UPDATES & INFO: FROM JOE GRATA, BOARD PRESIDENT
Dec. 3, 2020 – When the BVA Board of Education meets for its annual reorganization on Monday, I will not be a candidate for re-election as president.
This and several previous years have been challenging and time-consuming, dealing with new labor contracts, budgets, administrative and board changes, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated issues.
I am still a member of the Board as my current term of office runs through 2021. I will continue to pursue the goal I set a decade ago. That is, building “A Better BVA.”
I have served in various capacities over the years and can be as effective working on behalf of the district, students and community from the so-called sidelines as I can in leadership roles.
Stepping back will enable me to spend more time building momentum and raising funds for the non-profit BVA Charitable Fund, which has grown in relevance since it was established less than five years ago, which has awarded 36,780 in grants, and which has set aside more than $93,000 in perpetuity investments handled through the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and related Pittsburgh Foundation.
In addition, change and different perspectives can be helpful and productive as the Board of Education continues to make important decisions and pursue new opportunities.
FOOD TRUCKS VISITING BVA TO HELP STAFF TO ‘REFUEL’
Nov. 25 -- Belle Vernon Area School District will show appreciation to 320 employees who have been going beyond the call of duty while dealing with COVID-19 challenges with a special visit by Pittsburgh-based food trucks
Gourmet meatballs, fancy crepes and “street tacos” are on today’s lunch menu for teachers, secretaries, administrators, cafeteria personnel, custodians and maintenance workers.
Because it’s a virtual instruction day with students at home, Charleroi-based Perked Up Café did lunch for bus and van drivers yesterday.
“It’s a way of thanking everyone for the hard work they’ve been doing to keep our schools functioning during these unfortunate, extraordinary times,” Superintendent Dr. Michele Dowell said. “Our employees have risen to the challenge to make sure our schools are safe and our young people are being educated.”
The administration and board of education suggested doing something creative to show appreciation and boost morale.
They turned to the non-profit BVA Charitable Fund, whose nine-member board of directors endorsed the idea of food trucks and will foot the bill.
“We hope the public sees this as recognition of the very difficult challenges that employees have had to adjust to in order to continue the education of our children,” said John Lofink, one of the fund’s directors.
“Inspiring students and staff is part of our mission,” said Tom Simon, also a director. “Small gestures like this help make BVA someplace special.”
Miss Meatballs will park near Rostraver Elementary. Cool Beans Tacos will set up at the high school student parking lot. Pittsburgh Crepes will visit Marion Elementary-BVA Middle School.
Employees will enjoy a day-before-Thanksgiving extended lunch period. They will receive vouchers good for use at any of the food trucks between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The theme is “Keep on Truckin’ BVA: We hope this helps you refuel and thanks for carrying the load.”
“I already have had a bunch of staff saying ‘Thank You’ after I notified them of this Friday,” Dowell said.
Besides Lofink and Simon, other BVA Charitable Fund directors are Joe Grata, Toni-Jo Kunka, Gina C. Lynn, Tom Svrcek, Mike Stangroom, Lizzette Sterner and Dowell.
The fund is affiliated with the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and the Pittsburgh Foundation, who handle investment, legal, tax filing and related obligations.
Oct. 27, 2020 – If you haven’t been there recently, visit the Marion Elementary-BVA Middle School campus in Washington Township.
For decades, the entrance off of Perry Avenue has lacked any signage identifying it as part of the school district.
The pavement was deteriorated. Weeds were growing. It was not something to be proud of.
That has changed, thanks in part to a thoughtful donation from the Ruth Virginia Frost Fund and other capital improvements made throughout the district as part of a $3.8 million bond issue approved more than a year ago by the BVA Board of Education.
Gloria Yuschak, a former BVA school board member, was a student of Ruth Virginia Frost at the former Bellmar High School. Ms. Frost, who taught French and English for 38 years, dedicated her life to her students. When she died in February 2002 at age 88, she left an endowment to cover annual scholarships of $2,000 a year for 20 years.
It was a gift that has kept giving.
Ms. Yuschak, now retired and a former teacher, became a longtime friend, colleague and often companion who was put in charge of the fund.
Earlier this year, she contacted me, as president of the school board, to say the fund had excess earnings and a balance that she wished to be donated to the school district for a useful purpose. The gift to BVA School District was $7,735.
Signing and sprucing up the Perry Avenue entrance to our schools in Washington Township was envisioned by myself, Ms. Yuschak and several other school directors.
I had long characterized the entrance to the campus as looking like a “ghetto” for the lack of attention.
