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West Chester Weekly News Roundup: June 3, 2022

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It’s Friday, June 3. Happy Friday everyone. After an unnerving week, we look at proposed changes to the District’s school safety plan including the role of officers in the classroom. We say goodbye to some formative members of the West Chester community and there is a tax increase coming your way. Plus, Turks Head Music Fest, the Gay Street closure, a new restaurant feature and meet your 2022 District Champs! Every time I take a week off, I regret it when I return. Just to say get ready to settle in. This is a beefy one. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.

“The wellbeing of our students and staff is always the top priority in our District. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety of those in our buildings each day. While safety and security include our established emergency plans, our trained WCASD security officers, and continued collaboration with local first responders, we also offer additional supports that help our students and staff to feel safe and comfortable.”

Dr. Robert Sokolowski, West Chester Area School District Superintendent

How to keep a school safe

East High School.

It’s a scary world to be a kid. During a seven-day period that began on Monday, there was a stabbing at Coatesville High School, an unfathomable mass shooting in Uvalde, TX, and a threat of violence by a Stetson Middle student. While the latter was quickly investigated by the Westtown/E. Goshen Police Department and found not to be credible, its mere mention was enough to put parents and community members on edge pushing an article on the topic into the Daily Local’s top 5.

So this week we are reviewing proposed changes to West Chester school’s safety protocols. The current WCASD safety plan was developed in 2018 in response to the “national epidemic of school shootings.” The plan has three components – physical safety measures – things like training, cameras, and onsite security; program safety measures – these are more preventive, mental health support and anti-bullying programs, and legislative action

So what is changing? The West Chester Area School District is recommending replacing the Safety Resource Officer (SRO) that is servicing the East feeder pattern and Pierce Middle School with a full-time Campus Safety Officer (CSO). Currently, there are two Campus Safety Officers and four Safety Resource Officers that serve the district. The fourth Safety Resource Officer was added by the district in 2020 after working with West Goshen to contract an officer that would serve East high school and Pierce middle school. The District notified West Goshen earlier this year, that they would not be moving forward with the position. 

“As of a few weeks ago, the WCASD approached [West Goshen] Township and PD to notify us that they would not renew the contract for this additional officer at Peirce,” West Goshen Township Supervisor Ashley Gagne shared on social media. 

Changing the position to a CSO would bring East and Fugett in line with what is already being done at Rustin, Stetson, and Henderson. 

“The WCASD continuously evaluates our existing safety and security procedures to better understand and identify areas of opportunity, growth, and increased collaboration. In recent years, the District has increased its efforts surrounding student wellness as well as hard security measures for our school buildings. The District developed full-time Campus Safety Officer (CSO) positions within the Henderson and Rustin feeder patterns, and, as the 2022-23 school year approaches, the District plans to recommend a third CSO position for board consideration and approval,” the district shared in a statement.

That doesn’t sound like too big of a change. The fundamental difference here is reporting structure and what that means. The Campus Safety Officers report to the school district. The Safety Resource Officers are part of a longstanding program established with West Goshen and are members of the West Goshen police force. Three of the four SROs are funded by West Goshen township and thus, work only in West Goshen schools – East, Fugett, Fern Hill, and Glen Acres (let me know if I am missing any.) The fourth position, which is being transitioned, was a West Goshen police officer but was funded through a contract with the district and worked primarily at Pierce. While all the CSO positions require security and/or police backgrounds, the level and quality, especially of ongoing training, is not always the same as is available as part of a police department.   

Then there are the relationships the cops develop with the kids, Ashley says. “Officers have an amazing effect on the kids at those schools. Children are able to see officers in a new light, in a friendly environment on their terms. Many children who may have grown up fearing police, or believing they are the enemy, are able to form friendships with the officers,” she says.

