As we conclude another school year, albeit a year like none other, I appreciate this opportunity to address the Penn-Trafford community with some wrap-up thoughts. Under normal conditions, I would begin this letter by recapping the graduation ceremony that took place the night before, but this year’s circumstances dictate a different approach. Last night, the Penn-Trafford School District held a ‘Class of 2020’ parade to honor our seniors on what would have been their graduation night. Admittedly, I was unsure of what to expect, but I always place unwavering faith in our students, educators, and school administrators to embrace both the significance of recognizing the many achievements of the Class of 2020 and the importance of doing so in a safe manner.
During the senior parade festivities, even with my mask and my foggy glasses on, I was able to see the hope in the student’s eyes, as well as some fear and apprehension, and a lot of happiness. I saw the joy that they felt in being together with their classmates once more – even if it may be one of the last times. I saw the pride that the students have in their school district, as the vehicles sported inspiring P-T signs and were adorned with our green and gold colors. I saw the support and the pride of the families as they lined up to cheer and applaud for their own child, as well as for all of the graduates as they drove by. And I saw all these emotions on the faces of our teachers and administrators in attendance to support and respectfully bid a fond farewell to the Class of 2020. I realized that although the event itself might have been different, the emotions and sentiments were the same as at prior commencement ceremonies.
I am grateful to everyone from the community who made it possible for the parade to occur including Rescue 6, Penn Township Police, Chief John Otto, Penn Township Public Works, the Penn Township Commissioners, and all of the fire departments that serve the school community. I am very grateful for their support throughout the whole year. I would like to offer special thanks to the Penn-Trafford School District Board of Education who resolutely embrace their responsibilities to all community stakeholders and always hold the students’ safety and best interests at heart.
In addition to the senior parade, the community support was instrumental in helping our school district with the various teacher parades and the school food bank collections that took place these last two months. Our schools collected more than $20,000 for the Backpack Program as well as several much-needed truckloads of food for our local food bank, helping people right here in our community through these very challenging and uncertain times. I visited several of the collection sites and the lines to donate were long, filled with the students who not only wanted to do their part, but were also excited to once again see their school family during the lengthy quarantine period. As the district’s leader, I was touched by their spirit of generosity and I could not be prouder of my staff. These dedicated individuals never disappoint, and seemingly always outdo themselves.
In addition to the many charities that the school supported this year, P-T students and staff raised more than $67,000 for Make-A-Wish, eclipsing last year’s record. The Penn Trafford Community Education Foundation also raised an additional $75,000.00 to use for classroom resources.
My staff also secured approximately $112,000 in grants to help support various educational initiatives. Their ambition and dedication in no small part is why we were ranked #11 out of 605 PA school districts in academics, according to SchoolDigger.com. Penn-Trafford takes academics and student achievement very seriously and always strives to do our best. The principals and teachers were ready to go online with remote learning within a week of hearing the closure announcement. It was a unique circumstance for sure, but fortunately we already had a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio in grades 3-12 and our teachers were very experienced and proficient in utilizing technology in their classroom which helped with the rapid transition. Special Education teachers, PCA’s, Student Learning Assistants, and tutors served as a great resource in helping us implement this process. And I want to recognize the students for putting forth the commitment to getting it done. I also want to acknowledge that it could not have been carried out without the patience and help of P-T parents. We realize that for many, having to play a more active and direct role in the delivery of your child’s education increased your workload tremendously, often extending well into the evening hours. As a parent of a pair of PTSD students myself, I too was engaged in online education, and it always seemed like help was needed right during the middle of “Survivor!”
As we close out this school year, we are already gearing up for 2020-21. I will be sending out a survey for parents next week regarding online instruction. The district values your input on remote learning as we continuously strive to make it better. As of now, we have not received any definitive information regarding next school year, but we want to be well prepared for any eventuality. The survey will also request your thoughts regarding sending your own child to school in the fall.
This year was also the last year for five teachers that have retired: William Lazaro, Mark Martini, Renee Meyers, Steve Perovich, and Vicki Rutkowski. Their last year was certainly much different from what they may have expected. I would like to thank each of these dedicated professionals for their countless contributions to educating the children of our district, and I wish them health and happiness in their retirements. I also want to recognize Mrs. Cynthia Hawranko who is retiring after 25 years as the lunchroom monitor at Harrison Park, and Lori Beresford who is retiring after 20 years as a PCA in various buildings. Their work was extremely important in making our school district a better place to learn, grow, and achieve.
After the stress and hardships of the last few months, it is my sincere hope that the summer months bring enjoyment to all of our families and also a real commencement ceremony for the seniors. If you have questions or concerns about any aspect of your child’s education, please contact me or your building principal. As we receive updates, we will keep you informed.
I hope to see you at Kennywood, which is now August 22!
Dr. Matthew Harris