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Southmoreland board lauds schools' achievements

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
PaulPaul Paterra | The Independent-Observer
Southmoreland School District students won the Golden Soup Can Trophy for the second straight year by collecting more canned goods than rival Mt. Pleasant in the 'Hunger Games' challenge. High school students who were involved in the challenge included (front, from left) Jason Pina, senior; Alisha Lackey, junior; Taylor Kyle, junior; Taylor Millslagle, junior; Haley Rollinson, freshman; Caitlyn Troisi, freshman; Casie Overly, freshman; (second row) Jeremiah Thomas, sophomore; Christina Cranston, junior; Caleb Garstecki, junior; Katelyn Grech, junior; Stacie Sample, junior; Adeline Nicholson, freshman; Brianna Bunner, sophomore; Katelynn Rocco, freshman; Chelsea Smith, freshman; (third row) Cydnee Aaron, junior; Zach Meyer, freshman; Sierra McBeth, junior; Emma Sarver, junior; Sara Tomasello, sophomore; and Katlyn Hernley, freshman.

A good portion of the Southmoreland School Board meeting Oct. 3 was spent in a congratulatory mode.

Three district schools were recognized for their accomplishments.

• The elementary school was lauded for its recent recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School.

• The primary center was recognized as a national Model Professional Learning Community at Work.

• The high school was awarded a $10,000 America's Farmers Grow Rural Education Grant, one of only four schools in the Commonwealth to win the grant for the 2013-14 school year, the lone school in western Pennsylvania.

Schools are recognized by the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program for students who perform at very high levels or make significant improvements in academic achievement.

Assistant Superintendent Timothy Scott said seeing the elementary school reach this achievement was made even more special since the school was deemed to be performing at a substandard level in 2008.

“We had to brutally and honestly confront our reality, which wasn't good,” Scott said. “This is the proudest I've ever been in my career.”

Scott and John Lee, principal of the elementary school, will attend a recognition ceremony in Washington D.C. Nov. 18-19.

Dan Clara, primary center principal, explained the recognition received by the primary center stems from the Professional Learning Communities at Work program, which calls for strong leadership in increasing student achievement and for students to learn and have access to the most rigorous curriculum.

“(The program) has become a widely accepted best practice for education,” Clara explained after the meeting. “They evaluate schools that are implementing that program as a way of measuring the most appropriate way to increase student achievement. It's an honor to be mentioned on a website that evaluates schools that are trying to become national models.”

As for the grant that was won by the high school, it is sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, which was designed to help farmers positively impact their communities by supporting local school districts.

Farmers nominate a rural school district in their community to compete for a merit-based grant to enhance education in math and/or science.

A group of local farmers submitted the nomination of Southmoreland High School and the result was a $10,000 grant which will be used toward a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum in earth and space science and technology education classes. Thirty-five laptops will be purchased for students to use in the classrooms.

“The goal was to purchase technology so kids all have consistent access to this STEM curriculum,” said Lindsay DiCasolo, one of the teachers who applied for the grant.

Superintendent John Molnar was obviously proud of these accomplishments.

“Things like this make it fun to work at Southmoreland,” Molnar said.

Molnar also provided an update on Russ Grimm Field, which was severely damaged in August due to storms. The field has not been able to be used for fall sports or any other activity it typically hosts.

Resident Fred Collins did pose a few questions of the board as he wondered if there were options other than California University's Adamson Stadium to be used for home football games, how much of the costs for replacing the field will be the responsibility of the school district and what progress has been made.

“These floods happened in August,” Collins said. “It is now October. Exactly what progress has been made besides hiring more people to study the problem?”

A complete replacement of the field will be necessary. Insurance will cover all of the cost minus a $25,000 deductible.

Molnar explained what still needs to be worked out is whether insurance will pick up the tab for design work by an architectural engineer.

“I believe it's incumbent upon us to fight for that design work or for some (the field) will last in the case of another catastrophic flood,” Molnar said.

Molnar and Scott both explained the reasoning behind the use of California University, including more favorable costs than using a neighboring high school and the normalcy using just one field provides.

“It's been professionally run each time,” Scott said. “These kids are getting a college experience each time out.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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