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Board OKs Rebuilding ‘Grove Gifted Program

Pottsgrove school board President Rick Rabinowitrz, right, listens as Superintendent Shellie Feola discusses the gifted education program Tuesday

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – A special education consultant retained under a limited contract is expected to start work Monday (Feb. 29, 2016) in the Pottsgrove School District to help rectify what Superintendent Shellie Feola called a “lapse” in the quality and sufficiency of its gifted children education program.

The Board of School Directors, during its meeting Tuesday (Feb. 23) in the district offices on Kauffman Road, approved the temporary hiring of Dr. Sylvia Sanfillipo-Cohn to guide rebuilding the program at a total cost of $22,000. That maximum amount, if spent, represents a pay rate of $80 hourly or $640 daily, for two days per week, according to Feola; or about 34 days, over a period of 17 weeks and roughly the end of the 2015-2016 academic year.

The 7-2 board approval of Sanfillipo-Cohn’s contract was opposed by directors Bill Parker and Ashley Custer. The vote followed lengthy discussion of how and over what time the program had fallen into seeming disarray, whether a contractor or school district administrators themselves should do the work, and where the program would head once it got back on track.

Parker contended the district had enough qualified staff and time to rebuild the program itself, and that authorizing the expense would exhibit a failure to “take control back from the administration, as this board should be doing.”

Additionally, the board unanimously agreed to Feola’s request to create an additional course, titled “English Language Arts 9 Gifted,” for delivery next year.

Feola reported she conducted an “investigation and quality review” of the gifted program in Pottsgrove High School, due in part to earlier complaints she fielded from board members and disgruntled parents, and found problems she indicated dated back as much as 18 months. They included an inexplicably discontinued philosophy seminar, which Feola attributed to changing personnel, and a “general lack of cohesiveness across the gifted program from K though 12.”

The superintendent at times chose her words carefully, and in responding to board member requests to elaborate on personnel matters at one point suggested those answers should be offered only in executive session. It was not pursued.

Bringing Sanfillipo-Cohn on board for the short term, she added, would provide gifted teachers with “enough support to meet their needs,” and also allow sufficient planning with current Pupil Services Director Dr. Maura Roberts to ensure future success. Parker publicly chafed at the notion that extra assistance was required. “I struggle to believe anyone’s plate is so full or overly full that we can’t take care of this,” he said.

Board President Rick Rabinowitz recognized it may have taken administrators too long to become aware of gifted program concerns, but said he was “quite thrilled” the district was taking action and considered the $22,000 contract worthwhile. He appointed colleague Jim Lapic, who earlier had volunteered his services, to work with Sanfillipo-Cohn as the board’s representative.

“We need assurances of accountability,” director Al Leach agreed. “We don’t want to find ourselves being in the same boat a year from now,” he said.

Rabinowitz also noted that, although the contractual expense was not budgeted, the district had money within the special education personnel budget for the purpose.

Director Matt Alexander said he considered adding the language arts course a good start, but cautioned the administration efforts should not stop with it. “We can’t pigeon-hole gifted students,” he warned. “One area of enrichment that’s best for some is not going to be best for all.”

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Feb. 23 meeting):

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