Downingtown Area School District held a School Safety Summit

The Downingtown Area School District held its 5th Annual School Safety Summit on August 9, 2017.   Joining district administrators, principals and custodians were law enforcement officials representing our district’s 8 municipalities as well as Chester County DA Tom Hogan.  DASD’s Chief Security Officer Tim Hubbard was the presenter.  Mr. Hubbard spoke on a variety of topics including the responsibilities of the district’s school resource officers, holding emergency drills for 2017-2018 school year, pipeline safety measures and information on opioid and drug safety awareness.  He also gave an update on the district’s new video surveillance system that was approved by the board in 2014.

The district now has 1350 cameras in place throughout its 16 schools and administrative offices.  The intent of the cameras is to maintain the safety and protection of students and staff and to help law enforcement officials in the event of a criminal event.  Mr. Hubbard noted that once the first cameras were in place and turned on, authorities were able to find and arrest vandals who had drawn grafitti on the outside walls of DHS West and on several Downingtown Borough buildings.  

“We noticed a positive change right away in some student behavior”, said Mr. Hubbard.  “Some of the he said/she said issues that used to come before principals has stopped.   It is pretty hard to say that Johnny has done something when the video shows that Johnny hadn’t even been in the room when the incident happened.”

Stefani Dunne, a Downingtown Borough Police Officer is also the school resource officer for DHS West.  A school resource officer serves as counelor, enforcer and mentor in a school building.  Officer Dunne spoke about how pleased she is to be part of the DHS West family.  She joked that she never thought she’d be going to Prom again, but go she did at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year. Officer Dunne has a degree in education which has greatly benefited both her and the students she meets in the course of her day.   

“I think the kids feel really comfortable coming in to talk with me and I’ve even had some come up to my car this summer to say hi. I’m looking forward to returning to my duties at West.”

With the pipeline being in the news, Mr. Hubbard presented some dos and don’ts to those present.   He also described some of the danger signals to be aware of when in the vacinity of a pipline, such as a hissing sound, bubbling on the ground, discolored or dead vegetation or dry soil. He urged the principals present to conduct all-event drills that would include the opportunity for students and staff to practice some of the things they would need to do during a pipeline emergency.  

Chester County Emergency Services now offers residents the opportunity to sign up for alerts through   This is Chester County’s official source for emergency information and government notifications.   




What’s in a Box?

What’s in a Box?

I’m trying to get my Christmas shopping done early this year. Somehow, I expect I’ll still be scrambling at the last minute, but I’ve already managed to stash a few boxes into the closet—like a writer squirreling away great ideas in a notebook.

The downside of my ingenious planning? Friends and family have to suffer through me—repeatedly—reminding them, “I got your present already!” grinning and cavorting impishly. I can’t help it, though. I’m excited about the presents I’ve chosen.

Choosing a great present takes effort…

You need to know your subject and his or her “present” interests. It takes real effort to think through just the right gift.

Sometimes it’s a lot of work with less-than-intended rewards. From what I’ve been told, my childhood self (unpolished in social graces) tended to unwrap new toys, set them aside, and play with the boxes.

My antics were either endearing, or aggravating, depending on whom you asked—and depending on whether they were the ones who had paid good money for the cast-aside gift.

Fast-forward to school essays…

Teachers disagree over the benefit of the ubiquitous five-paragraph essay. Schools begin easing students into this format as early as third grade, and they continue all the way into high school—and even college.

Some teachers remain devout believers in the five-paragraph essay. Some are dissenters. They chafe at imposing such confining constraints on their students. They feel (and many students most likely agree) that the tight requirements “box in” their creativity.

The “essay box” isn’t intended to constrain creativity…

When I’m teaching, my hope is that students will realize the box isn’t there to hold them in, but rather, to open into new worlds. Now, I certainly hope that students will progress beyond the academic five-paragraph essay, but it is still a good place to start, much like a skater starts with compulsory routines, or a musician starts with scales. Great essay writers, columnists, or book authors aren’t doing anything fundamentally different than what students learn to do in a school essay (provided they learn it well). They come up with ideas or positions, support them, and present conclusions. These are the basic ingredients of even the most advanced literary works.

One of my favorite comic strips is Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The main character, Calvin, knows his way around a box. He’ll take some plain old corrugated cardboard and turn it into a time machine, a duplicator, or a transmogrifier. In the world of the comics, this leads to all sorts of creative adventures: to other worlds and other times.

The key to unlocking excellent writing…

The key is to help students understand that writing is not about forcing themselves to fit into a box, but rather, seeing what they can put—and discover—inside that box. The best teachers realize that learning is not something one can pre-package in a box. Each student will find something different inside an empty box.


