This past Monday evening, at the Jr High, there was a “Meet the Candidates Night”, and all candidates were invited. However, the focus could be said to be mainly on Region 3 (Parkesburg-South, Londonderry, and Highland) because it is the only competitive race. I was very excited to attend and participate, and thankful that it occurred. We typically do not have these types of events, and I hope to see more of them for both the District and the individual municipalities.
That said,, last night’s Meet & Greet was attended by approximately 50 citizens from across each of the District’s three Regions. Moreover, each candidate, whether in a competitive race or not, showed. It was an amazing turnout, considering that a typical Board Meeting has less than 5 attendees.
The format was straightforward. The first segment allowed each candidate to make a 5-7 minute pitch. After each had their opportunity, it was followed by each being given 2-3 minutes to make a rebuttal or clarification statement. Finally, we broke up individually, and audience members were allowed to ask candidates questions individually. Below, is a copy of my prepared remarks.
I would like to thank the Metzlers for inviting me to this Meet the Candidates Night, and everyone who came out. These types of events are too few and far between in our area.
To begin, I am going to share a small fact about myself that many may not realize. I am a father of six.
My oldest is from a previous relationship, and my 5 others are with my wife Sandi who I have been with for 23 years.
Those of you who are from a large family, or have a large family of your own, know it is a blessing. However, it does come with some sacrifice.
Large families have to set priorities, know the difference between a want and a need, and make hard choices about how we spend time, money, and other resources.
Regardless, I had primary custody of my oldest when he was young, and he was living with me when he started kindergarten at Octorara in 1995. A lot of changes have occurred since then.
Additionally, I still currently have three attending Octorara, with my youngest having just started kindergarten this year. So, that translates into having children at Octorara for roughly the last 22 years, and potentially for another 12.
There are very few people who can say they have been so directly affected by public education but… when everything is said and done… it will end up being 34 years.
When my kids started at Octorara, there was no Primary Learning Center, no Intermediate School.. There was only half-day kindergarten, there were no 1-to-1 iPads, no list of CTE programs, and we didn’t even have a football team.
When I chose to buy my home in Parkesburg, there were a lot of factors, and the school district was one of them. It was a small, rural district with few amenities, but they were good schools in an affordable area.
Over the years, every time the District added something, in the name of progress, they eventually ended up seeming to pay for it by taking other things away that, in my opinion, the kids needed more.
When my kids started, there were only three schools but there were also three librarians. Today, we have five buildings, and only the High School librarian is left.
When the District built the Intermediate School, they did so without the population or tax base to support it. So, almost immediately after, we received drastic tax increases and large staff cuts.
They cut a significant number of teachers, but also other important positions like the Bullying Coordinator. Many parents do not even realize we once had a formal and proactive anti-bullying program with a coordinator to administrate it. That is gone now.
All that said, over the course of roughly 15 years, resources have been stretched and the outcome of all this progress is extremely high taxes, historically low student enrollment, and each of our schools failing to meet state minimum standards.
Each of our schools resides at the bottom 43 percent of traditional public schools in Pennsylvania, and the only Chester County school district worse off is Coatesville.
Now, when I bring this reality to people’s attention, there are some who accuse me of being too negative and not focusing on the positive. I disagree.
I believe Octorara can compete academically with other school districts. It is not going to be easy, but I believe the answer is relatively simple. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, and refocus our resources toward academic excellence.
At Octorara, we do have some very successful students who are doing great things. We have had students go on to Ivy League schools. We have those who have become doctors, lawyers, and even professional and Olympic athletes.
However, a school is not judged by how well their top 20 or 30 percent perform. Those students would do well in almost any school district. A school is judged by the typical student, and how well those without innate gifts or parents with resources are doing.
The typical parent will look at our beautiful campus, meeting our friendly teachers, and instinctively believe this is a great performing school district. They would not even imagine it was possible that each of our schools failed to meet state minimum standards.
The reason I am running for re-election is the same reason I ran 4 years ago. The status quo is not working. Taxpayers are repeatedly asked to pay more, and the return on investment keeps going down.
There are children who have done well, but each of our schools struggles with reading, writing, and math… the fundamental basics of a good education.
I am asking for your vote to keep the pressure on for change. I am asking for your vote to be the voice of retirees who cannot continue to see their property taxes go up. I am asking for your vote for the young family who wanted to live in this community, but chose to buy a home somewhere else. I am asking for your vote for the children who need a school district committed to accountability at every stage of schooling, affirms higher expectations for all students, and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations.
Thank you for coming out tonight, and taking an interest in the future of the Octorara Area School District and the greater community. With your vote, together we can move the District toward productive change and better outcomes for all students.
I do also want people to know, I am not only asking for your vote, I am endorsing Rocco Pirozzi Jr to fill the seat being vacated by Nelson Stoltzfus. Rocco understands how the high taxes and underperforming schools are directly and negatively affecting our community as a whole.
While Rocco and I have very different approaches, Rocco will fight for responsible budgets, for stopping the massive tax increases, for reading and education fundamentals, for special needs students, for greater accountability, and all the issues that are important to the majority of our community. Please come out to vote on May 16th in the Primary Election.