School Board closes school closing discussion, welcomes new reps

PUNXSUTAWNEY — There will be no elementary school closings for the next school year, as the Punxsutawney Area School Board has decided end the discussion in regards to the next school year.

"As of tonight's meeting, the idea to close any elementary schools is completely off the table," said Dr. Keith Wolfe, Punxsutawney Area School District superintendent at Wednesday's school board committee meeting.

Bob Pascuzzo, board member, said some day, the district will have to add on an elementary school in town.

Pascuzzo said he was driving by and realized that the Army Reserve building on Center Street is vacant, and perhaps it could be used to expand West End Elementary School.

Wolfe said he had already checked on the availability of that building.

"There's another Army Reserve unit that might be coming in to make use of that building," Wolfe said.

Gary Conrad, school board president, said he called Congressman Glenn Thompson's office, and it informed him that the building will not remain vacant.

Thompson's office checked into it, and there's another unit ready to move here, which will be larger than the one that left, Conrad said, adding that if the building ever does become available the district is number one on the list.

Francis J. Molinaro, board vice president, said at this time, the board should forget the idea of closing any elementary schools.

"We are spinning our wheels, and I think you (Wolfe) did a lot of work, but I believe everything should stay the way that it is," Molinaro said, adding that he would not vote to close any elementary schools at this time.

Wolfe said at the last school board meeting that some of the ideas regarding some changes are not detrimental to education.

"Whether it's moving seventh grade to the high school or moving third grade to the middle school, it would not be detrimental to education," Wolfe said, adding that there's a lot of debate about class size.

"There's a lot of research out there about the smaller the class, the better students do academically," he said. "But there's also research that says it doesn't make a bit of difference."

"My personal feeling is you can put a great teacher in a classroom with a lot of students and they will excel," he said. "You can put a mediocre teacher in a small class and they won't excel."

Wolfe said the board has to look at more than just the numbers.

He said there are students with many needs out there.

"They have speech delays, reading delays, language delays and physical handicaps," Wolfe said, adding that all of those students are in the regular grade classrooms.

"Gone are the days when special needs students went off to one room, and everyone else went to their regular classrooms.

"That's not the case, and quite honestly as a parent of one of those children, I wouldn't want my child isolated either. I think we need to explore the needs of the students that we have in our classes," he said.

Wolfe said if the district were to close one of its elementary buildings, that would necessitate larger classes in the remaining buildings.

"It's not necessarily just based on the numbers, but the needs of the students," he said. "And that is what I believe is detrimental at the current time with the students we have and the numbers we have.

"So, it's my recommendation at the time that we don't close an elementary building," Wolfe said.

Wolfe said the number one impacter is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.

"It doesn't matter how many kids are in there; it doesn't matter what the curriculum is; it matters the quality of teacher that you have in there," Wolfe said.

Molinaro said everyone should remember one thing: "Teachers teach the kids; unions don't teach them."

Conrad said school closings have been removed from the table.

Jack White, board member, asked again as to why not move seventh grade to the high school.

Wolfe said there are districts that have 7-12 high school buildings.

"It becomes a secondary building, and I came from one in Brookville," he said. "There's are a lot of them around here, especially in an area like this."

White said in the middle school, there are two different time schedules operating.

Wolfe said it is something the district had to deal with, and it's certainly not ideal.

"The sixth graders, because of the different time schedule, have 990 hours of instruction when they are only required to have 900 hours," he said. "It creates a host of other problems, and if you moved the seventh grade to the high school, it would leave a lot of empty space in this building (middle school)."

He said that would open it up to move the third grade to the middle school.

"Then you have elementary buildings that have less kids in them, and if you do close one, you are creating larger K-2s," Wolfe said.

"I want to make it clear to everyone that as of this time the board will not close any elementary schools for the coming year," Wolfe said.

In other business:

• The school board welcomed the 2012 high school board representatives.

Dave London, high school principal, said Rachel Spack, the daughter of Joe and Paula Spack is the 10th-grade representative; Laura Chelgren the daughter of Tom and Nancy Chelgren is the 11th-grade representative; and Renee Belisky is the 12th-grade representative, the daughter of Trisha and Rick Smith and Harry Belisky.