preserving choice in education in pennsylvania

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Fifteen and twenty years ago I knew nothing about home schooling, cyber charter schools, or bricks and mortar charter schools. I wasn’t a parent, so I didn’t fully comprehend the importance of having such choice.

Yes, I predominantly went to private schools. But when I was in 7th to 9th grades I was in public school. Then called junior high in the much ballyhooed and over indulged Lower Merion School District. Welsh Valley Junior High School.

We had been living in the city, in Society Hill, and once we got past the 6th grade school choice as in a good and safe education meant little kids on buses and trains. So my parents made the move to suburbia at the end of 6th grade into the Magic Kingdom of the Main Line and Lower Merion Township.

The kids in the new neighborhood were awesome. They went to public, private, and Catholic school. Unfortunately, while my parents hoped that nice kids in a nicer neighborhood would translate into the public school I would be attending and it didn’t . Welsh Valley ended up being an education all right. Just not the positive or productive one that people like real estate agents would chatter about hoping you would purchase their listings. And some of those houses were classic. (And allow me a brief detour because I have to share the fact that as an 11 year old you haven’t lived until you have seen a Main Line house with not only a padded scream therapy room but a guest room devoted to a very odd collectible – an electric chair removed from some prison or something. The house was somewhere in Bryn Mawr.)

But back to public school. I have written about it before in detail, am not going into it again in such detail, so here are the cliff notes: drugs, bullying, inappropriate teachers, and behind the 8 ball scholastically when compared to my peer group in other schools, including other public school districts. I was a very bright student, smart enough to have been put more than a year ahead and my parents saw that their child was dying by inches in this educational environment that was supposed to be so fabulous. Only it wasn’t.

So the three year experiment was ended and I went back to private school. To Shipley. Private schools were almost affordable back then. Smaller classes, teachers who gave a damn, and actual academic excellence. It wasn’t a perfect Utopia, every school has issues, but I thrived. I will always be grateful that I was able to go to Shipley.

However, today private schools are ridiculous in price and their tuitions are beyond the reach of a lot of people. Even Catholic or other faith based schools are out of reach. Because of that, there is a need for education choice. We have seen the rise of cyber charter schools, bricks and mortar charter schools, and home schooling in Pennsylvania. These types of schools have filled the void created by that gargantuan public school vacuum in Pennsylvania.

I will freely admit that fifteen and twenty years ago I was a skeptic of alternative forms of education. But then I became a parent with a kid who was a faceless cog in the wheel of a giant school district who in my opinion did not care, or did not care enough. They did not care about effectively and consistently dealing with bullying even in elementary school. They did not care enough as a top down approach to education. And if you were the parents of a special needs child? Well I have friends who have children in that category and they will tell you that you have to fight for the basics in public schools every day. Even in affluent areas.

My personal experience is that of a very bright child who was suffocating. When my kid came home with “homework” that was not a book but a poorly copied copy of a Xerox copy of drivel I knew I was reaching a breaking point. When I experienced first hand a principal not dealing with overt, obvious, and repeated bullying, I knew I was beyond the breaking point. And this was not some inner city elementary school with no resources. This was East Goshen Elementary School in the West Chester Area School District. You would have thought that a school in what is supposedly Pennsylvania’s wealthiest county would be better than that, right? They weren’t.

And I know full well that teachers I know through social media who are in this district are going to be peeved at me once again. I also accept that friends of mine whose children were fortunate enough to make it through WCASD unscathed and prepared for life are not going to be happy either, but this is our experience, and I can’t dumb it down or sugar coat it, it happened.

I know I am not alone. I know a lot of parents in Chester County who either have their kids in charter/cyber-charter schools or who are home schooling. One friend in particular stands out. Her child is on the autism spectrum and was dying by inches in her Chester County school district. Her child was not getting needs even remotely met, and they were paying for it in taxes. So my friend decided to home school. The difference is remarkable. Her child is bright and articulate and is becoming a wonderful young lady who excels in school, loves to learn. She is like any other teen, and this is thanks not to the public school district where they live, but due to the determination of her parents.

