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West York schools eye full-day kindergarten, other changes to fit new population
Two months after starting his role as superintendent of West York School District, Todd Davies announced a yearslong set of goals for the district that includes the implementation of full-day kindergarten and school resource officers amid a changing economic population.
Davies laid out his agenda at a nearly three-hour school board work session Tuesday night, Feb. 13, which included three "focal points:" aiming to assist students in determining their careers after high school; finding efficiencies in student and staff schedules; and recruiting and retaining high-performing teachers.
Nearly 30 new positions across elementary, secondary and administrative levels were in the plan, including the hiring of four full-day kindergarten teachers to begin in the 2018-19 school year.
"Full-day (kindergarten) is so important for our youngest," Davies said in a telephone interview on Thursday, Feb. 15. "It's a priority to focus on the investment of the district."
The district has seen changing demographics, with district children from low-income families rising from 39 percent to nearly 50 percent in the past five years, according to state Department of Education data.
"With the increasing rate of poverty at the district, you have to go earlier," Davies said. "It's imperative."
Other elementary positions include a permanent behavior interventionist, an ESL teacher and additional elementary teachers.
Additional staffing on the secondary level includes two new eighth-grade teachers and two school resource officers — one each for the middle school and high school.
Davies is coordinating with the West York Borough Police and West Manchester Township Police to provide services to the district, though the addition of the district's first-ever SROs will likely occur later in the 2018-19 school year.
Concerns: During public comment time, several parents spoke of safety concerns at West York Area Middle School, including student bullying and assaults.
Parents and substitute teachers also spoke of large class sizes that create challenging learning environments.
"The teachers are spending far too much time on discipline issues and not enough time on teaching," said Kara Jury, an elementary substitute teacher.
Davies said that after hearing some of the concerns, he asked incoming acting middle school principal Anthony Campbell to look into the need for a behavior interventionist at the middle school.
Further middle school teacher and JROTC instructor hires will occur later in the three-year plan, according to the presentation.
Cost: While predicting budgets is like "looking into a crystal ball," Davies said the district has played it safe for so many years with tax increases that each of the past three school years have ended up with a surplus instead of the deficits business administrators anticipated, leaving a healthy available fund balance.
In addition, state reimbursements for construction projects and basic and special education funding have nearly erased the estimated deficit for the existing school year, according to district business office data.
That positive financial data is what led administrators to propose a zero tax-increase budget, the first in at least four years at the district.
Davies said he looks forward to starting the recruitment process for additional staff once the West York school board votes on his plan on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. the LGI/Board Room at West York Area High School on Bannister Street.