York City schools put on their game faces for Battle of the Buildings

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

As time went on during the York City School District’s inaugural Battle of the Buildings event, there were few moments of downtime.

In yellow, from left, Rachel Gentile, Zachery King and Sandy Drobnich, all of Team McKinley, practice their skills while William Penn Senior High School Principal Brandon Carter, at back in green, reacts during the first annual Battle of the Bearcat Buildings at William Penn Senior High School in York City, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In fact, much of the two hours at the William Penn Senior High School gymnasium were filled with cheers, laughs and grit.

There was a 3-foot-tall trophy and countless bragging rights on the line, after all.

“This is York City,” said William Penn assistant principal George Fitch. “It’s real here.”

The event was a both a game-based competition between district schools and a collective nudge for students and teachers to build on recent achievements ahead of a new round of standardized testing later this month.

“We want to encourage them to do well,” said state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City.

Hill-Evans said her office was approached by the district’s teachers and district recovery officer Carol Saylor to have some sort of pep rally ahead of the PSSA tests and Keystone Exams.

“One conversation led to another, and we made it into this big competition,” she said.

“It’s our way of letting students know that the community is behind them,” Hill-Evans added, “as well as have teachers just let it all hang out.”

That they did — teachers and staff from the district's nine schools were game in a host of “Minute to Win It”-style challenges, including “The Elephant March,” where teachers tried to knock over plastic cups using tennis balls hanging from pantyhose wrapped around their heads.

Team members all wore shirts corresponding to their school and fought to get the fastest time in each challenge.

Norma Johnson, of Team Devers, during the first annual Battle of the Bearcat Buildings at William Penn Senior High School in York City, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Sprinkles of encouragement came from Hill-Evans throughout the event.

After Fitch mentioned where scores stood around halfway through the competition, Hill-Evans took to the microphone and said, “If you know where you stand, you know where you have to go.”

Where they stand: In the past year, the York City School District has seen improvements on several fronts, including year-over-year increases in student test scores and decreases in reported behavioral infractions and suspensions.

The 2017-18 school year also saw the reopening of the Edgar Fahs Smith school as a first-in-the-area science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) academy.

More:Students, parents get first look at Smith STEAM Academy

The district is in the process of receiving a report in the next two weeks from Mass Insight Education, the firm selected by Saylor to track the district’s progress.

The district is nearing its sixth year in moderate financial recovery status with the Department of Education.

Mass Insight last visited the district in May 2015. Since then, the district has approved a revised recovery plan with stringent goals on literacy, PSSA and Keystone Exam achievement, as well as improving the district’s graduation rate.

So far, graduation rates have declined and several PSSA goals have not been met.

More:Charter fight: Thackston test scores barely worse than York City

However, all but one of the district’s seven primary schools met the state's standard for academic growth in English language arts and mathematics in the 2017 assessments, which indicates a step in the right direction.

Team Hannah Penn practices before the first annual Battle of the Bearcat Buildings at William Penn Senior High School in York City, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

More:York City schools see internal gains in English, math

“Are we where we need to be? No. Are we where we want to be? No, but we’re a lot better off than where we were a year before,” district Superintendent Eric Holmes has said. “That’s something that we should be proud of.”

Already won: District resident and volunteer Dawn Squire called the friendly competition “absolutely wonderful” and a great way for parents and teachers to form a bond.

She raised three children through York City schools and said a team approach to student success is essential.

“The camaraderie between staff and parents tonight is amazing,” she said.

Former board member Juanita Kirkland, who ran on a platform of parental accountability at the district, posed questions to parents during a speech before the start of the competition.

“These are your children, parents — soon to be adults — and their success often relies on you,” she said. “Do you support them, or do you not?”

Even with her pointed questioning, Kirkland remained optimistic.

“Here in York City, we’re a team,” she said.

York High ended up winning the Battle of the Buildings by guessing a random number, but Kirkland saw it a different way.

The Battle of the Buildings isn’t as much a competition between buildings as it is a show of each building's strength, she said.

And, in that sense, “the battle is already won” by all schools, she said.