We put our child in a charter school. As opposed to our parents, private school was not in the budget. The economics of today are very different, and when we were in private school we weren’t looking at $30k to $50k a year per child when all was said and done.

Our child is in Renaissance Academy in Phoenixville, and is thriving. The teachers care, they educate, the kids are nicer and brighter. Classes are smaller, which means your kid does not get lost, they are not just a cog in the wheel. And the irony is we are now in arguably the best school district in Chester County and we choose to keep our child there. He is happy. That also makes us lucky if we had to make a change, but most in charter or cyber charter schools can’t say that. And we all deserve choice. We are paying for it.

Another thing about how I feel now about alternatives to public school has to do with my peer group, my friends. I have two very good friends who are involved with charter and cyber charter schools. One in development and one from the administrative and educational side of the table. They are two of the brightest women I know and as a parent they are exactly the kinds of women I want in education today.

I am a realist, and I am not immune to what critics say about these schools. Yes there are issues with schools everywhere. We have seen it recently with an elite private school and some very upper crust public schools feeling the sting of a drug bust, and well then there is that principal from Chadds Ford who has “retired” after a PSSA testing scandal.

So are we bullet proof literally and figuratively no matter where we send our children to school? Absolutely not, but we pay enough in taxes every year to fund public school education that we should be able to have choice.

And there are two bills winding their way through Harrisburg that would rob parents of choice and detrimentally affect children’s lives. Especially those kids with special needs who often don’t get enough help now. Here, I will let Renaissance Academy describe it as they did in a notification to parents. It is fair and balanced and tells it like it is:

Last year, the legislature passed Act 3 which was an honest attempt to bring rationality to the funding of special education children. A commission was formed to draft a report and further legislation to achieve that objective. The commission did admirable work creating a three-tiered system and multipliers for each category of special education student. But two inequities arose in the recommended implementation. First, only in the case of charter schools is the funding based on basic education funding. Second, while the implementation is to apply only to the $20 million in new special education proposed by the Governor for traditional schools, it is applied to the total $1 billion in special education funding for charter schools.

These fundamental differences lead to two serious inequities. First, the discriminatory treatment of one class of special education student based, not on their challenges, but solely on the type of public school they have chosen to attend. The same child, with exactly the same challenges, would receive more state financial support if he or she were in a traditional school than if the family had chosen a charter school. Second, the decreased funding for charters destroys the ability of charter schools to meet state and federal FAPE requirements, and in some cases to continue to exist as a financially viable school.

To learn more about the specifics of these two bills HB 2138 and SB 1316:

Click here for HB 2138

Click here for SB 1316

I am not going to say all public schools are bad. They aren’t . But charter schools are a choice we should be allowed. Our child is in a very successful charter school and a public charter school is alternative public education. This is education we pay for, so we should not let lobbyists and politicians vote into laws things that remove educational choices.

This is of course another reason why I think people need to send Harrisburg a message this upcoming May primary. I think these bills are but another reason to render Governor Tom Corbett a lame duck. So use the power of your vote. Anyone who supports these bills either publicly as a sponsor or behind the scenes shouldn’t be representing us in Pennsylvania.

