• Department of Health Order & COVID Dashboard

    Posted by David Finnerty on 9/11/2021

    Hello Pottsgrove SD Community,

     

    For this blog, I am writing about two things, the Order of the Acting Secretary of PA Department of Health and also our COVID Dashboard.  Our goals have not changed.  As I have written about in my previous blogs, we want 180 days of in-person learning and to have our students participate in every scheduled game, match, competition, and activity.  

     

    At Tuesday’s Board meeting, the administration will be recommending an update to our Health & Safety Plan to comply with the Order.  As noted on PDE’s website, Answer to FAQ’s, compliance is not a choice, it’s the order.  In fact, the Order takes effect regardless of the District’s Health & Safety Plan.  

     

    After the Order was issued, you may have seen stories about a loophole in the Order that would allow districts to issue medical exemptions at will.  I can understand how a reasonable person could read the order in that way.  If the loophole ever existed, PA Department of Health has since clarified the Order in the FAQ document and further clarified directly to all Superintendents in an email today which read, “...this Order is not a mask optional policy. Any school entity simply permitting a parent’s sign-off without evidence that the student has a medical or mental health condition or disability that precludes the wearing of a face covering is not in compliance with the Order.”  Clearly, no loophole exists.

     

    PDE has made clear the potential penalties for not following the Order, including financial penalties to the District, lawsuits against the District, lawsuits against individual Board members, and cancellation of District insurance policies.  Should any of these penalties be assessed to the District, the costs to the taxpayers would be significant.  

     

    The Board is bound by oath to follow the law and wise to protect the District from liability.  If this masking order is an “illegal governmental overreach” as a few have argued - the courts will decide.  That legal process will likely be expensive to the taxpayers of any district that challenges the Order.  

     

    We have updated our COVID Dashboard to track the number of positive COVID cases weekly by building.  The COVID Dashboard will NOT replace the contact tracing - we will still contact you by phone if your child is a close contact.  This Dashboard will replace the form letters that we have been emailing home to parents.  

     

    We believe this is an improvement for a number of reasons:

    • The Dashboard updates automatically and immediately - as soon as we know of a case, the dashboard will show it.
    • The Dashboard is efficient.  This is directly from the report that we must provide to MCOPH - there is no duplication of work from our staff therefore our staff can focus on providing services to our students. 
    • The Dashboard will track trends in each building and across the district.
    • The Dashboard also tracks the number of Student Days Lost each week due quarantining of positive cases, close contacts, and household contacts.  

     

    Student Days Lost counts the number of school days lost by students due to cases during that particular  week, for example, this week we had 10 cases that resulted in 592 lost student days for students who have to quarantine (COVID positive, Close Contact, Symptomatic, or Household Contact).  Please note that Student Days Lost ( and case counts) can change after the fact.  It can increase if a student quarantined as a close contact tests positive or decrease if they test negative and can return to school early.  Please also note that our COVID Dashboard starts the week prior to school opening.  This is because our first case occurred in a daycare setting prior to the start of school.  That single case resulted in 3 additional infections and more than 20 students having to quarantine for a total of more than 100 lost student days.  

     

    Week of:

    Ringing Rocks

    West

    Lower

    Middle School

    High School

    District Office

    Student Days Lost

    8/24/2021

    2

    0

    2

    0

    0

    0

    11

    8/30/2021

    4

    0

    5

    1

    2

    0

    203

    9/6/2021

    0

    1

    4

    4

    1

    0

    592

     

    In closing, while we have had some early challenges, we are off to a great start!  We have safely continued in-person instruction through not only the challenges of COVID but also the remnants of hurricane Ida and a transformer malfunction.  Our students are excited to be back on campus and I continue to see our community united behind this mission.  Let’s stay focussed on our united mission and not let our differences divide us.

     

    Thanks for reading.  I welcome your feedback.

     

    Respectfully,

    David

     

    David Finnerty, Ed.D

    Superintendent

    Pottsgrove School District

    dfinnerty@pgsd.org

    @PGSDSuper

    Comments (-1)
  • Masking Required Through September 28th

    Posted by David Finnerty on 8/25/2021

    Hello Pottsgrove SD Community,

     

    Last night (8/24/21), the Board of Directors of Pottsgrove School District passed a motion updating our Health & Safety Plan to require masks for all students, staff, and visitors for all indoor activities from opening day, August 30, 2021 through September 28, 2021.  While I do not speak for the Board, I hope that you find my thoughts helpful.  

