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


Healing Homework Blues


Does your child take too long to do homework?


If I had a dollar for every time I heard a parent lament family stress related to homework, I’d be a wealthy teacher! Homework blues are a common woe faced by parents of students of all ages. The remedy for helping students complete their homework efficiently seems to elude us all. As I work with students and draw out their responses, I believe I’ve uncovered the answer to a question so many parents wrestle with: Why does my child take so long to finish their homework?? And the answer I hear most often from students themselves is…distractions!  


Here’s the scenario: distractions cause homework time to drag out unproductively. That results in later bedtimes, which of course creates tired students who can’t performing at their best throughout the day…which makes their homework take even longer. It’s a futile cycle—like the proverbial hamster wheel.


The inevitable result of this relentless drama is stress in family relationships. And in this day and age, families don’t need added stressors in their relationships with their children!


Most anyone who is a parent is all too familiar with the picture I’ve described. So, what’s the solution? I’d like to offer a “Golden Remedy.”


Make homework time into a daily, competitive game.


In this challenging “game,” students compete against themselves. Here’s what it looks like:


Before beginning homework, students take two minutes to write a list of that day’s subjects and assignments. Next to each assignment, write an estimate of how long that assignment ought to take to complete. Then, set an alarm for that amount of time. Ready? Get set. GO! Try to beat the alarm!


The subtle beauty of this race against the clock is that it encourages students to remain intensely focused on the assignment, resulting in better results and more effective learning, in addition to more efficient use of time.


For younger children…


Parents can help with setting a timer.


For older students…


Their #1 distractor is the variety of electronics and social media they have at their fingertips, especially the irresistible tug of their cell phones. The allure of those little, musical alerts is too powerful for many students to resist Consider making homework time a phone-free zone altogether or keeping the phone on silent. Brainstorming a solution together with them will give them ownership of the plan and greater motivation to make it work.




Not only can this strategy help to heal families’ homework blues, but it also teaches our children an effective time management game they can use successfully for the rest of their lives!

A Pen & a Plan



We’re teachers. We’re professional writers. AND we’re parents. So we get it. Some kids can write a 17-page journal entry without coming up for air. Other students would rather clean a bathroom as write a single paragraph. Writing is a joy for some—but painful for others.


Yet, writing is one of life’s most valuable skills. Like it or not, we are often judged based on our ability to express ourselves well. And like it or not, doors to future opportunities for our children may open or close, based on their writing skills.


That’s why we created our writing skills workshops! Sherry Parnell and I are both published authors with years of experience teaching writing to young people. We love what we do! Our passion is not only to equip our students with solid writing skills, but also to inspire them to enjoy the process along the way.


It may encourage you to know that even if your child is not a natural writer, writing is a skill much like playing a sport or a musical instrument. Writing skills can be learned by most anyone. And the process can be fun! Through storytelling, group collaboration, and interactive activities, children can learn some of the secrets professional writers use to make their writing a pleasure to read. School papers can become as much fun to read and write as a mystery novel!


Additionally, research has shown repeatedly that students can lose as much as 30% of their prior school year learning over the summer.[1]  This includes a loss of the critical reading and writing skills your child needs to succeed. Regretfully, the ability to think critically is a skill that is disappearing from our classrooms. We want to help you put your child in the best position for success by teaching them these valuable skills. Our unique writing workshops will introduce students to analytical and creative writing techniques. Students will learn to think critically and organize their thoughts into clear, cohesive ideas. And they will learn to express themselves in ways that make their writing a pleasure to read!


We’ll reveal a few of our secrets in our upcoming workshops…!





[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.


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.


Prevent Summer Skill Plunge

Prevent Summer Skill Plunge


Most every parent recognizes the scene: “Yaayyy! It’s summertime!” inevitably morphs into, “I’m sooo bored…there’s nothing to do.” It’s mind-numbing for parents to attempt to plan entertaining, meaningful activities for a nearly three-month stretch. When those dull summer moments eventually arise, they beckon even the most resourceful kids to turn to electronic gadgets to fill the boredom. The result? Summer skill plunge.


In multiple studies, research has demonstrated that our children lose up to 30% of their learning from the previous school year over the long summer break. Admittedly, students in other countries continue their schooling through the summer, giving them a distinct academic edge over many of our graduates.


Well those are disheartening statistics, you may be thinking. But they don’t have to be. There is a solution to the summer skill plunge.


When parents partner with teachers, we can keep a child’s mind active with learning activities that are low-stress, fun, and productive. Chester County offers myriad summer workshops and programs for youth. We are home to several published authors and professional writers who are dedicated to inspiring young people with a love of reading and writing. Our county hosts several summer workshops led by professional writers. Whether it’s math, reading, writing, or a foreign language, a quality tutoring program can also make summer learning an exceptionally effective way to target and fill skill gaps.


Lest you think your child may mutiny at the thought of doing schoolwork in the summer, I find that many students actually appreciate having a structured learning activity in their day. Not only that, but the boost of confidence that comes with starting a new school year on top of their game trumps any momentary grumblings. Inspiring a lifelong love of learning will reap rewards for a lifetime.


Practical tips:


  • Reading: Encourage your child to select and read books on topics that interest them. I’m surprised by the number of students whose idea of reading is “I only read what the teacher assigns.” Trips to the library for children of all ages open up whole new worlds to them. Designate a “Reading Hour” each day. (Tailor the time so it’s age appropriate.) Talk to your child about what they’re reading. Draw them out with leading questions. Master the parental art of being an active listener. Show your child you value his or her “thinkings” and feelings.


  • Writing: Group writing workshops and literature discussion clubs for kids can be both challenging and inspiring. I’ve had students who would rather clean a bathroom as write a paragraph. But put ‘em in a collaborative group setting with their friends, and writing becomes dynamic!


  • Math: Studies show that one-to-one attention with a qualified instructor is the most effective way to boost math skills. Small group skill-builders can also be a ton o’ fun.


  • Cell phones are “Public Enemy #1” to meaningful learning. Don’t be afraid to establish your home as a “Cell Phone-Free Zone” for periods of time. After the initial shock and withdrawal tremors, I’ve found that many students actually LIKE ditching the constant distraction and drama of their cell phones. The trick is to suggest meaningful activities to replace the time spent on phones. Brainstorm alternate activities with them. There are always projects around the house with which to help a parent. Or neighbors—including Seniors and single moms—who could use a willing helper around the house or yard. My personal favorite summer activity? Send the kids outside with a bucket of water and paintbrushes—and have them “paint“ the house, the garage, the deck, the mailbox with water. The best part is, an hour later, the house will need to be “painted” again! And you’ll have the cleanest house on the block!



          Whether your child is a reticent learner or an enthusiastic, accelerated learner, summer is the perfect time to exchange the summer skill plunge with a lifelong love of learning!



Karen Davis, Director 

Above Grade Level – Delaware Valley

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.  



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