However, don’t just send a message with your vote, write your legislators. In Chester County it is suggested that you contact some or all of the following ASAP:

 

Dan Truitt (House/R) 610-696-4990

Robert Tomlinson (Senate/R) 215-638-1784

Pat Browne (Senate/R) 610-821-8468 – CO-SPONSOR of SB1085

Anthony Williams (Senate/D) 215-492-2980

Andy Dinniman (Senate/D) 610-692-2112,

Bernie O’Neill (House/R) CO-SPONSOR 215-441-2624

Dwight Evans (House/D) 215-549-0220

Jake Corman (Senate/R) 814-355-0477, Education & Appropriations committees

 

More information on what politicians do in Harrisburg:

House Education Committee:

Majority Members

Clymer, Paul I. – Chair YEA (215)257-0279

Aument, Ryan P. YEA (717) 295-5050

Christiana, Jim YEA (724) 728-7655

Emrick, Joe YEA (570) 897-0401

English, Harold A. YEA (412) 487-6605

Fleck, Mike YEA (814) 644-2996

Gillen, Mark M. YEA (610) 775-5130

Grove, Seth M. YEA (717) 767-3947

O’Neill, Bernie YEA (215)441-2624

Rapp, Kathy L. YEA (814) 723-5203

Reese, Mike YEA (724) 423-6503

Rock, Todd YEA (717) 749-7384

Simmons, Justin J. YEA (610) 282-3901

Tallman, Will YEA (717) 259-7805

Truitt, Dan NAY (610)696-4990

Minority Members

Roebuck, James R. – Chair YEA

Carroll, Mike YEA

Clay, James YEA

Conklin, Scott YEA

Harkins, Patrick J. YEA

Longietti, Mark YEA

Molchany, Erin C. YEA

O’Brien, Michael H. YEA

Santarsiero, Steven J. YEA

Wheatley, Jake YEA

Senate Appropriations Committee:

Majority

Tomlinson, Robert M., ViceChair
Pileggi, Dominic, Ex‑Officio
Scarnati, Joseph B., III, Ex‑Officio
Argall, David G.
Baker, Lisa
Brubaker, Mike
Eichelberger, John H., Jr.
Gordner, John R.
Greenleaf, Stewart J.
Mensch, Bob
Rafferty, John C., Jr.
Smucker, Lloyd K.
Vance, Patricia H.
Vogel, Elder A., Jr.
Vulakovich, Randy
Minority

Ferlo, Jim, MinorityViceChair
Costa, Jay, Ex‑Officio
Blake, John P.
Farnese, Lawrence M., Jr.
Schwank, Judith L.
Solobay, Timothy J.
Washington, LeAnna M.
Wozniak, John N.
Yudichak, John T

Be polite when you contact these people. Suggested talking points are as follows:

1. These changes would ensure that that the same special education child, with exactly the same challenges, would receive 30–60 percent less state financial support if he or she were in a public charter school than if the family had chosen to remain in the traditional public school. That is outrageous and blatantly discriminatory. At RA we have 160 Special Education students, this will be nearly a $1.5 million dollar impact on our small school.

2. This inequity will most likely also prevent my school from meeting mandated state and federal FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) requirements, and could cause us to close –based, not on quality, but on insufficient funding.

3. The financial implications of the implementation of this bill is disastrous for one class of special education students, and will be a major step in the direction of eliminating educational choice for Pennsylvania parents.
There may not be any charter schools left in PA if this bill passes. Why are our public charter school kids being discriminated against as if they are not as worthy as traditional public school students? Our charter school kids deserve the same funding as every other public school child.

4. Children, regardless of the school they choose, should be getting the same amount of money. These are real children, with real disabilities who will get hurt by this. And if this passes, ALL of the kids in the school will be hurt because the school will not survive. We ask you, in the best interests of ALL our children, to not support this legislation.

My friends who work for an with charter and cyber charter schools are telling me that right now schools are trying to figure out how to cut 10% and more out of their budgets. Want to know why I admire charters other than the choice they provide our kids? They actually do more with less every single day. As opposed to traditional public schools and school districts they actually try harder. And well, yes, a lot of charter and cyber charter schools are making traditional public school systems look bad and work harder. I am all for that.

Students and parents deserve choice. Please join the fight to preserve such choice.

I hear a lot of parents who have kids in Charter Schools will be going to Harrisburg on May 6th. That is next Tuesday. A lot of these parents can’t really afford a day off, but they are making the choice for their children.