– Fred Feldman, with Karen Davis – Above Grade Level


Student Writing Skills Workshop

A Pen and A Plan: A Writing Workshop for the Middle School Student

Led by Ms. Sherry Parnell: Independent Professional Writer & Editor, Master of Arts in
Middle school age students can lose as much as 30% of their school year
learning over the summer. 1 This includes a loss of critical writing skills your child
needs to succeed. For the student seeking to keep up and get ahead, spending
as little as 2-3 hours per week during the summer can make a big difference.
Above Grade Level understands that as a parent you want to put your child in
the best position for success each new school year. That’s why we created the
Writing Skills Workshop for middle school students. This unique writing
program focuses on analytical and creative writing techniques. Students learn
to think critically and organize their thoughts into clear, cohesive ideas. They
will also learn some of the secrets professional writers use make their writing a
pleasure to read: writing with elements of style. The writing skills learned in this
course will be valuable throughout their middle school, high school, and college
Put your child in the best position to succeed. Above Grade Level is offering a
4-day writing workshop for middle school students to improve their creative and
academic writing skills.
Register early—workshop size will be limited to ensure individual attention.
When : July 23-26, 2018
August 6-9, 2018
Time : 9:00 – 11:00am each day
Where :
Henrietta Hankin Library // 215 Windgate Drive // Chester Springs, PA
Contact: (484) 467-9608 //
Cost : $189 for all 4 days // Bring-a-Friend for 5% off each
1 Atteberry, A., & McEachin, A. (2016). School’s out: Summer learning loss across grade levels and school contexts in the United States today. In
Alexander, K., Pitcock, S., & Boulay, M. (Eds). Summer learning and summer learning loss, pp35-54 . New York: Teachers College Press.


New School Year: Fresh Start Homework Solutions

-by Karen Davis and Susan Kruger




Say the word to a student, and it’s synonymous with torture.

Say the word to a parent, and it often spells b-a-t-t-l-e-g-r-o-u-n-d.

As a parent, you know just how much energy homework can drain from your child (to put it lightly) and from you!

But is there a helpful way to get homework accomplished?

The start of a new year is the perfect time to establish new routines to improve the process of doing homework.

Ask yourself this question: “If I could improve one thing about homework, what would it be?” Got your answer?

The first answer that comes to mind is probably, “Get rid of it!” Honestly, as a teacher that might be my first response, too. However, well thought-out homework assignments actually do serve beneficial purposes. So let’s try again…

After working with students for many years, some common complaints I hear include:

  • “It takes so long to do my homework assignments!”
  • “I keep losing assignments.”
  • “My parents get on me for procrastinating till the last minute.”
  • “Homework causes so much conflict at my house!”

Now that we recognize some problems, let’s create solutions!

Ironically, one of the most valuable purposes of homework is to learn to solve problems…and problems are inherent to homework. In almost every situation, a “recurring problem” can be solved by creating a system. The best solutions are simple, easy-to-follow homework systems. A homework system is simply a routine that helps you develop effective study habits that really work.

Here are some quick examples of effective “homework systems”:

  1. Distractions are the #1 reason homework takes a long time. The solution is obvious—take away distractions, e.g. the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Don’t want to be the bad guy? Believe it or not, students often share with me how much they appreciate when their parents do this. Oh, they may mutiny at first, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize how much more they get accomplished. Secondly, have your student set a timer for the amount of time they think an assignment should take, then challenge themselves to beat the timer. Not only does this help to focus on their work, but it also turns homework time into a competitive game!
  2. If losing assignments is your issue, reduce the number of notebooks and folders your child has to manage. I have students streamline all folders into one, 1” binder. Then, “Take 10” every time they sit down to do homework—2 minutes to put all loose papers into their correct folders, plus 8 minutes to review handouts or notes from the day.
  3. If your child is a victim of “Last Minute Panic Attack,” start having weekly family meetings (Sunday dinnertime often works well). Everyone discusses their schedules for the upcoming week (including parents): activity schedules, upcoming tests/projects, etc. This system works wonders because it encourages everyone to be proactive and cooperative in planning ahead together.
  4. To help eliminate conflicts, follow steps 1-3. They will eliminate at least 80% of your homework blues.

These suggestions are only examples, but they illustrate the concept of developing systems to help solve common homework problems.

Tip for Parents: Whenever possible, involve your children in brainstorming solutions. Children of all ages usually have honest and insightful ideas, especially when they feel like their input is taken seriously. The more input they have in identifying reasonable solutions, the more willing they will be to participate.

Finally, test your system. Be patient. It may take 2-4 weeks for a new homework system to settle into a routine. Be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

May Homework Hour become Happy Hour in your home this new year!