     

    The action of the Board was based upon our primary goal which is to provide 180 days of in-person instruction and for our students to safely participate in every scheduled game, match, competition, and activity.  In short, we want our students to have a full school year.  It seems so long ago that such a simple goal would not even need to be stated, but such is the current state of the world.  COVID represents a challenge to our being able to achieve that goal - not only by the impact of students and staff contracting COVID but also by the potential school closures and  isolation/quarantining of “close contacts”.   

     

    No plan will prevent all cases of COVID, but together we can limit the impact to our District and to the goal of getting 180 days of in-person instruction.  I ask you to think in terms of “student days lost”.  By “student days lost” I mean how many combined days our students lose due to avoidable quarantining, for example, 3 students in quarantine each for 7 days would be 21 “student days lost”.  Last year, we lost thousands of student days not only because students had contracted COVID but also because we had to isolate/quarantine students who were close contacts.  In most cases, the number of student days lost to close contacts was far greater than the student days lost for COVID infections.

     

    The MCOPH COVID School Isolation & Quarantine protocols are very specific in how students and staff must be excluded from school, based upon contracting COVID or being a “close contact” of someone who has tested positive for COVID.  I have attached what I hope is a simpler version of the MCOPH Exclusion Matrix that I shared at our Board meeting.  Three conditions allow students to avoid being quarantined: 

    1) Fully vaccinated without symptoms

    2) Recent (within 3 months) COVID-19 infection

    3) Masked and distanced or what is referred to as the “student mask exception”.  

    Each of the three exceptions allows us to limit the number of students who must quarantine and therefore gets us closer to our goal of having a full school year.  Of the three exceptions, only the third, “student mask exception” is within our power to improve.  

     

    The “student mask exception” is defined when two or more students are fully masked and maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance - should one of those students test positive for COVID the surrounding students will not be close contacts and not have to quarantine.  The “student mask exception” only applies when all students involved including the student who tests positive for COVID are wearing masks and maintain at least 3 feet of distance.  Consider the example of nine students sitting in three rows of three - picture a tic-tac-toe pattern - each at least 3 feet apart.  If a student, Johnny Falcon, in the center square contracts COVID and all nine are masked then only Johnny must be quarantined, approximately 7 student days lost.  Instead, if Johnny Falcon in the center square is COVID positive and unmasked, we must quarantine the 8 other students even if they were wearing masks, 5-15 days each. So not only would we have Johnny’s 7 student days lost but also each of his 8 classmates would have at a minimum 5 lost student days each. In this example of 1 actual COVID case, we would likely experience a total of 47 lost student days (Johnny’s 7 + 40 days for his classmates).  

     

    We understand the passion in the community on both sides of mask mandates.  Nobody wants masks and no plan is perfect.  I believe the action taken by the Board gives us a good chance to limit “Student Days Lost” and improves our chances at a full school year.  Again, I thank you for your feedback and for the respectful manner everyone has shown to me and one another.  To me, the passion in our position shows how much we care about our kids...the respectful manner shows that we know they are watching.  

     

    Thank you for reading.

     

    Respectfully,

    David

     

    David Finnerty, Ed. D

    Superintendent

    Pottsgrove School District

    dfinnerty@pgsd.org

    Twitter: @PGSDSuper

    Comments (-1)
  • Health & Safety Plan, Respect, & District Goals

    Posted by David Finnerty on 8/14/2021

    Health & Safety Plan, Respect, and District Goal Highlights

     

    Hello Pottsgrove SD Community,

     

    On Tuesday, our Board approved the 2021-22 PGSD Health & Safety Plan which includes a recommendation for universal masking of all students, staff, and visitors regardless of vaccination status or level of community transmission.  I invite you to read the plan and our Frequently Asked Questions on our website.  I have heard from a number of parents following the meeting and I want to thank you for your feedback.  As several of you have observed, no plan is perfect.  Over the past few weeks I have read stories about Board meetings in other districts that have devolved into shouting matches, threats, and all manner of unacceptable behavior.  While I am still very new to the District, I am proud of how our community has managed to respect one another even when there is passionate disagreement.  

