more time for him to do well in that class.
“If you give me a higher level, I will try harder to reach higher,” he said, adding that it will lead him to a higher goal.
Jie said his teachers have helped him a lot, as have his friends. He said students have not treated him differently because he is Chinese.
“They just look at me like an American,” Jie said.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trinity considers redistricting

Trinity Area School District Superintendent Paul Kasunich plans to recommend that the school board redistrict 82 students from Trinity West Elementary to Trinity North Elementary to balance enrollments.
Kasunich said at Wednesday’s education committee meeting that the move would resolve Trinity West’s overcrowding while still giving the board time to determine what the best grade configurations are for the entire district. The recommendation would essentially undo redistricting from Trinity North to Trinity West five years ago.
He said he’s not comfortable making a recommendation about grade configurations without doing more research and getting the community involved.
“We need to spend more time looking at the alternatives,” he said.
The alternatives include leaving the grade configurations as they are; keeping the current grade configurations with class size reduction; moving fifth grade to the middle school and eighth grade to the high school; housing two grades in each elementary school; and moving kindergarten to the high school.
Kasunich said he would like to bring up his redistricting recommendation at the March 17 regular board meeting and then send a letter with the parents of students who would be redistricted. He said he wants to meet with those parents to talk about why the move is important and how it would work.
He said the redistricted students would not be on the bus for an inordinate amount of time and that the change would not make Trinity North overcrowded.
Dennis McWreath, school board member and education committee chairman, said he disagrees with the recommendation.
He said Trinity has spent 10 years talking about grade configurations and he thinks a decision that includes addressing Trinity West’s overcrowding needs to be made for the next school year.
Simply moving kids from Trinity West to Trinity North does nothing to enhance the educational programs, he said.
“We’re simply kicking the can down the road,” he said. “I think this is a Band-Aid.”
The rest of the committee said something needs to be done about Trinity West overcrowding for the fall, but a decision about grade configurations will take more time.
“I think the suggestion by the superintendent is something that has to be done,” said school board member Jack Keisling.
School board member Tamara Salvatori said she was adamant that fifth-graders from Trinity West not be redistricted this year because they were the students moved from Trinity North. She didn’t think it was fair for them to be moved twice. Younger students at Trinity West did not attend Trinity North before the redistricting.
However, she said, something needs to be done about the overcrowding at Trinity West for the fall, which is so bad that students barely have time to get through the lunch line and eat.
“The whole day is a mess because they are overcrowded,” she said.
Salvatori said making a decision about grade configurations for the fall is too soon. Every February, the discussion comes up, but that time of year is too late, she said. Instead, it needs to be a year-round discussion, Salvatori said.
“My issue is it’s going to take a long time to put it together,” she said.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Wylandville celebrates winning Blue Ribbon

By Dawn Goodman Staff writer
EIGHTY FOUR – With music, video and speeches Friday, Wylandville Elementary School celebrated winning the national Blue Ribbon Award.
The school is the second in Canon-McMillan to win the prestigious award in the past few years. Wylandville is one of 254 schools across the country that won the academic achievement award for 2010. The award honors schools whose students achieve at high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students.
The U.S. Department of Education announced the winners in September and held the awards ceremony in November.
“Wylandville is truly a special place,” said Superintendent Helen McCracken, who was once principal at the elementary school. “There’s no higher honor than a blue ribbon. It’s like winning the gold medal at the Olympics. You can’t get any better than that.”
She was one of several dignitaries who spoke during the celebration, where all the students and staff were wearing blue T-shirts shouting their Blue Ribbon success. They also watched a video created by teachers called “Wylandville through the Years,” that looked back at the history of the school.
“You guys have basically won the Super Bowl of education,” state Sen.-elect Tim Solobay said as he gave a special state citation to the school.
Wylandville holds a special place in the heart of school board President Debbie Link because three of her daughters attended the school.
“We knew it was a special place then and are not surprised it has risen to be honored as a special place in our nation,” Link said.
Dave Coder, who works in U.S. Rep. Mark Critz’s office, brought the school a copy of the Congressional Record from when Critz spoke on the floor about Wylandville earning the Blue Ribbon Award.
Coder said his daughter was a student teacher at Wylandville last year.
“She told me what a wonderful school it was,” he said.
State Rep.-elect Brandon Newman, a former student at Wylandville, said it was great to come back to the school.
“This is a fantastic award, a fantastic opportunity,” he said, adding that teachers and parents have done a great job at Wylandville. “It’s a collaborative effort to make this a Blue Ribbon School.”
Grace Lani, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction who was the principal when Wylandville won the award, presented the plaque from the U.S. Department of Education that will hang on the school wall.
“We should be very proud,” she said. “You should be Wylandville proud.”

