After his first year, Wolfe looks back, looks forward

PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you think that the last year went by quickly, ask Punxsutawney Area School District Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe: He says his first year as chief administrator of a large rural school district flew right by him.

Wolfe said his first year was smooth, and it helped that the district was left in good financial shape by his predecessor, Dr. J. Thomas Frantz, who retired at the end of 2009-10 school year.

“This was my first year as a superintendent, but quite honestly, it was one of the best years that I’ve had as an administrator,” Wolfe said.

Now starting his 12th year as an administrator, he believes his first year in Punxsy went very well.

“There are many community groups out there that work very hard and are willing to assist the school district. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year,” he said.

“I’ve found this school board to be very supportive, willing to listen to the administrators, community, faculty and open to communication,” Wolfe added. “They aren’t afraid to change their minds about something. It’s not as if their heels are dug in about a certain issue.”

Wolfe said when the board hears all sides of an issue and obtains all the necessary information, sometimes, members agree with how it was handled, and sometimes, they don’t — which is OK.

He said he’s impressed with the district’s teaching staff, and that one of the plans last year was moving technology into the middle and elementary school levels.

Wolfe said the district obtained the Classrooms for the Future grant several years ago, which expired. But the school board thought so much of the program — which involved the introduction of more technology — it was willing to continue Melissa Fedigan’s position as technology coach in the district.

Technology is constantly changing, as there are people with a lot of experience with it, as well as many who have a lot less experience with it, Wolfe said.

Having a technology coach in place has been instrumental in moving along the manner in which the district provides instruction for the students, he said.

“The goal is not to have technology take over instruction and be the only manner that instruction occurs, but it is another key component,” Wolfe said. “Imagine, however long ago, there was a one-room school house and the teacher basically taught all of the students. When publishers came out with textbooks, that was something new, a tool for education.”

Even with its technological base, Wolfe said the Punxsy district continues to purchase textbooks, because some people don’t have Internet service at home.

“It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to take your computer home to do your homework when you don’t have an Internet connection,” he said.

Also this past year, teachers and administrators spent a great deal of time with Richard Galluzzi, supervisor of curriculum and instruction, updating and revising the entire curriculum, aligning it with the Pennsylvania State Standards.

The Punxsy district has done that for years, but two years ago, the state introduced the Standards Align System (SAS) portal, an online method for making a district’s curriculum, lesson plans, activities and resources available via the Internet, something Punxsy has jumped into with both feet.

“Other districts are also using it as well,” Wolfe said. “Quite honestly, we’re pretty far along with it.

“All of our subjects for every grade level has been completed this year through SAS,” he said. This year’s goal is to audit the standards to make sure staff has addressed every subject and every grade level, making sure that all curriculum is aligned so there are no gaps or repetitive lessons.

This school year, teachers will make formative assessments daily to see if students are understanding the material, Wolfe said. Students will also have a say as to whether they agree or disagree.

This summer, there have been a number of construction projects around several school buildings, such as a new sidewalk at the entrance to the middle school and new doors set for installation.

Concrete work scheduled for a new sidewalk at Parkview has been placed on hold until next year, because the contractor took longer than expected on the middle school work, Wolfe said. Also, crews tarred and chipped several parking lots at district buildings.

Also, the track at Jack LaMarca Memorial Stadium was refurbished, which should help the district realize eight to 10 more years of use.

There are no plans at this time for any other upgrades to the stadium, Wolfe said.

Regarding the cutbacks this budget year, Wolfe said the board and staff tried not to cut any programs, academic offerings or extra-curricular offerings.

“A lot of school districts kind of panicked and furloughed 15 to 20 teachers,” he said. “There were a lot of districts that had to do that. Once the final budget figures came in, we found out that we didn’t have to do it.”

Wolfe said previous school boards and Frantz were fiscally prudent about managing money, which must continue.

“It takes a lot of years to save money, and it can all go in a hurry,” he said. “Just like a personal checking account, it takes a long time to build it up, but it can go away very quickly.”

He said the district will begin the budgeting process a lot sooner than it did this past year.

“I think a lot of school districts are going to be doing that, because we didn’t know what to expect with the new governor, and now I think we all do,” Wolfe said. “It isn’t going to be a one-year issue, and it’s going to be ongoing, and we’re going to have to be wise with our taxpayer dollars.”

A topic familiar to district residents — school consolidation — has not been discussed recently.

“It’s not something you can take off the table; it costs a lot of money to keep buildings open,” Wolfe said. “We have six elementary schools, and four of them have less than 100 students, and the other two have less than 150 students.”

Wolfe said there are no specifics on closing any schools in the Punxsy district at this time, but looking at the number of schools that have been closed around the state because of declining enrollment and the large cost of maintaining buildings, it has to be considered.

But he added, “Just because you close a building doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be a reduction in staff.”