Karen Davis is the Director of Above Grade Level In-Home Tutoring service of Delaware Valley


STEM tops Pennsylvania schools in SPP

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education released its School Performance Profile (SPP) scores for the last time on Friday, with the Downingtown STEM Academy in the Downingtown Area School District topping the list of all Pennsylvania schools with a score of 104.   Although the SPPs are based on a 0 – 100 score, the Downingtown STEM Academy earned extra credit for the high number of students scoring advanced on the Math, Literature and Science Keystone Exams and on scoring 4 or higher on any IB Exam.


Six other Downingtown schools scored in the 90 – 100 range with DHS East scoring 94.2, Shamona Creek 92.1 Bradford Heights Elementary 91.6, Lionville Elementary 91.1, Pickering Valley 90.4, and DHS West 90.2.


Downingtown STEM Academy principal Art Campbell praised his students and staff.  “Our students, teachers, and staff work extremely hard everyday.  We are very pleased that the PA School Performance Profile has recognized the hard work and effort put forth by everyone.”  


“Our principals and teachers are extremely focused on student achievement and growth,” said Downingtown’s Superintendent Emilie M. Lonardi. “They have done an excellent job of preparing our students for rigorous assessments. As our leader, I am very proud of our success this year.  We will continue to strive for advancement across all levels.


The SPP system is a school accountability score, which replaced the previous Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurement used under the No Child Left Behind federal law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002.  That law required schools to steadily increase the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced with a goal of 100 percent success by 2014.   As 2014 approached, President Barack Obama began to allow states to devise their own alternatives to the AYP model.  Pennsylvania adopted the SPP system which looks at standardized test results and other indicators of academic achievement and growth.  


In 2015, the government passed the Every Student Succeeds Act which gave states greater flexibility to measure school accountability.   Under that law, Pennsylvania plans to introduce the “Future Ready PA Index” in 2018.   The state’s new school rating system will have less emphasis on the PSSA and Keystone exams and include heavier weighting for schools offering advanced placement; dual enrollment classes; offering career awareness at elementary, middle, and high school levels; gauging progress among non-English speakers in learning English; and factoring in other reading and math assessments.




Downingtown Area School Board reorganizes with two new members

Four members of the Downingtown Area School Board were sworn in on December 6, 2017 by Judge Michael Cabry. The four were elected to serve a four year term in the November election.  Two new members include LeeAnn Wisdom representing the residents of Region 6 and Rebecca Britton, the new Region 4 Director.   Judge Cabry also swore in Barbara Albright (Region 8) and David Kring (Region 2) who will continue to serve on the board for another term.  

The Board unanimously elected Jane Bertone to serve as President of the Board for the 2017 – 2018 year.  Mrs. Bertone replaces outgoing president Colleen Cranney.   Carl Croft was unanimously elected to serve as vice president.   

David Kring is the owner of Conestoga Wealth Management, he is a financial planner. LeeAnn Wisdom is a graduate of Downingtown schools and is a former preschool teacher, child care provider and assistant coach. Rebecca Britton has worked in the technology industry and earned a degree in Business Management as well as a Paralegal Certificate.  Barbara Albright is a realtor and lives in West Bradford. 





Principal Ross spends night on school roof Lionville Middle School

Principal Jon Ross spent a cold night on the roof of Lionville Middle School to thank students for exceeding their fundraising goal for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.   The students raised $100 more than the $7500 goal they had set for themselves.  

Mr. Ross pitched a tent on the roof and encouraged students to check in with him from time to time on social media.   His exploits were livestreamed and those watching had the opportunity to catch him watching Netflix, reading a book and enjoying some of the snacks the students had sent up to him.   


Although many in the school suggested he wait for warmer weather, Ross felt challenged by the opportunity to spend the night in frigid temperatures.   The Daily Local News, NBC 10 and 6ABC came to cover the event.  



Secret Santa pays off negative meal balances for Downingtown Area School District

A Secret Santa walked into two Downingtown Area School District schools on Monday and paid off the outstanding meal accounts for dozens of students.   What he didn’t know at the time was that six other donors would follow his lead and pay off the negative balances at several other district schools.  The total donated by the seven anonymous donors now totals over $3,600.  


The first donor showed up at both Lionville Elementary School and Uwchlan Hills Elementary School and asked to settle all unpaid cafeteria bills.  The negative balances at both schools totaled over $300.  


Shelda Perry, principal of Lionville Elementary, said the gentleman had heard of another Secret Santa doing a similar good deed in another Pennsylvania school district and thought this would be a great way to give back to his community this holiday season.   “His two sons had graduated from our school several years ago and he remembered Lionville as a very special place. We are truly grateful.  This one act of kindness has impacted the lives of many families here at Lionville.”


Not content to help just one school, Santa then moved down the road to Uwchlan Hills, another DASD school, and paid off the negative balances of a few more families.  