Join the Observer-Reporter's conversation about education at our blog at


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greene County Career and Technology Center joint committee addresses financial irregularities

WAYNESBURG - A forensic audit initiated last month after financial irregularities were uncovered at the Greene County Career and Technology Center is not expected to be completed until late next month.

The auditors, Cypher and Cypher, are proceeding at a good pace, John Stets, solicitor for the center's joint operating committee, said at a committee meeting Wednesday.

"Our bills are up to date at this point, and we do have cash on hand," Stets said. The center knows of no bills that have not been paid and that includes to vendors, insurance providers, retirement accounts and the federal government, he said.

The committee, however, may later have to address any shortfall that could face the center at the end of the fiscal year, he said.

The committee has indicated money might be missing. Asked if the committee knew how much, Stets said members were given some "preliminary numbers." He declined to say how much money might be gone, though he later said it is a "significant amount."

All programs at the center will continue to operate and instruction will continue as planned, said Thelma Szarell, superintendent at West Greene and superintendent of record at the center.

The committee began the forensic audit last month after its bank noticed irregularities in the center's payroll account and contacted the center.

The center's business coordinator for the last two years, Jo Phyllis Popielarcheck, was suspended Nov. 4. Her resignation was accepted by the committee at its last meeting Nov. 17.

At that meeting, committee members referred to the investigation as a "criminal investigation" and said state police and the district attorney's office had been notified.

The five school districts that form the center also agreed to accelerate payments to the center to cover any cash shortfalls.

Committee chairman Tom Howard explained last month how problems could develop at the center when only one person is in charge of finances and given a great deal of autonomy.

The committee took several steps last month to tighten controls by requiring additional "live" signatures on checks and designating a person to log in and distribute mail.

Other administrative procedures would be implemented to ensure similar problems never occur again, Howard said.

In other business, the committee reorganized, re-electing Howard, who represents Southeastern Greene, chairman and Roberta Boyd, who represents Central Greene, vice chairman. Other committee members are Pete Shlosky, Carmichaels Area; Jim Handley, West Greene; and Lisa Mattish, Jefferson-Morgan. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Trinity board member resigns

Trinity Area School Board member Tom Bodnovich is resigning from the board because he says he doesn't agree with how the arrest of Superintendent Paul Kasunich has been handled.

Kasunich was arrested in November for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend Darlene Tartaglione. He waived a preliminary hearing, and the charge will proceed to Allegheny County Court.

The board placed Kasunich on paid leave for a few weeks. Last week, he resumed his duties.

Bodnovich, who was the board president until the annual election last week when Sandy Clutter was voted into the position, said Monday that he has been dismayed with the events of the last several weeks and that Kasunich should have taken a voluntary unpaid leave.

"In my opinion, the employee who is charged with simple assault should not be in his current position until, and if there is, a satisfactory resolution to the case," Bodnovich wrote in a news release.

He said Kasunich's continued employment is not in the best interest of the community, students or staff.

"In good conscience, I would find it very difficult to work on the board while the daily operation is under questionable leadership," Bodnovich said. "I hope that the residents of Canton Township understand and appreciate my position."

