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School year ‘has been a challenge,’ president says
Gratitude was the theme of the McKeesport Area School District Board’s January meeting.
Joseph Lopretto, board president, commended the work of students, teachers and administrators during the 2020-21 school year, saying the “school year has been a challenge for everybody. I compliment our administrators for doing what they do to keep it going, and we can only hope and pray we get through the school year.”
Mark Holtzman, superintendent, then praised the ways in which the district has been able to succeed during the pandemic, as well as thanking the all-volunteer school board.
“We’re giving [the students] the best possible education that we can under our current circumstances, and we are trying our best to think of new, creative ways to engage our students online,” said Holtzman. “We are very lucky to be leaders in the McKeesport Area School District and will remain as long as they have us. We truly believe in our school system.”
Holtzman also presented a video from students across the district thanking board members for their work.
Kelly Doyle and her husband Mike, White Oak residents who are the founders of the McKeesport Agape Center, approached the board about the future of the center. The growing organization needs a building, and Doyle has her eyes on a former elementary school.
In 2019, the couple started to deliver food to people in need, and in 2020, they began full-time distribution. Over the holidays, the organization provided more than 400 families with food and gifts. The highest number of families served in one week was 900, during the summer of 2020.
“The people who are most food insecure often do not have cars, or they are too sick to drive,” said Doyle. “When you deliver food and you see the children bouncing up and down and yelling that the food bag is here, you are forever changed.”
The McKeesport Agape Center is also developing a program called Agape Works, to provide mentors and life coaches for adults seeking work. They are also beginning the McKeesport Agape Farm to feed neighbors and provide educational programs for all ages.
The school board informed Doyle that they would put her in contact with the appropriate people to discuss the logistics of purchasing the former school building.
In other business, Lopretto acknowledged Alberta Decker, a retiring teacher who worked in the district for 37 years. On behalf of the board, Lopretto gifted her a bouquet of flowers, and thanked her for the impact she had on the community during her career.
The athletics committee updated the Board on winter sports schedules, including the fact that the basketball season has been extended to February 26, as well as updates on hirings for fall sports. A list of projects from the maintenance department and custodial staff was shared, including daily COVID-19 safety measures.
Mindy Sturgess, board vice prresident, shared updates regarding the culture and diversity committee. A hybrid mentoring program, titled GAME, is in development. This program, which will be rolled out in the next year, will work with individual students and provide professional development for staff. Additionally, the committee is engaging with student groups in the development of a cultural diversity mission statement.
The education and legislation committee reviewed student data, to see how students are performing in person versus online. Many online students are struggling, and the committee plans to look into solutions to support these students moving forward. Also, the IT department is seeking options to provide new security cameras across the district.
Ten motions, including property tax cases and the continued video streaming of district events, were approved.
The next open agenda school board meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, followed by the regular school board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24. Both meetings will be streamed and saved on the McKeesport Area School District YouTube channel.
Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published February 01, 2021.