“Although Chester County is one Pennsylvania’s thriving areas, there are still many families struggling to make ends meet” said the district’s superintendent, Dr. Emilie Lonardi.   “To have this gentleman “pay it forward” in such a thoughtful way will not only be remembered by the families he helped, but by our entire Downingtown family.”


In a thank you posted on the district’s website Richard Fazio, Chief Financial Officer of DASD, made mention of the fact that anyone else wishing to help could contact a district school. Six other Santas accepted that invitation and stepped forward to pay off the negative accounts at Beaver Creek Elementary, Uwchlan Hills Elementary, Springton Manor, Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center, Brandywine Wallace and DHS West High School.  DHS West received a check for $2400 from their annonymous donor.   Another $100 was donated to help out where needed most at the other 9 district schools.   The grand total of these generous gifts is now over $3600. 


“There are a lot of smiling people in the district this week”, said Fazio. 



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Country music festival coming to Chester County next year


LUDWIG’S CORNER >> A three-day country music festival featuring some of the biggest names in country music will be coming to Chester County next year, organizers announced Thursday.

The Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Association Wednesday night accepted an offer to host Country Spirit USA, a major country music concert.

The event will be held Aug. 24-Aug. 26, 2018, at Ludwig’s Corner, a 33-acre site at 1325 Pottstown Pike (Route 100) in Glenmoore.

“It’s a done deal, we’re excited we will be bringing a major festival to Chester County,” said Alan Jacoby, executive producer of Impact Entertainment, which also hosts Country Summer, northern California’s biggest country music festival. “The site process took longer than expected but Ludwig’s Corner was one of the top candidates when we first started looking at sites. This is a beautiful destination.”

The country band Old Dominion plays to the crowd at last year’s country music festival.

The country band Old Dominion plays to the crowd at last year’s country music festival. Submitted photo

Jacoby said it’s too early to name the entertainers, adding that talent negotiations are already underway.

“We will have the best big-name headlines in country music,” Jacoby said. “This is driven by talent.”

Jacoby said a one-day ticket to the event will start at $89, with a discounted rate for a three-day pass. He said once the headliners are locked in, tickets will go on sale.

Jacoby said every aspect of the country music festival will be of the highest quality.

“We will have food vendors, and these are the same ones who handle concessions at Bonnaroo and Country Jam,” Jacoby said. “We are bringing in top-notch people all the way around.”

Organizers have worked out details on security, traffic and curfew with West Vincent Township officials.

“I know they don’t have big police department, but we will work with them on supplementing their personnel,” Jacoby said. “Nothing will come out of the township’s budget.”

Susan Hamley, executive director of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said the concert will be a boon to Chester County.

“This will put us on the map in a bigger way,” she said. “This (concert) will draw a lot of attention to the county, and people can see how beautiful it is, and everything there is to see and do. Then they will come back again and again.”

Organizers began planning the country music event two years ago. Chester County was chosen as an ideal location because of its bucolic setting, and because it is in close proximity to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City.

They first pitched it to East Marlborough Township in hopes of bringing it to the Willowdale Fair Grounds, but supervisors rejected it due to security, curfew and traffic concerns. The New Garden Flying Field was also eyed as a potential site, but the FAA rejected the idea because it is a non-aeronautical event. The Brandywine Polo Club in New Garden was also considered, but ultimately New Garden supervisors didn’t have enough time to consider the request.

“Ludwig’s Corner is beautiful, grassy, pristine and a perfect setting for a country music concert,” Jacoby said. “There is plenty of land adjacent to the site. There is room for parking and camping, and it’s close to the Pennsylvania Turnpike with some of the highest concentration of hotels in the county.”

Updated information will be posted on, and on Facebook at A limited number of category exclusive sponsorship options are available for a select group of companies that desire to align their brand with Country Spirit USA. For sponsorship information, contact:


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Mantis shrimp brain contains memory and learning centers found only in insects



This mantis shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii) might have a much more elaborate brain than previously thought. That’s the conclusion of the first study to peer into the head of more than 200 crustaceans, including crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Researchers discovered that the brain of mantis shrimp contains memory and learning centers, called mushroom bodies, which so far have been seen only in insects. The team also found similar structures in close relatives of these sea creatures: cleaner shrimp, pistol shrimp, and hermit crabs. This may not be a coincidence, the researchers say, because mantis shrimp and their brethren are the only crustaceans that hunt over long distances and might have to remember where to get food. But the finding, reported in eLife, is likely to stir debate: Scientists agree that mushroom bodies evolved after the insect lineage split off from the crustacean lineage about 480 million years ago; finding these learning centers in mantis shrimp means that either mushroom bodies are much more ancient than scientists realized and were lost in all crustaceans but mantis shrimp, or that these structures are similar to their counterparts in insects but have evolved independently.





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