To summarize: For multiple years West Goshen has supported an officer in the classroom program. In 2020, West Chester Area School District decided to add an officer at Pierce. They worked with West Goshen to develop a fourth Safety Resource Officer position. Over the last several years, WCASD has introduced its own Campus Security Officers to support Henderson and Rustin and their feeder schools. The current proposal suggests switching the SRO position that is currently supporting Pierce to a CSO position and having that person serve East and its feeder schools. This change would bring East in line with Henderson and Rustin in its approach to security. The change will not affect students at or eventually heading to Rustin or Henderson, outside of those at or heading to Pierce, it could, however, change if East students have access to officers and raises the bigger questions – what is more effective and realistically what is needed – official police officers or just trained security personnel at the schools?   

If the change goes through does this mean the end of cops in classrooms? It’s hard to say at the moment as the situation is still unfolding. As of now, West Goshen remains committed to providing Campus Safety Officers to serve the East feeder pattern, these officers would likely be in addition to the SRO. 

“Although I can’t make any statements on behalf of the Township or the Board as a whole, I will say that I am committed to advocating for additional Juvenile Officers to be present at all of our schools in West Goshen, as well as helping other Townships within the WCASD in any way that I can so that they, too, have full-time officers at their schools,” said Supervisor Gagne in an email.

Besides having the officers is anything else being done to ensure students’ safety? Yes, over the years there have been improvements made on most components of the plan. Video surveillance coverage was extended throughout the buildings and there are funds in the budget to complete that project next year. Emergency responders’ radios and cellular coverage have been amplified to improve communication in the event of an emergency. And the District has expanded its Mental Health program from three therapists to 12. The outlier and, I am going to say it, is legislation and the access to guns. “Legislators should consider passing laws that make it more difficult for teens to access guns,” the Safety Plan states. Then in the box, marked updates: “No new laws have passed,” is written in red. While, I do not want to open a gun debate here – I believe this is one of those issues politicians and lobbyists like to shut down by painting it as black or white – all or nothing. If you support any action on this matter – you should say something. There is a rally in town this weekend. And probably, better yet, contact the Senators.

Great school districts cost good money 

On average residents of Chester County can expect to pay an additional $70 in taxes next year.

Now, onto, let’s face it, the root of all decisions – the money. Last Wednesday at their regularly scheduled board meeting with a vote of eight to one the West Chester Area School Board approved its 2022-2023 school budget and with that approval, spoiler alert, comes a tax increase. However, before we start feeling too sorry for ourselves, the 1.7 percent increase is relatively modest and West Chester continues to have one of the lowest property tax millage rates in Chester County.  

So what does the budget look like?

“The Board approve the Final Budget Resolution in the amount of $296,971,916 with a real estate tax levy of 22.4364 mills for Chester County and 9.9343 mills for Delaware County. The homestead/farmstead tax reduction of $174.80 was also approved. The budget included a 1.7 percent tax increase for Chester County residents ($70) and a 4.4 percent increase for Delaware County ($208),” the meeting summary states. 

Cause of the increase – and I am pulling directly from the meeting summary here:

*Feel like maybe they are glossing over that $2.8 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the contractor on the East Goshen remodel? I thought you might. Well, they are not, at least not yet. The school district decided in April to appeal the case to Commonwealth Court.  

Who’s ready to party like it’s 1722? 

Trees first identified by botanist Humpry Marshall, like this Tulip Tree, have been labelled in Marshall Square Park – but you’ll need to look closely. The labels are small and most of the trees are big.

In case you missed it, back in April West Bradford Township Board of Supervisors met at the township building and declared this the “Year of Humpry Marshall” and so began nearly six months of events recognizing the Chester County botanist and first American to publish a book on native trees and shrubs. Name still not ringing a bell? Think hard. He is the namesake of West Chester’s first park, Marshall Square Park where several of the tree specimens identified in that first catalog can still be found today. As part of the 300th anniversary of Humphry Marshall’s birth, the Friends of Marshall Square Park have labeled the larger trees in the park that were listed in his catalog, Arbustrum Americanum: The American Grove

Celebrations continue on Thursday with a tour of Marshall’s imprints on the borough. Meet at the Chester County History Center at 5:30 and proceed through the northeast quadrant of the borough until you reach Marshall Square Park. Not up for a full tour? Just walk the park yourself, learn about some native trees, and enjoy the park in all its early summer glory.

