West Chester Weekly News Roundup

Morning light shines on downtown West Chester.

With so much going on around town, catch up on what you may have missed.

It’s Friday, January 15. This week we review Right to Know requests which reveal concerning trends in academic performance across the West Chester Area School District. Also, PECO will be digging up downtown roads beginning Monday, and do we have a solution to the Borough street light problem? It’s been quite a week. Let’s unpack it.  

Is it time to go back to school? 

New information shows concerning trends in student performance.

Data out this week suggests many West Chester Area School District students are struggling in a remote environment. Right to Know requests for WCASD documents filed by Open PA Schools, a parent group suing the state to force the reopening of schools, reveal concerning academic drops at all levels of education.

High School 

While on a whole high school students seem to be fairing ok academically even seeing an uptick in the number of students making the honor roll, minority students and first year students are facing a different reality. 

  • The district is reporting just over 57 percent of all high school students made the honor roll this year, this is up from 50.9 percent for the 19-20 school year. However, minority students saw a near 18 percent drop in honor roll placement during this same period. Minority honor roll placement went from just shy of 51 percent for the 19-20 school year to just over 32 percent this year. 
  • The data also shows nearly nine percent of District freshmen failed two or more required subjects this year. This includes 25 percent of cyber freshmen and 26 percent of minority students. I’m just going to repeat that, 25 percent of cyber and 26 percent of minority freshmen failed two or more required subjects. Those are some big numbers. Last year this number across the district was under one percent. There was no data available for cyber students for the 19-20 school year, nor was there a breakout by minority students.  

Middle School

  • Middle school students are showing concerning slips in English, Math and Science performance and again these drops are more significant among minority students. For example, for years between 98 and 99 percent of WCASD middle schoolers consistently passed English. This year that number dropped to 95 percent for all students, 85 percent for minority students. Similar downward trends were seen in math and science. 

Elementary School

  • Elementary students are also struggling according to the data. Data from the 19-20 school year show 86 students from third to fifth grade had a failing grade. That number has skyrocketed to 320 students this year. That’s a 272 percent increase in a single year. 

Scary insights into how the pandemic is affecting students’ education. And if, like me, you were thinking let’s just get these teachers vaccinated already, it may not be that simple.  

Want to dig into the data yourself? You can find the reports here, here and here

PECO’s back and there’s gonna be traffic

Just when you thought the summers of road work were over, PECO swung by to let us know they are moving their work to the winter. Peco will be back at work digging up the Borough streets starting on Monday. They will be replacing 1.3 miles of underground cables and leaving us with shiny new manholes, transformers and other equipment. The project which was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020 was moved out due to COVID and to allow for an uninterrupted closure of Gay Street. 

Will this affect my morning commute? Assuming you still have one, it could. Most work will occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. 

What streets are being affected? Chestnut St, Church St, Darlington St, Gay St (again?), High St, Market St, and New St. Work is scheduled to begin on the 50 block of Prescott Alley on Monday. Once work begins it is estimated the block will be closed for two weeks. 

How long are we talking? PECO is hoping to have work completed by May at the latest, but this is of course dependent on many factors – and even this projection would interfere with the re-closing of Gay Street which is tentatively scheduled to begin again in April. If this becomes an issue, road work may move to overnight.

Can you see me now? 

“Verizon seemed to offer the best product at the best price.”

O’B Lang, West Chester Public Works Director
One of the Borough’s 1000 street lights, all of which are in need of a upgrade.

Since last fall West Chester has been experiencing problems with street lights across the Borough – flickering, changing intensity. Turning on when they are not supposed to, off when they shouldn’t. The cause of the problems was identified as a software issue affecting individual light poles (not the light bulbs themselves so replacing them would not solve the issue) and to fix it, West Chester will need a new software platform. 

After reviewing several applicants for the project, Public Works has settled on a frontrunner: Verizon. According to the proposal letter Verizon’s intelligent lighting solution has been, “optimized to be cost-effective for large deployments while still offering robust functionality.” Which the Borough will need, seeing it has over 1000 street lights all in need of repair. 

This week Borough Council approved the purchase of the the Verizon system at a cost of $93,000, not bad considering the scope, however this does not include labor so expect this number to shoot up. 

Everyday street lights use a lot of power so hopefully these upgrades will not only keep the lights on in the Borough but save some money in the long run. 

The warnings. 

A COVID-19 positive was reported at St. Agnes this week.

This is why we still need to follow COVID-19 protocols. This week a letter went out to parishioners of Saint Agnes notifying them that one of the parish priests had tested positive for COVID-19. Father Wilfred was exposed to the virus while away visiting family. Upon his return he heard confession and celebrated at least two masses before experiencing symptoms. Other priests in the parish tested negative. Those in attendance at either mass or the confessions are not being asked to quarantine at this time but anyone experiencing symptoms is advised to stay home. On the upside, father is “feeling stronger every day” according to the letter. 

It’s time to start saving again. This week West Chester Borough Council voted to reauthorize a short term loan with Santander Bank to the tune of $2.5 million dollars. The loan which comes at a rate of 1.67 percent will need to be paid back in full by the end of the year. Curious how we are going to pay it back by then? Start here.