Work was made possible not only because Miss Frost’s gift was used to upgrade the entrance at no taxpayer expense but also because the school buildings have been the subject of various repairs and upgrades funded by the ongoing capital improvement program.
The Ruth Virginia Frost Fund was used to install a linear raised planter along the Marion gymnasium wall; provide architectural lettering reading “Marion Est. 1939” on the original building to call attention to its past as a high school, junior high school and elementary school over the years; purchase shrubs and perennial plants; and to help establish a small rock garden and lighted BVA sign at the entry.
The school district this summer resurfaced parking, playground and driveway areas; replaced old windows with modern-looking, energy-efficient windows; pressure-cleaned concrete and brick surfaces; replaced the middle school canopy; added an elevator to provide long overdue access to the second floor at the middle school; added safety measures including new security cameras; and is working on replacing the elementary school canopy partly destroyed by wind over summer.
The school board’s goal is to extend the useful life of buildings and grounds while providing appropriate educational facilities, resulting in an attractive, environmentally-friendly asset for the school district and community.
Students of Miss Frost (including me) remember her enthusiasm, dedication and love for education. She always inspired everyone to do better.
It is not surprising that she saved from modest salaries paid to teachers in those times to establish a fund that would provide scholarships after her death.
It is appropriate to honor her memory with the project and it is our hope that Miss Frost’s example motivates others to consider such acts of kindness.
Oct. 1, 2020 -- The Belle Vernon Area Charitable Fund is the beneficiary of another $5,000 donation, this time from a longtime supporter.
The gift came from Tom Svrcek, owner of Rostraver-based CSI Insurance Options and Amulet Farms, and one of the founding directors of the non-profit group whose mission is to enhance experiences and provide unique opportunities for students of Belle Vernon Area School District.
In addition, the BVA Charitable Fund has received a $500 donation as a 10 percent “match” from a resident who chose to remain anonymous.
“These gifts are especially appreciated inasmuch as COVID-19 has made fund-raising a challenge,” said Joe Grata, the fund’s acting chairman. “Once again, Tom Svrcek’s generosity means so much in sustaining our continuing effort.”
Svrcek sponsored the BVA Derby Day at his Amulet harness racing facility in 2018 and 2019. The popular fund-raising event was cancelled this year as a result of the pandemic.
In August, the BVA Charitable Fund received a $5,000 contribution on behalf of the Edward and Lois Fowler Charitable Trust. Fowler, a Lynnwood resident, was a retired Alcoa executive who held the highest offices in the Masonic Order.
“In bits and pieces, with contributions small and large, the fund continues to build investment assets in our perpetuity account while concurrently funding school projects,” Grata said.
Since its founding less than five years ago, the BVA Charitable Fund has awarded more than $34,000 in grants to underwrite activities which students manage, such as a student-run store called the Leopard Lair, or which benefit students in unique ways, such as a mentoring program.
Information about donating, memorial contributions and a United Way designation can be found on the school district’s website, www.bvasd.net, or by calling the administration building at 724-808-2500, Ext. 1102.
Aug. 24 -- Teachers returned to school today, starting five “in-service” days of training instead of the usual three days, to be well prepared for the resumption of in-person and on-line classes for students beginning next week.
Not only has planning continued over summer, but the administration, support staff and the Belle Vernon Area Board of Education have been working extra hard to deal with the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a partial list of the more significant projects and changes, some of which continue to be a work in progress:
Preparing comprehensive health, safety and alternative plans for the resumption of classes, using a “hybrid model” that will provide in-person classes for two days a week until such time as the district is able to return to traditional full-time operations.
Synchronous learning will be in effect on those days when students are not physically present, including Wednesday, a day set aside for deep cleaning of all facilities.
Unfortunately, like other school districts, BVA must deal with sometimes unclear rules, regulations and policies from state and federal governments, all while trying to develop consist plans for social distancing, masks, sanitization, computer access and other issues.
Because the needs of our younger students differ from those of older students, the task has been made difficult. Because some parents are not sending their children back to school by opting for all-virtual instruction, the difficulty is compounded.
We ask that parents and guardians be patient and understanding, and to regularly check our website, www.bvasd.net, and our other communications resources, including registering for Peach Jar announcements via the internet, in order to keep up to date.
While you can find a Student Enrollment Form at our website, it really should have been completed by now. We encourage you to read the 32-page Health and Safety Plan, learn about the BVA eAcademy that the district offers, watch the staff-produced video, “We Can’t Wait to See You BVA,” and familiarize youself with the wealth of information that’s available, including a Q.-and A.