*** Sponsored ***

What’s for Lunch?

The Falafel sandwich from La Tartine.

In response to a request for more restaurant content, I am launching a new summer feature asking some of the borough’s chefs, restaurant owners and workers what they would order and why. Up first, La Tartine. 

La Tartine, tucked between Gryphon Cafe and Malena’s on W. Gay Street, is one of the unsung heroes of the borough. A Mediterranean cafe with Lebanese influences, chef and owner Johnny Abi Khattar makes all menu items from scratch. So what to try? 

Johnny recommends the Falafel sandwich. Falafel is an authentic Mediterranean dish made from chickpeas and fava beans plus spices. La Tartine’s version is made fresh daily and is baked. “Usually falafel is fried but we bake them so they are healthier,” says Johnny. The freshly baked falafel are then plunged in between chewy pita topped with pickled turnip, parsley, mint, lettuce and tomatoes then drizzled with homemade tahini sauce and served with Persian cucumber pickles. 

“It’s full of crispy fresh ingredients. It’s baked so it’s not oily. And it’s a good, generous size,” says Johnny. Finish with freshly made lavender or rose lemonade for a perfect summer lunch. 

Another good option, try the Mediterranean chicken. “What makes it pop for me is we marinade it in a house marinade then top with it a tangy garlic whip,” says Johnny. Then for summer there is fresh gazpacho soup served with za’atar pita chips. Yum.

La Tartine is open 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. during the week, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday. Thanks to La Tartine for their support of Hello, West Chester! 

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The warnings

See something. Say something. West Chester Police are looking for help locating a missing West Chester teen. Seventeen year-old Lila Rose Ramirez Gabr was last seen in the Mounty Airy section of Philadelphia on May 28. If you have any information about her whereabouts please contact West Chester Police at 610-696-2700.

Closed for cleaning. Restaurant reports are out for May. Here a few local establishments, you may want to give a moment to clean things up. 

Byrsa Pizza & Winery, E Street Road, 15 violations. Newly opened in January, Byrsa West Chester is the latest edition to the Byrsa family of restaurants which includes locations in Kennett Square and Glen Mills. Featuring brick-oven pizzas and seafood specialties, the Italian restaurant found no favor with the health inspector this month. They were cited 15 times incuding for “unresponsive clams and mussels.” When delivered alive, the report informed, the seafood must be kept alive until prepared. Prepared chicken was stored for more than a day at unsafe temperatures. Both were discarded onsite. In the end, the inspector left the restaurant with the following comment, “The Person in Charge does not have adequate knowledge of food safety in this food facility as evidenced by this non-compliant inspection.”

Wawa, on E. Gay Street, 3 violations, all in the coffee/smoothie area. This, I am afraid, is for you Wawa coffee devotees. Wawa left their May report with a series of cleaning tasks and they all centered on the coffee/smoothie area from the “lid dispensers” to the “beverage dispensers,” and the “countertops” to the “floor,” the “pendant lights,” the “sink” and “tv monitor” – makes you wonder – what exactly was going on in this coffee/smoothie  prep area?  Sure, gottahava Wawa just may not for the next couple of days.

To find the complete listing of inspection reports go to PAFoodSafety.gov and search Chester County Health Department and your zip code.   

COVID-19 is on you this time. Once again Chester County has hit high transmission levels for COVID-19. Need a refresher on what “high” means these days? By the latest parameters (fresh out March 4, 2022), it’s the measure of the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000, the number of COVID hospitalizations, and the number of available hospital beds in one week. All three factors have been trending up for weeks now. And what are we doing about it? That’s up to you. The West Chester Area School District voted in an emergency meeting last week to update their health and safety plan to make masks recommended but not required under these conditions. Putting the onerous back on students and parents to decide what is best in their situation. They did, however, reserve “the right and authority” to go back to requiring masks if they were deemed needed. Neither Chester County Hospital nor Chester County Health Department appear to be too concerned either. Over the past month, CCHD only shared two COVID-related posts on social media, one an announcement of the availability of booster shots for 5 to 11 year-olds and one a Memorial Day weekend travel reminder, and only in the latter did they recognize the uptick in cases. Chester County Hospital shared no new updates.  