I hope the media will pick up on this as well. Education is so important. And the media is NOT talking about this, it’s not sexy enough for them or sensationalistic. It’s only education, right?

You can find information on the website of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools.

Your voice is needed to preset student equity and my final note is this is not merely another pissing match between traditional public schools and public charter schools. As the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools says (and I quote):

This is not a traditional vs. charter school issue. It is about institutionalized discrimination against special education students based on the school they have chosen to attend. A special education student in a charter school will receive between 30-60 percent less than a student with the same challenges in a traditional school.

My child is not special needs. He is merely a kid who needed a better choice in public education and a charter school has provided that. But I have friends with special needs kids. I know how they scrimp and sacrifice. So for them as well as more generally speaking, anyone who chooses alternative public school education for their children, I write this post. It is also my belief that it won’t be just special needs kids who suffer if these bills are just passed into law the way they are now.

Thanks for stopping by.

plant shopping for the garden obsessed

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My friend Sara asked me at the end of last week if I wanted to take a plant trip to Lancaster County, so my inner Pennsylvania German grinned and my not so hidden and slightly giddy obsessive gardener self said “yes” in about six seconds.

So it was a beautiful day for a ride out to East Earl today. I got some fabulous photos too I think. But ohhhh the plants, the plants.

Anyway, she took me to :

Black Creek Greenhouses LLC.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Contact: Harvey Zimmerman
211 E. Black Creek Road, East Earl, PA 17519
Phone: (717) 445-5046

OMG. Perennials, herbs, annuals, vegetables. I was in heaven! And the prices are like nothing you have ever seen anywhere. The prices to the public are basically wholesale.

The quality of the plants are what you see in high-end nurseries at high prices. They had such a fabulous hosta selection that I was blown away. So many different kinds of herbs. And they have all the old-fashioned and often forgotten perennials and annuals that nurseries around here no longer carry.

I filled up a cart. Could’ve stayed there all day. And in addition to plants, they have amazing prices on gorgeous clay and glazed pots, and all manner of other garden supplies.

Down the road and over a piece was Conestoga Nursery. This grower has a fabulous selection of shrubs and trees, at really manageable prices.
310 Reading Road East Earl, PA 717-445-4076.

I hate to take business from Chester County growers, but these two places are extraordinary. And they are the nicest people and knowledgable.

These two growers are on a list compiled by the Lancaster County Garden Club.

enough is enough

violetSo? Where to begin?  I have written a few posts in support of the folks fighting Sunoco in East and West Goshen.

Some folks have left comments. They understand it is a blog and as blog owner I reserve the right to delete or publish comments. I am not some giant Internet conglomerate and I don’t have TOS (“terms of service”) other than hey now, this is my blog and I make the rules.

Anyway, up rolls this person from East Goshen and they leave a comment. (As in they initiated contact, I did not seek them out.)  I thanked them for the comment but asked them to have a care with leaving comments about their home township I was not comfortable with.  Something which is very reasonable and pretty basic, right?

A couple of days have passed and all of a sudden this person is back leaving comments. Which I also published. Then because I published comments that I was supposed to (apparently) NOT publish, and (apparently) I am supposed to be the psychic blog network because how else was I supposed to divine that this person (apparently) was having a private conversation?

HUH????

Yep, you got it.  Pretzel logic.

So here is the 411: I have removed the comments and retained full screen shots.  I have retained the original comment notification in native format (which shows their I.P. address, e-mail address, and sender’s full name.)  I will no longer accept comments from this person.  Further contact will constitute harassment on their part. The comments they have left today can be interpreted as harassment.

And there is one other thing. Because this person has made me so uncomfortable, and  although we are all supposed to be on the same team wanting pipelines out of our communities and Sunoco to be brought to heel, I can’t feel comfortable continuing to write about this topic on this blog.  So I wish those people fighting, including friends, well.  I want nothing but the best for all of you dealing with this weighty topic.