Don’t mess with the West Chester PD. On Saturday night officers were dispatched to 501 W. Miner Street where they ran into an intoxicated Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne causing a disturbance on the porch. When the officers tried to get the subject to come with them he resisted thus adding significantly to his list of charges. 

Don’t mess with the West Chester PD, part 2. Last week the West Chester Police Department swore in four new officers. While it is still not at full force, the new officers will go a long way in restoring coverage. Welcome to officers Blue, Kuehn, Tompson and Ensor. We look forward to seeing you around the Borough. 

Don’t mess with the West Chester PD, part 3. West Chester Police Department has enacted “Warrant Wednesday” on their Facebook page.  

Accolades.

“I am overjoyed and humbled at the opportunity to serve in this historic and critical role.” 

Dawn Mader, Director of Equity and Assessment, West Chester Area School District

Congratulations to Dawn Mader, West Chester Area School District’s first Director of Equity and Assessment. Ms. Mader is currently assistant principal at the Rustin. In her new role, she will be responsible for supporting and elevating the equity mission of the district. 

Over the summer the district received the results and recommendations from an independent equity review and among one of its first recommendations, “Elevate the position of Supervisor of Equity and its responsibilities.” Check.

If you want to see the full report, it’s quite fascinating, you can find it here

High-fives to West Chester University alumni Dr. Jill Biden on her new role as first lady of the U.S. of A. Dr. Biden earned her Master of Education from WCU in 1982. That’s one well-connected Ram!

Goodbye. 

To O’B Lang. The long-serving (cough) 30 years (cough) member and now Director of the Public Works Department has announced his retirement. Thank you, sir, for a well maintained Borough.  

Hello. 

Acting Director of Education Robyne Cooke and Executive Director Tiffany Nichols welcome students at the new Malvern School of Westtown.

To the brewery district? This week Borough Council entered into a license agreement with another Hannum Avenue brewery.  Artillery Brewing will be located at the back entrance of 348 Hannum Avenue, or 333 Granite Alley, and near neighbors with the newly opened Wrong Crowd Brewing. Much like its new neighbor, Artillery is a former nano brewery looking for a little space to spread out. Interested in learning more? You can follow them on Facebook. Soon you’ll have an excuse to come to the west side and stay a while. 

Also, say hello, to a new Gaga Pit play area in Everhart Park. My boys are going to be so thrilled. If you are not familiar gaga ball is similar to dodge ball but played in a circular enclosure. The project is coming to you thanks to Eagle Scout, Ryan Patarcity, who requested and was granted permission this week by Borough Council to begin his project to build the pit.

The pit will be incorporated into the design for the new playground which is on schedule to break ground this spring (weather permitting, of course.) 

Finally, welcome The Malvern School to West Chester. Opening this week at its new 5 East Pleasant Grove Road location this marks the early learning center’s 27th location, but its first in West Chester. The school provides education support to children 6 weeks to 12 years.

Pay it forward. 

Well, what is a sure fire way to brighten someone’s day? Leave a $966 dollar tip on a $33 dollar bill. 

If you are looking for something a little less grand, but no more important. The East High School Student Council is raising money for Safe Harbor of Chester County in honor of MLK Day. Safe Harbor provides housing, food, and access to support services for homeless single men and homeless single women in Chester County. Help East’s Student Council (and Safe Harbor) by contributing to their Go Fund Me

Also, the Borough is still looking for residents to serve on the Committee to Reestablish Rail Service to West Chester. If you thought our little town was good now, just think how great it would be if you could just hop a train and get to Philly? 

If you have ideas, send a letter of interest and a copy of your resume to:  Dana DiDomenico at danad@west-chester.com.

The freakin’ weekend.

Checking out art at the Visual Expansion Gallery.

What are you up to this weekend? We are finally going to hang our new original West Chester artwork!!! Last weekend we visited the Visual Expansion Gallery on High Street and found the perfect little painting by Kathryn Deaville for our living room wall. Well, at least it’s perfect in my head, if it’s not in reality the nice people at the gallery said we could just bring it back.

The expanse of wall behind the couch has been bothering me for a while, so I’m very excited to see how this decorating upgrade turns out!  

Mark your calendars:

Looking to clear out the cabinets and perhaps earn a few bucks? Monkey Fish Toys is holding a Toy Buy Back event this Saturday from 12 – 3 p.m.. 

Get some culture back in your life. West Chester University is holding virtual faculty recitals next month. Enjoy Vincent Craig on piano, February 1 and Kimberly Reighley on flute, February 8.

Calling all parents of current and soon-to-be five year olds, WCASD Kindergarten 101 session is scheduled for 6 p.m. February 17 in English and 6:30 p.m. February 24 in Spanish. Curious about the Kindergarten curriculum? Gain a little insight here.  

On February 25 at 5:30 p.m. the Borough Smart Growth Committee will present and explain the revisions being made to the Borough of West Chester Zoning Code. Should be interesting.

Heading downtown this weekend? Hop Fidelity has unloaded some new vinyl, Bar Avalon has a new customizable Bloody Mary bar to-go, and Sabrina Couture is celebrating five years in the Borough this week. Stop in a wish them well (or wave from the window, it is COVID)!

Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester

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