NEW BETHLEHEM – The new acting superintendent for the Redbank Valley School District tells it like it is — and he told school officials Monday night that everyone needs to be more positive about what he sees as a good school district.
Dan Hawkins, on only his second day on the job at Redbank, introduced himself to the public at the Aug. 6 regular board meeting, saying that the district’s buildings are in excellent condition, the technology available to the students is “second to none,” and overall enrollment numbers are consistent.
“Which is really good for rural Pennsylvania,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins, recently retired superintendent from Brockway Area School District, was hired last week by Redbank to fill in while a search for a new superintendent is conducted.
He said that whoever is hired to fill the district’s top job permanently will be coming in to a good situation.
“I see Redbank Valley School District as a real diamond,” he said, encouraging the board, staff and community to begin speaking more positively about the local schools. “There are a lot of good things going on here.”
Hawkins said the positive message has to start with the district itself.
“There’s enough people out there against us, we can’t be against ourselves,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
Hawkins, who will help the board with its search for a new superintendent, summed up his thoughts on what the board should be looking for when it comes to a full-time superintendent.
“It can’t be a job; it has to be a lifestyle,” he said, noting that the superintendent should be involved in the community as well as the school. “You have to find someone who is going to marry this job.”
The topic resurfaced later in the meeting when board president Dr. Chad Shaffer asked his fellow members if they wanted him to continue researching the possibility of sharing superintendent services with another district.
He said he recently spoke with two superintendents in the state who are currently overseeing two school districts, and that both spoke highly of the arrangement. Shaffer explained that cost savings may not come from the move because the districts involved may need to hire assistant superintendents; however, he said that the districts that have moved to share services have realized other cost savings when it comes to sharing other positions and services.
“You can’t be shortsighted in a decision like that,” Shaffer said, asking each member how they felt about the matter. Board member Dee Bell said he was in favor of continuing to look into sharing superintendent services, while members Dr. Donald Nair, Carrie Adams, Bill Reddinger, Linda Ferringer and Ann Kopnitsky said they were not in favor of it at this time. Members Darren Bain and Jason Barnett were absent.
Bell suggested that with Hawkins working only three days a week at Redbank, the board would get an idea if it is possible to run the district without a full-time superintendent.
Hawkins said that while he can manage the district in three days a week, that does not leave any time for the extra things which connect the superintendent to the school and community. He said that the board needed to decide if it wanted a superintendent who was at after school events, who took the lead in fundraising for the district’s educational foundation, and who is involved in the community. With applicants being sought for the already advertised Redbank job, Hawkins said a decision had to be made soon.
Reddinger said he wanted to see a superintendent who was dedicated to the district.
“Saving money isn’t always the best choice,” he said.
Nair said he feared that if the board did not make a decision on the matter, it would scare off potential candidates. Ferringer agreed, saying now was not the right time to look into shared services.
In light of the board’s reaction, Shaffer said he would cease looking into the possibility of sharing superintendent services.
Shaffer also said it was time for the board to make some changes to its meeting and work session schedules.
He recommended eliminating the work session that is held at 6:30 p.m. on the day of the regular 7 p.m. monthly meeting, and suggested moving the regular work session from the last Tuesday of the month to the Thursday prior to the board’s regular meeting.
Shaffer said holding multiple work sessions “leads to a lot of redundancy” and that the board “seems to rehash” the same items over and over.
The board president also said he wants to see the board step back a bit to take more of an oversight role, while allowing the “administration to be managers.”
The work session changes were approved unanimously.
School Security Debated
After recently contracting with a security firm to provide guards who will oversee security at Redbank’s three schools, board members on Monday talked about other security decisions that need to be made prior to the start of the new school year.
Reddinger, on behalf of the board’s security committee, said that the primary focus will be on keeping any potential intruders out of the district schools. He said the armed security guards will patrol the schools, inside and out, and that at the start of each semester, students, staff and volunteers will be reeducated about the district’s security protocols.
He also recommended the purchase of three metal detecting wands that the security officers can use in each school. The purchase was approved unanimously at a cost not to exceed $150 per wand.
Reddinger said the board also needed to address the “big elephant in the room,” which he said was “How far are we going to take it?” He asked if the district should keep school doors locked at all times, or just during the regular school day hours.
Hawkins said it would be very difficult to keep a building locked down 24/7, as the school hosts a range of after school events for students and the general public. His suggestion to keep the buildings locked during the school day, but to allow limited doors to be unlocked for extracurricular events, was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Shaffer voting against the motion.
Also on the topic of security, resident Stewart Bain said he felt the district would have been better off if it spent its money to buy metal detectors rather than hiring armed guards for the buildings.
Bell quickly shot back, saying that he did not want to hear any criticism of money spent in the name of student safety.
“I feel this is money well spent,” Bell said after the meeting, noting that since students are required to attend school, it is the district’s obligation to keep them safe while they are there. “I don’t want it questioned.”
• Board member Ann Kopnitsky said the Bulldog Alliance will host its back-to-school social at 6 p.m. on Aug. 14 at Donald Nair’s farm in Porter Township. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by Aug. 10. She said the Bulldog Alliance will also take part in the Peanut Butter Festival parade in September.
• High school principal Amy Rupp said that the committee tasked with looking at how to move sixth grade classes to the high school is continuing to meet; however, it is not yet ready to hold a public meeting to present its information. She noted that preliminary costs identified so far to move the sixth-graders to RVHS total more than $300,000.
• Cheryl Motter was hired as the district’s business manager at a salary of $45,000. The board also hired Angela Stewart as a speech and language therapist/teacher at a salary of $44,457. Lyndsay Blystone was approved as a long-term substitute guidance counselor at a cost of $236.55 per day.
• Ryan Radaker was hired as assistant girls soccer coach at a salary of $2,670.
• Approval was given for the high school music department’s trip to Chicago next March.