Two Slates of Candidates Vie for West Chester Area School Board
Like many Delaware Valley parents, some in the West Chester Area School District believe their school district isn’t living up to its potential, and their children are not receiving the education they deserve.
“Back to Basics West Chester, a non-partisan political action committee, was founded by parents in the West Chester Area School District with the mission to refocus on academic excellence for every student through a more balanced school board,” said Beth Ann Rosica, campaign manager. “Our platform is based on six primary pillars, including school safety, keeping politics out of the classroom, academic excellence, fiscal accountability, transparency, and parents as partners.
“School Safety was recently added to the platform as a result of feedback from voters while our candidates were door-knocking,” she said. “Our five endorsed candidates were selected for their diverse views and experiences, and each brings a unique skill set that will help to balance and complement the current board members. Our candidates include Nick Spangler and Bob Rafetto for Region 1, Amanda Greenberg and Peggy Schmitt in Region 2, and Alain Oliver in Region 3.”
“I never anticipated running for school board,” said Greenberg. “It’s not something I ever aspired to do.”
“My family moved to the West Chester Area School District two years ago, and I’ve been a teacher for 10 years,” said Greenberg. “So, I’m pretty familiar with all the ins and outs of education from a teacher’s perspective.
“The first day we went to the bus stop in our new neighborhood, when the twins were in kindergarten, we were really excited, Greenberg said. “The neighborhood was full of kids. And then I realized we were one of only two families sending their kids to public school in the entire neighborhood.”
The other children went to private and charter schools.
While the district has a good reputation, she discovered that test scores had declined. She attended school board meetings and asked questions, only to find out “it’s not very parent-friendly.”
Test scores are down, but taxes are up, she said. It was time to take action.
“I am most concerned about the academic decline of our district. Our children lost a great deal of academics when schools were closed and in the hybrid model. Many of our students are not proficient in reading and math,” she said. “We need to spend every minute of instructional time focused on getting our children caught up and at least to the proficient level. Every child is entitled to an appropriate education that includes, at a minimum, proficiency in reading and math.
Alain Oliver said he tried to get people to run for the school board and ended up running himself. He was hesitant because he had two kids in high school and was worried there might be repercussions for them.
But he also noticed academics are trending down.
“My biggest concern is academics,” said Oliver. He is also concerned that the district is not transparent. He has a background in economics, holds an MBA, and works in nonprofit management and believes those skills will help the district with analysis. For example, a few years ago, WCASD bought Singapore Math, a new curriculum. He then got rid of it. He wondered what the reasons were for the change, such as whether more teacher training was needed.
“These conversations never unfold at the board level,” Oliver said. He would like to see constant improvements “through disciplined analysis.”
Oliver said test scores in the WCASD have declined by 48 percent over five years, a trend that began before the pandemic. He listed these PSSA scores to illustrate:
In 2017, 73 percent of WCASD 3rd graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2018, 67.7 percent of WCASD 4th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2019, 66.5 percent of WCASD 5th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2020 PSSAs were canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, 38 percent of WCASD 7th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2022, 24. percent of WCASD 8th graders scored advanced or proficient in math. The data shows that only 1 out of 4 WCASD freshmen are competent in math, a Back to Basics blog post points out.
Ten candidates are running for five seats.
The others, including four incumbents and one new candidate, are also running together with the name “United for West Chester Area School Board.” Those candidates are Alex Christy, Katy Frey in Region 1, Daryll Durnell, Karen Hermann in Region 2, and Gary Bevilacqua in Region 3. DVJournal reached out to two incumbents for comment, Bevilaqua and Christy. Christy did not respond.
Bevilaqua said DVJournal had not given him enough time for a response.
Christy, who was appointed by the board to fill a vacancy in March, is district office director for Democratic state Sen. Tim Kearney and is active in the Democratic Party. Bevilacqua is the vice president of the school board. He is a technical project manager in the IT division at Vanguard.
The primary will be held on May 16, and the candidates have cross-filed. Candidates with the highest vote totals will move on to the fall election.