He said he is resigning because he has to do what he feels is right.

"Anywhere else in the world, people would resign instead of putting their company through this," Bodnovich said.

Kasunich's attorney, Robert Del Greco Jr., could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Bodnovich said there is little to no accountability in public education. He said he respects his fellow board members and hopes that accountability will return to public education.

"Given the inconsistent leadership created by turnover in the administration, it has been difficult to improve the educational process," he said. "However, we have made some progress in the educational program for our students."

Bodnovich said his resignation is effective Jan. 31 to give the board time to find a replacement. He submitted his letter of resignation Monday. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Kasunich placed on paid leave

The Trinity Area School Board has placed Superintendent Paul Kasunich on paid administrative leave because of allegations that he assaulted his girlfriend.
The board met with its solicitor Thomas Breth in executive session Friday to discuss the matter and Breth talked to Kasunich over the weekend.
Breth said Monday that the leave will be in place until further notice. He said the board will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions as more information becomes available. Assistant Superintendent Yvonne Weaver has been asked to fulfill Kasunich’s duties as long as he is out of the district, Breth said.
Find out more in Tuesday's Observer-Reporter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wash High to host Veteran's Day event

Washington High School will host a student-organized event Thursday to honor veterans.

Wash High student Benjamin Marasco said he organized the program to honor the sacrifice, courage and service of the nation's veterans and because it is important for this generation to understand the service of our veterans.

"Their debt is one that we can never repay," he said "We want as many people there as possible, so that we may show them our gratitude and gratefulness."

Chief Master Sgt. Terrence Malley will be the keynote speaker for the event in the auditorium that will start at 1:30 p.m.

Malley served in the Marines on a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. As a squad leader, he and his squad conducted jungle operations, where they engaged enemy units on the North Vietnamese Army as well as Viet Cong forces.

After being discharged from the Marines, he pursued a career in plumbing. He was the foreman for the tropical rain forest complex at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Pittsburgh's River Safety Center.

He re-entered the military in 1981 with the 171st Air Refueling Wing and was selected as a first sergeant in 2000 and served 10 years in that capacity.

He was deployed with the Pennsylvania Air Guard and served tours in five European countries, as well as Japan, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan.

Malley has been awarded 25 federal and state military decorations. He retired from the Pennsylvania Air Guard and the plumbers union in March.

Marasco said veterans, their families and members of the community are invited. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fort Cherry, Burgettstown get grants for college-ready centers

Fort Cherry and Burgettstown Area school districts were each awarded a $93,250 grant to create college-ready centers at their high schools.
The two-year grant worth a total of $186,500 is a collaboration among the schools, the Benedum Foundation and the Community College of Allegheny County. School officials met Tuesday to discuss how the grant will be implemented. Both districts hope to have the centers up and running in the spring.
The money will be used for computers, software licenses, salaries and benefits for tutors, supplies and travel expenses for the coordinator.
The purpose of the centers is to decrease the number of students who require remediation when entering college, said Fort Cherry director of curriculum Trish Craig. Burgettstown also will use the grant to help students perform better in math, reading and writing, said Assistant Superintendent Amy Rush.
Both districts will use the PLATO Learning Systems software. The program exempts students from lessons about information they already know and reinforces areas where they need help, Rush said. PLATO Learning constructs an educational program that is unique to each student. Each student completes a pre-test that assesses the student’s current knowledge. The system then creates a learning program based on those results.
Burgettstown plans to set up one center at the high school and have a number of classes using it, Rush said. Who uses the software will be decided based on individual student data, Rush said.
Fort Cherry is creating a mobile center so it can be used by more students, given the limitations of space within the high school building, Craig said.
For the 2010-11 school year, the tutoring will be incorporated into the current tutoring program at the high school, Craig said. The program will be evaluated in the spring for implementation during the 2011-12 school year.