One of the largest crowds in recent memory packed the board meeting of the William Penn School District on Monday with many there to give input before the scheduled vote to appoint Jane Harbert as superintendent of schools. She is currently acting superintendent.
The over two-hour meeting provided fireworks but no finality as the motion to appoint Harbert failed for lack of a second and no voting occurred. Harbert’s appointment will now be considered at a special meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28th at 9 a.m. at the Administration Building, 100 Green Ave., Lansdowne.
The William Penn School Board appointed Harbert to the interim position at an August 2015 meeting after Joe Bruni announced his retirement after 29 non-consecutive years with the district. Harbert’s contract was approved by the board Feb. 22, 2016.
According to Solicitor David Conn, the acting superintendent’s contract by law can go no longer than one year. Harbert’s contract expires Feb. 28th. There could be another acting superintendent but it could not be Harbert.
“It is my legal counsel to get this done as soon as possible. You certainly want a superintendent in place by March 1st,” said Conn.
If appointed, Harbert would serve a term commencing March 1, 2017 through June 30th, 2020 at a salary of $167,000.
Board President Jennifer Hoff brought the topic to the top of the agenda and opened it up for comments from the public. School administrators and employees voiced their support for Harbert, lauding her experience and professionalism.
“We are here every day analyzing students’ achievement data to see what we can do to improve. It takes time. We are in the process to make every student successful in this school district. The plan has begun since Jane has become acting superintendent,” said Dr. H. Judy Lee, acting principal of Penn Wood High School.
Parents of the school district, even those who did not offer support or dissent of Harbert, were impassioned about the need for “better for their children.” Multiple parents used their full three minutes of public comment to plead with the board to offer their children a better education, especially in terms of grammar, reading and a safe environment.
A common theme of concerns at the Monday meeting and others is multiple bomb threats, bullying, and gangs who beat up other students. Various accusations were made regarding a family member of Harbert being a part of a “gang” at the high school.
“I (know about the) bomb threats. We cannot go into the stalls of the bathrooms with ‘Johnny,’” said Lee on the origination of the threats. “We are monitoring the outside of the bathroom.” She said students were not outside for hours (during bomb threats), a contradiction of parent-spread rumors. “The last two times, it was seven and 10 minutes and we allowed students to get jackets from the lockers. We have to be safe, not sorry every single time it happens,” said Lee.
Parents implored the board to listen and asked, aside from the superintendent topic, for immediate action to improve the education of their children.
“What is the purpose of having a board and elected officials if the board doesn’t stand up for us? We have got to stop turning a blind eye on the things our parents and families are experiencing,” said Jamella Miller, who has three children attending school in the district.
“I keep hearing, ‘Jane, Jane, Jane.’ What about our kids? My son has been failed the whole time he has been in this district. I hear you all speak about how good she is because you are her co-workers, but what about what our kids go through? The fights, bomb threats, gangs… Take up for (the) children you are teaching in this district! Our kids deserve better than this!” said Janell Frame, a mother of two children in the district.
During her opportunity to speak, Harbert touched on the main causes for concern citing Read 180 and Gobs of Grammar as implemented programs to assist in literacy.
“Our value added data shows they are making a year’s worth of growth in our elementary school and in our high schools. It is not reflected at the middle school, which is why we have a reading program. Also, the science is not where it needs to be. Data tells us everything. We look at it on a regular basis to see what children are successful and what children are not,” commented Harbert.
“Our priority is students and to make sure our children are learning. Our priority is to make sure we are working with you as parents. We have safety issues and we are addressing those safety issues,” she said.