Meanwhile, a Sapphire Community Parent Portal that the board approved before COVID-19 struck has been implemented. The improved service, replacing eSchools, will provide critical, up-to-date information about attendance, grades, homerooms, class schedules and bus routes.
Also this week, the administration will be distributing devices to students who have indicated on their enrollment forms that they do not have one. The board has been in the process of securing about 500 IPads/Chromebooks. Some of those devices are being obtained through generous donations from the community.
Be assured that staff – from administrators and teachers to custodial workers and bus-van drivers – is doing everything possible to protect health and safety while allowing us to continue meaningful education and offer all possible extracurricular activities.
Adopting a 2020-21 operating budget that did not raise property taxes, partly as a result of prudent cost-savings decisions and partly out of consideration of financial challenges faced by wage earners and local businesses.
The board and administration are being diligent about controlling spending, but not at the expense of putting staff or students at risk during these uncertain time. Unfortunately, more parents have enrolled their children in charter/cyber schools, placing an extra burden on the budget and, thereby, taxpayers.
Upgrading buildings and grounds, including paving, sidewalks, security cameras and public address systems; creating a new entrance to the Marion/BVAMS Campus; signage; adding a long-needed elevator at Belle Vernon Area Middle School and a standby generator at the Administration Building; replacing worn old windows with energy-efficient windows.
The district is the midst of remodeling and re-purposing the former Rostraver Middle School, not only for athletics but for multiple uses including a meeting room and up to four classrooms if we need to accommodate future growth or reconfiguration.
The projects are part of a proactive, ongoing capital improvements program that began several years ago. They will extend the life of buildings by a generation and modernize facilities for students, staff and community.
Past work fortuitously included upgrading HVAC systems to exchange and introduce fresh air into classrooms as recommended by health experts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Securing approximately $600,000 under the federal CARES Act to cover extraordinary expenses associated with the pandemic and to further provide for health and safety.
Here’s how the money is being spent:
Purchase of 169 IPads (Others are being secured through lease-purchase agreements). Bottle fillers instead of water fountains. Personal protection equipment such as masks, face shields and gloves. Special cleaning supplies and equipment to sanitize buses, classrooms and common areas. Temperature scanners; plexiglass dividers; signage. Extra art supplies to limit sharing. Tutoring to remediate learning deficits from spring after classes were suspended. Technology upgrades. Extra funding in order to provide subs for nurses and custodians.
So much has happened, and so much is happening, but the situation can change from one day to the next. The “blended” return-to-school strategy that we developed early and have stood by has enabled us to do consistent planning and preparations. The strategy is one now adopted by a majority of the state’s 500 public school systems.
Admittedly, and regretfully, everybody is being inconvenienced. Everybody will need to be patient while the district tweaks things, while we “settle in” and make the transition. BVA needs your support and cooperation.
Be assured that the BVA “school family,” from the board of directors to support personnel, is doing everything possible to provide a safe, effective, secure reopening of our schools.
Everyone is anxious to get back to five days of in-person classes as soon as possible.
Our “blended” model does provide for two days of in-person classes while establishing accountability and flexibility. Because our classrooms can hold only between 15 and 18 students with safe distancing, we could not start with five days of in-person classes without violating law and without putting students and staff at risk. In addition, we have had to consider transportation, cafeteria and hallway crowding issues.
In the event we are forced to go to “all-virtual” instruction, we will be ready.
In the event we are able to return to “in-person” instruction, we will be ready.
Thank you. We hope and pray for a quick, safe and secure return to normalcy.
June 25, 2020 – The sky was dark and thunder rumbled in the distance, but bright sun bathed James Weir Stadium last night as the BVA Class of 2020 was honored with a traditional albeit modified commencement ceremony.Students born in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy received their diplomas in the middle of yet another nationally historic disaster, the Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in cancellation of in-school spring semester classes, athletics, other activities and normal graduation events.Attendance was limited to ticket holders, who were required to wear masks, sign waivers and take a temperature test. Compliance with rules was impressive among spectators anxious to witness this milestone in the education of 173 seniors.The board of education always wanted what the students wanted: A traditional, in-person graduation. With the help of parents, students and staff, everyone found a way to make it happen, albeit with the restrictions.The BVA Class of 2020 adopted a timely, appropriate motto: “United in distance, forged in uncertainty, strengthened by adversity, remembered in history.”Several students have already reported for military duty, but most of them can now begin work, careers, technical training and high education.The board of education congratulates all graduates and gives a special shout-out to those who have earned honors, high honors, highest honors, departmental awards, scholarships and other special recognition.The board of education also extends a big “thank you” to administration, staff, parents, students, security personnel, volunteers and all others who made last night’s event possible in the most challenging of times.