Yes, she’s adorable, but she’s not a pet. Please let wildlife live in its natural habitat, a reminder from your friendly neighborhood police department

The Accolades

We have several feats of feet and bat to celebrate this week but first… 

Congratulations to Gemilli’s Gelato, which was named among the best gelato in the state by Best Things PA. Although, I have seen enough bad rankings to approach some of the lesser-known outlets with a pause. The way I figure it, the only judicious thing to do would be to head down and sample for yourself. 

Also a round of applause to Chester County Hospital which was recently recognized for excellence in lactation care for its staff, educational programming, and the expansion of its donor human milk program. Chester County has recieved the award for the last eight years. And the cherry on this sundae, in December they were named to U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural list of Best Hospitals in Maternity Care.

And kudos to you for choosing such a great place to live. West Chester was recently named to Livibility.com list of best places to live in the U.S. It was one of just four PA cities to make the list. It was praised for its amenities, job opportunities and schools. More here

https://twitter.com/PaPrepLive

High fives to Rustin’s Girls Track and Field which continued its dominance over the past two weekends. Starting with taking their first-ever PIAA District 1 3A Track and Field Championship. Then continuing with several impressive showings at state like in the 4x800M relay – where they are state champs! Congratulations to Maddie Miller, Lindsey Volkman, Brianna Ambrosine, and Hannah Betchyk!

Also, shout to standout performances by East’s Chinonye Nomene, (100M – 1st in Districts, 6th in State), Rustin’s Ava Alexander, (400M -3rd in Districts, 5th in State), Rustin’s Dayshawn Jacobs, (Triple jump – 1st in Districts, 3rd in State; high jump – 2nd in Districts; 7th in State) and Henderson’s Preston Lubeski, (400M – 4th in Districts; 5th in State). Impressive!

Also carrying new hardwear – Rustin’s Girls Softball. The team breezed, ok that final got exciting there for a moment, but basicaly breezed their way to the school’s first district title since the football team nabbed in in 08. State tourney begins next week. Go Lady Knights!  

And finally, a good job to the Henderson baseball team which lost the PIAA District 1 6A title game in a tough one yesterday to Owen J. Roberts. Henderson was leading 3 – 1 until OJR belted out six runs in the final inning to take the upset. That hurts. Don’t worry, they are not done yet, the boys begin their quest for greater titles next week.

And finally, congratulations to all the seniors that will graduate this year. You are graduating with a four-year experience like no other – take comfort in knowing you will forever be able to hold it over your future children’s heads. 

Hello.

Good turn out for this week’s West Chester Happy Hour event but it would have been better if the street was closed. Just saying.

So, who’s ready for it? Gay Street will (for real this time) close to through traffic again beginning at 10:30 a.m. today. The street will remain closed through the weekend and then will reopen Monday as part of the new weekends-only model. Thought this was supposed to happen last weekend? You, would not be wrong but the paperwork needed to close the street did not come through in time. Anyway, we have it now. It may not have been when expected but we got it done.

Speaking of downtown you can finally say hello to Blazin’ J’s. The Nashville-inspired fried chicken joint opened just ahead of the long weekend. According to owner Gary Danehower, they’ve been super busy since the opening. “The feedback has been (at least from what we’ve received) positive. We have had plenty of people say that the J’s Way is the best chicken sandwich they’ve ever had.” But be patient. “Our staff is coming up to speed as well and we’re working hard to decrease our order fulfillment times,” Gary said.

Also, this weekend say hello to the Turks Head Music Festival at Everhart Park. A 52-year tradition (it’s been held on and off since 1970) that started with a group of friends playing music in the park, it is generally reserved for the hottest weekend of the year. Fortunately, after some badgering, the borough has decided to move it up a month and a half to Sunday, June 5. Music starts at 12 p.m. Come out, listen to the music, and if you want to do more, see below. 

