PENNSBURY >> In a quiet reorganization meeting on Dec. 3, the gavel of leadership of the Pennsbury School Board passed from TR Kannan to Christine Toy-Dragoni.
In a unanimous vote, the nine member school board elevated Toy-Dragoni from vice president to the presidency of the board for the coming year.
Toy-Dragoni is a licensed professional counselor and an undergraduate psychology instructor from Lower Makefield who operates a family and individual counseling practice in Fairless Hills.
She holds a BA in Natural Science and Mathematics and earned her Masters of Clinical Counseling with a concentration in addictions counseling from LaSalle University. Before beginning her private practice, she worked in drug treatment.
Elected to the board in November 2017 to represent Region 3, she has served as board liaison to the Education Committee and has been Vice President of the board for the past year under TR Kannan.
“I am honored that the board unanimously put their trust in me to lead them,” said Toy-Dragoni. “I respect and value the trust that has been put in me to lead the board. I have taken my position as a top priority responsibility since I was elected and will continue to do the same.”
Toy-Dragoni also commended her predecessor, TR Kannan, for his leadership of the board.
“TR’s level-headed, task-focused approach to leadership has made working with him a truly positive professional experience,” she said. “In fact, under his leadership, we have all managed very difficult times on the board with mutual respect and camaraderie.”
In another leadership change, the board appointed Lower Makefield resident Joshua Waldorf as the board’s new vice president. He is the owner of Yardley Unlimited LLC, a concierge event consulting, sponsorship and logistics company.
Waldorf holds an MSB from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. in international relations from Boston University.
He is the board’s liaison to the Bucks County Schools Intermediate Unit, the Bucks County Schools Intermediate Unit Board Legislative Committee and the board’s Finance/Partnership Committee. He’s also the district’s municipal liaison to Yardley Borough.
Waldorf was first elected to the board in 2013 to represent Region 1. He won a second term in 2017 and is completing his seventh year on the board.
Moving forward into the new year, the board will be tasked with finding a replacement for Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula who announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down from the position in 2021.
Also chief on the board’s plate will be the ongoing pandemic and continuing to balance safety with the desire for in-person education.
“The pandemic and our dynamic response to it continues to be at the forefront of our minds and actions,” said Toy-Dragoni. “In addition, we must find new leadership for the district. We also have major facilities initiatives that we are working on, as well as significant equity and diversity work.
“Tensions and frustrations are high because of the vast array of difficulties our community, staff and students are facing,” added Toy-Dragoni of the pandemic and the challenges facing education. “I feel good about the commitment of the board as a whole to work hard for each and every member of the Pennsbury School District.”
Also at the Dec. 3 meeting, Dr. William Gretzula updated the board on the status of COVID-19 in the district and publicly thanked the Pennsbury community for its flexibility following the Thanksgiving holiday.
With COVID-19 case counts rising going into the holiday, the school board voted unanimously to modify its phase one reopening plan to return to a virtual learning model for all students from Monday, Nov. 30 through Friday, Dec. 4.
“When we returned for teaching and learning this week, it was in a remote model for all,” said Gretzula. “The intention was to minimize the impact of the virus due to potential travel and family gatherings. I believe we were successful in doing so despite our positive case counts going up. Now, we approach a new week with mixed emotions.”
While the district continues to closely monitor the reality concerning the volume of positive cases and positive test rates in Bucks County, Gretzula said he “will be excited to see the children’s joy with the return of students in Phase 1 and Phase 2 on Monday, December 7.”
This week, Phase 1 students (Pre-K, Kindergarten, first and second grades and students in specialized learning) return to hybrid or virtual learning following a week of virtual for all students.
Under the district’s three phase reopening plan, students in phase one who selected the hybrid option and students in specialized learning returned to the classroom on Nov. 12 for a combination of in-school and remote learning.
And many did, said Gretzula, who said there was plenty of joy as students returned to the classroom for the first time since March.
“As exciting as it has been to see the joy on children’s faces, we have obviously entered a concerning period of the pandemic with cases rising exponentially,” said Gretzula. “To ensure the health and safety of students and staff, and to maintain adequate staffing capacity beyond the Thanksgiving holiday, the members of the Board voted to have all students participate in remote learning from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.”
In addition, the district encouraged its teachers and staff to adhere to Governor Wolf’s orders and not to travel out of state during the Thanksgiving Holiday “so we can have a better chance of having students in school in December and beyond,” said Gretzula.
“Cases are up locally, regionally and across the state,” said Gretzula. “These numbers are alarming and are leading to two significant challenges for keeping schools open, not just in Pennsbury, but across the county and state: confidence in contact tracing and staffing to maintain effective instructional delivery in all program.”
In addition to welcoming back phase one students to hydrid, December 7 also marks the beginning of the district’s second phase of reopening with hybrid in person instruction being extended as an option to students in grades three to eight for the first time.
The final phase is scheduled to begin with the second semester when students in grades 9 to 12 are offered the hybrid in-person learning option unless they are part of the invited specialized learning populations.
Students enrolled in the district’s remote learning model will continue with remote instruction with no changes.
“As the month progresses and students and staff return, we will monitor our ability to offer consistent instructional opportunities for those students who select in-person instruction,” said Gretzula. “I am hopefully optimistic that we will be able to move forward successfully, yet I am realistic in knowing the data surrounding the pandemic is worsening daily and may lead to a need for the District to reconsider in-person instruction at a later date.
“In the meantime, join me in welcoming back students in Grades 3-8, who have opted for in-person instruction, for the first time in nearly 9 months,” said the superintendent. “Thank you to all who are sacrificing professionally to make it possible.”