I created this blog as my exploration and experience of Chester County.  I choose the topics, I write the posts.  This is not a compensated blog, I am not paid to write.  I write and share my photos because writing and photography bring me joy.

I will continue to share with you my faithful readers, and I thank you for stopping by.

 

“that” stretch of swedesford road….

 

swedesford 3So these are just a handful of snap shots taken quickly as a passenger in a car of that stretch of Swedesford Road that seems frozen in time and fading fast.  I would really like to take more photos, as I find this all fascinating.swedesford 6

Anyway, any knowledge which can be shared of the farms, or anything else right here would be appreciated. The history is so rich and with each farm that fails or development that breaks ground, more bits of Chester County disappear. I know you can’t save every old house, but it would be nice to have photos and bits of the history….

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swedesford 7

Swedesford 1

swedesford 2

swedesford 4

Swedesford 5

ghostly neighborhood

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This is something I have been curious about. I think I have mentioned it before- this abandoned neighborhood on Swedesford Road.

This neighborhood fascinates me. Time has stood still, someone must have bought it. Anyway it’s like a ghost town.

UPDATE:

One of my regular readers wrote to me in an e-mail just now:

Those homes are the former staff homes for Church Farm School when it was run as a farm too.

The land behind them is part of the new 700 plus acre Chester County park whenever they make it useable.
It was part of the large development deal for Church Farm after the original developer (forgot name) lost money and bowed out.

The county park is another story. It’s been in ‘development’ for years. Apparently no money.

Meanwhile, a whole generation has grown up without being able to use it as a park.

Another Chester County boondoggle.

So I guess this was part of that Rouse deal back in the day then? So if municipalities own the park land, who owns these abandoned houses now?

Ok keep those e-mails and comments coming this is fascinating stuff!

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mourning dove mourned

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This afternoon ended on a sad sort of note. I was starting dinner and all of a sudden I heard a thump against the house.

I went outside and lying on the ground was one of my doves. I don’t know why this dove flew into the house or window so hard, but it did.

I have loved mourning doves and their comforting cooing since I was a child.

Anyway, this was one of the younger doves. It sat on the back patio for a bit and then moved close to the house behind my wheelbarrow. I thought it was just stunned but then it just slumped over. It was gone, just like that.

I get the whole Darwinian theory of it all as far as survival of the fittest in the animal and bird world, but I am still kind of bummed. I love our woodland birds.

The dove was laid to rest in the woods. It is survived by the rest of the doves who visit us daily.

dear sunoco: told you the natives are restless

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I have written a couple of times now about Sunoco’s disturbing march through Chester County. I think SuNOco should get the frack out of Chester County.

I have also decided as a matter of personal choice to try to boycott Sunoco and their products. I just can’t in good conscience support a company trying to destroy what people call home in Chester County. Corporate America seems to respond to their bottom line, so why not? We still have freedom of choice in this country no matter what Sunoco is trying to do.

So…there is this great new website. I have nothing to do with it I just think it is terrific! The website is called eastbootroad.com

Check the website out and feel free to tell them you read about it on Chester County Ramblings!

Also check out this article which is related to this drilling and pipeline topic:

Vitali claims Corbett administration is stonewalling on information about shale gas drilling in state parks, forests Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 By Linda Stein
lstein@mainlinemedianews.com

And speaking of Corbett our illustrious (*cough*) governor, the May primaries are almost here. Make these pipelines an election issue. As a Republican I can tell you I will not be voting for Corbett. How can I given what is going on with Sunoco in Chester County?

Regardless of your political persuasion if you are affected by SuNOco, take it to ALL of the gubernatorial candidates of either political party in Pennsylvania. They all have social media presences, get on them. Raise the profile of sneaky SuNOco.

Again I look at it this way: what has SuNOco done for us? The answer is NOTHING.

Say NO to SuNOco. Pass it on.