Finally, country music fans, did you see it? Kane Brown making friends with WCPD at Barnaby’s last week.

Goodbye.

Some weeks the goodbye section is just for fun and sometimes there are real goodbyes to be said. This, I’m sorry to say, is the latter. 

Last week we learned Catherine Seisson, the ex-pat who brought a little bit of her France to West Chester when she opened La Baguette Magique seven years ago, passed away. She has been away from the cafe for several years now as she quietly battled cancer but her impact has not faded as testament by the numerous comments left by residents many of which shared a similar memory: 

When I was home with the boys when they were young we would often stop by La Baguette Magique on the way home from the library. I liked to believe the brioche rolls were a healthier option half-a-dozen donuts. (Please, no one correct me if I am wrong.) Catherine was there fulltime then and I swear not a visit passed without her sneaking out from the back and dropping some freshly baked treat on the boys’ plates or chatting with them like little patrons. We even stopped once for the French storytime, which bless their souls, they conducted entirely in French. I don’t remember the last time we saw Catherine but every time I go in a little part of me hopes she will pop out from the back. She will be missed.

We also learned last week of the tragic passing of Rustin graduate and former baseball player Christopher Casimir Chizauskie. Just 26, Christopher’s life was cut tragically short after an accident last at the country club where he was working as a contractor. Services were held this week but if you would like to make a contribution in Christopher’s memory his family is asking donations be made to the J. Wood Platt Scholarship

Finally, we say goodbye to another uniquely West Chester eating experience, BonBon Sushi. After eight years hiding out on Darlington Street and adding “Bonzilla” and “Sushi Burrito” to our lexicon owners Yuki and Ron are moving on. 

“The truth is, Bon Bon has exceeded its capacity many times over along the way. As grateful and humbled as I am, the day-to-day has become self-consuming. To keep the sense of adventure and experimentation alive, I need a break, a little room, to rethink and retool what is Bon Bon. It has been a long and hard decision, but I believe it is the right one, an honest one,” Ron Hung left in a message on their website

Pay it forward.

Turk’s Head, West Chester’s music festival

Does hanging out listening to live music all afternoon sound like a fun way to pass a day? What if we throw in a free t-shirt? West Chester Parks and Rec are looking for volunteers to help with Sunday’s Turkshead Music Festival. Concert is being held at Everhart Park. Shifts are four hours. Interested? Contact West Chester Parks and Rec at parksandrecreation@west-chester.com or call 610-436-9010 and ask for Keith.

What about beers and puppies? (I’m really kind of just lobbing these good deeds up here.) Also happening next week: Levante Brewing and All 4 Paws Rescue are holding a fundraiser from 5 – 9 p.m. on Thursday evening. Bring a donation and enjoy a free 12 oz pour. Need some inspiration? they are looking for 6’ leashes, crate mats, dog beds, and dry dog food but I’m guessing money would work too. You’ll also get to meet some of their adoptable pups – so if you’re not in the market, bring your steely determination, too. 

Plus, pop some bubbles for all of you that turned out to support The Arc of Chester County at their Annual Bubble Walk and Fun Day. The event raised over $116,000 for individuals with disabilities in the area. Way to pay it forward! 

The freakin’ weekend. 

What are you up to this weekend? My new patio furniture is supposed to arrive on Friday. Yay. I am going to try and make it over to the community meeting at John O’ Green park meeting on Saturday. Then, there is a birthday party and, of course, the start of the Gay Street Market. The Turks Head Music Festival is Sunday and when you live as close as we do you really have no choice but to celebrate.

It’s a busy one but hopefully, we can also squeeze in a trip to the pool. Apparently, we are not the only ones looking forward to a dip. This week an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer covered local swim clubs’ rapid recovery from COVID, including one of our own. So, while I may not see you there. There are still options. Here is your Summer Swim Guide, if you need it. 

Mark your calendar:

That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

Oh, one more thing, if you think one or more of your friends would like Hello, West Chester, too, please forward this newsletter and tell them to come join us. 

And hey, if you’re that friend? So nice to see you! You can subscribe here.

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