     

    We believe strongly in the value of in-person learning.  Students learn best when they are on campus, learning with their classmates, and supported by our teachers and staff.  We are committed to returning to in-person learning and to returning safely.  Our 2021-22 PGSD Health & Safety Plan relies heavily on the guidance of our local health officials. Some of the language in our plan, including the masking recommendation, comes directly from Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH) COVID School Guidance.  We will continue to work with MCOPH and consider adjustments as conditions change.

     

    Shifting topics, we will be finalizing our goals this month.  Big picture, we will be working toward a set of goals focused on improving student outcomes and providing PGSD students with competitive advantages.  Here are a few highlights from our goal work.  Academically, we will be working to identify “COVID learning loss” - learning loss due to the interruption of in-person learning during the pandemic.  We will be implementing programs to address any areas of learning loss, close learning gaps, and ensure that student achievement trends towards or above pre-COVID levels.  We will also be working to support students Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) through continued implementation of our Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program and by implementing the 2nd Step program in Grades K-8.  2nd Step is a highly successful, research based SEL program to support students’ development that is being funded through grants at no cost to our taxpayers.  

     

    Another goal area is to increase our students’ readiness for college and career success.  We will be working towards the creation of a Career Internship Program that partners with area businesses to create real-world career experience, create a competitive advantage for PGSD students, and foster positive partnerships across our community.  For our college bound students, we will be working to prepare all college bound students to participate in at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment (DE) course.  A significant number of high school students graduate intending to continue their education beyond high school but end up not attending college or withdrawing from college within their first year.  By participating in at least one AP or DE class while at PGHS, our college bound students will graduate with the confidence that they have been successful in completing college level content.  

     

    Lastly, I would like to highlight service to the community.  PGSD students currently participate in a number of service projects.  Participating in service projects benefits the community and it also benefits our students.  We will be working with our townships to identify service projects and expand our participation across the District.  

     

    Thanks for reading.  I appreciate your feedback.

     

    Respectfully,

    David

     

    David Finnerty, Ed.D

    Superintendent

    Pottsgrove School District

    dfinnerty@pgsd.org

    @PGSDSuper

     

    Comments (-1)
  • Hello Pottsgrove School District Community

    Posted by David Finnerty on 7/27/2021

    Hello Pottsgrove SD Community,


    I am very honored, humbled, and most of all, excited to be the new Superintendent of Pottsgrove School District. I have spent my first three weeks in the District getting to know the PGSD team and others in the community.  Everywhere I have been, I have had the privilege of working with outstanding teams to improve student outcomes.  Having had the opportunity to meet a number of our staff and community members, I
    have been impressed with the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to work together to support this community and improve outcomes for all students. We have great people here in Pottsgrove and I am excited about what we can do together moving forward!

     

    If this were a “normal” year, I would write more about who I am and what our vision for the District looks like.  In future communications, I promise to do exactly that.  For now, I think it is important to address where we stand for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.  

     

    Similar to 2020-21, Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (PDE) is once again requiring all districts to submit a Health & Safety Plan for reopening schools.  The 2021-22 Health & Safety Plan is a much shorter document than last year’s version and we invite you to read the draft PGSD Health & Safety Plan 2021-22.  We will be presenting the plan for approval at the August 10th meeting of the Board.  

     

    Here are a few details from our draft plan:

     

    You can read additional details in the draft plan on our website - 2021-22 Health & Safety Plan FAQ.  We will continue to update this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document as we receive questions from our community.  We welcome your feedback at dfinnerty@pgsd.org.

     

    We strongly believe that the best learning environment is 5-day, in-person instruction and we hope to have all students on campus this fall.  If you feel you must make the decision to pursue a virtual education, please contact your child’s Principal or School Counselor to discuss the options available.  

     

    On behalf of the PGSD team, I wish you an enjoyable summer and I am very much looking forward to working with you to positively impact the Pottsgrove School District Community.  Please feel free to contact me at dfinnerty@pgsd.org.  You can also find me on a new Twitter account at @PGSDSuper.  

     

    Respectfully,

    David

     

    David Finnerty, Ed. D

    Superintendent

    Pottsgrove School District

    dfinnerty@pgsd.org

    Comments (-1)