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The Second Mile, a charity in crisis, may not recover

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: The Second Mile charity offices are located at 1402 S. Atherton St., December 2, 2011. Nabil K. Mark 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 11, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

Guidance counselors in the State College Area schools have stopped referring students to The Second Mile’s early intervention youth programs.

Educators in the Bald Eagle Area, for now at least, don’t plan to hand out trading cards, with positive messages and the images of Penn State football players, that the organization distributes.

And whether a significant number of schools will continue to participate in the nonprofit’s leadership conferences is one of many uncertainties.

“We don’t know the status of that organization going forward,” said Dena Cipriano, spokeswoman for the Philipsburg- Osceola Area School District.

The future of The Second Mile has come into question since the Attorney General’s Office released a grand jury report Saturday, alleging that the organization’s founder,

Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused eight boys over 15 years. The report said he was introduced to the boys through The Second Mile programs.

Some educators said they felt betrayed by the news.

“I have been a public school teacher for 23 years. During that time I have referred many children to The Second Mile,” Bellefonte resident Susan Munnell wrote in a letter to the Centre Daily Times. “It makes me sick to now know that I could have been throwing them to the wolves — wolves that prey on innocent, at-risk children seeking acceptance and positive role models.”

Others cautioned against punishing an entire organization because of accusations against one person.

“We’re not going to paint everyone with the same brush,” said Penns Valley Area School District Superintendent Brian Griffith.

Solar Savings: Deals net local schools green energy, learning tools

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Project Manager Rick Vilello talks about the 2152 individual solar panels on the roof of Bald Eagle Area High School and Wingate Elementary Schools combined October 11, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

WINGATE — At one Bald Eagle Area School District building, solar panels cover more than half the roof. That’s equal to about two-and-a-half football fields— end zones included.

“It’s funny to think, Bald Eagle Area, in the middle of Centre County, one of the most rural school districts — and this is one of the most high-tech buildings in Pennsylvania,” district construction manager Rick Vilello said while standing atop the roof on a foggy day recently.

Lots of districts have tried to lower their energy bills — from building biomass boilers

to turning off teachers’ coffee pots in classrooms. But Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte Area school districts have taken an unusual approach through a private partnership:

Solar panels provide about half the energy for the Bald Eagle Area middle and high school building, as well as the connected Wingate Elementary School. In the neighboring Bellefonte Area School District, two elementary schools — Pleasant Gap and Marion-Walker — and the high school have solar energy systems, too.

So far the savings from solar energy are modest — about $12,000 at Bald Eagle Area, and less than that in Bellefonte, based on an analysis of data provided by the districts.

But leaders there say the panels didn’t cost the districts or local taxpayers any money, serve as an education tool for students, provide certainty for future budgets, and could become bigger cost savers in future years.

“Really it was just an opportunity that came up during the renovation,” said Dan Fisher, superintendent for Bald Eagle Area, which has nearly finished a $26 million construction project at Wingate Elementary School and the middle and high school building. “And everything fit together.”

But not many Pennsylvania school districts are in a position to imitate Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area.

“Solar, right now, is not attractive,” Damion Spahr, vice president of business development for the Harris-burg- based Reynolds Construction Management company, told Philipsburg-Osceola Area school board members during a meeting this month.

Two main barriers exist for schools. Federal and solar energy grants have diminished. And the market for solar renewable energy credits — which provide revenue for owners of solar panels — has plunged by about 90 percent since last year.

Carlisle Area School District leaders, for instance, told community members that their $2.35 million investment in a solar system would pay for itself within four years. But in today’s market, the system is bringing in less money than expected. As a result, the payback is looking closer to 10 years.

In Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte, a partnership with a private finance and investment company, Smart Energy Capital, let the district avoid those barriers. They also aren’t affected by the downturn in the solar renewable energy credit market.

Both school districts don’t own the panels, didn’t pay to have them installed and aren’t responsible for maintaining them.

Instead, Smart Energy paid for the solar panels with help from about $2.2 million in state grants. The private company then installed the solar panels on district roofs.

“In essence, what we’re doing is leasing our roof space,” said Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs for the Bellefonte Area School District.

Bellefonte, State College schools to pilot teacher evaluation plan

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2011

Educators in the Bellefonte and State College area school districts have signed up to pilot a new teacher-evaluation program being pushed by the Corbett administration.

“We want to see what they look like and smell like,” said Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger, “to see what they actually want us to evaluate.”

The state Department of Education said a little more than 100 kindergarten through 12th-grade school entities, including career and technical centers and charter schools, volunteered to pilot the program, which won’t judge teachers solely on classroom observation. Student performance on tests will be a large factor.

In arguing that the overhaul is necessary, the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett has pointed to the fact that 99.4 percent of all teachers and 99.2 percent of principals received a satisfactory rating on reviews in the 2009-10 school year.

“How can virtually 100 percent of educators be evaluated as satisfactory, yet, based on statewide assessments, 1 in 4 students are scoring below proficient in reading and 1 in 3 are scoring below proficient in math?” Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said in a written statement last week. “It just does not add up.”

Read more: Bellefonte, State College schools to pilot new teacher evaluation plan.

Retired teacher trades windsurfing lessons for charity

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Tom Gabrielson and Bill van den Berg during a windsurfing lesson at Sayers Lake on Friday, August 12, 2011. CDT/Christopher Weddle 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011

BY ED MAHON

HOWARD — Standing up to his waist in Sayers Lake, Bill van den Berg watched Tom Gabrielson clamber onto the windsurfing board.

Both were bearded men with doctorates — van den Berg in biophysics, Gabrielson in acoustics.

But one of them was new to the sport. “I want you to get on the board and just walk around a little bit,” van den Berg told him. “Just get a feel — whoa.”

Gabrielson had slipped over and splashed into the water.

“All right,” said a laughing Gabrielson. “Got to get the first one out of the way.”

Van den Berg, 65, is a retired high school physics teacher, an amateur photographer and a budding windsurfing instructor. He first took up the sport 1996. In 2007, he retired from State College Area High School, bought a house about 500 yards from Sayers Lake and got certified by U.S. Sailing as a windsurfing instructor.

In lieu of a fee, he asks clients to make a donation of between $60 and $100 to Centre Volunteers in Medicine, the American Red Cross, or about 20 other nonprofits.

Windsurfing on Sayers Lake is not like windsurfing in North Carolina, Hawaii or the Caribbean. The surrounding mountains can make the wind erratic. But van den Berg said light breezes can be good for beginners.

Read more: Retired teacher trades windsurfing lessons for charity.

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School districts roll out changes on first day of classes

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

 

Caption: Bellefonte Area High School’s new principal Jennifer Brown waves to students as they make their way to class, September 6, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark 

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2011

BELLEFONTE — As she walked the hallways before the homeroom bell, Jennifer Brown reminded one student to remove his cap, introduced herself to a student she had spotted the other day on a sports field, told some ninth-graders it was natural to feel nervous, and helped several more find their way around a new building.

“All right, honey, go in,” she said to a ninth-grade student who was looking for directions in Bellefonte Area High School.

Brown and that ninth-grade student she helped guide were two of the many people tackling new challenges as the first day of school began in the Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte and Penns Valley school districts Tuesday.

Brown, the high school’s new principal, has spent most of her life either as a student or as an educator in the Bellefonte schools. As a high school student, she served as class president, participated on the cheer-leading team, played softball and tutored peers with learning disabilities. She graduated in 1995, attended Lock Haven University, then returned to her alma mater as a learning support teacher. She has served as vice principal at the high school and middle school.

“She has a lot of energy and sincere enthusiasm for helping students,” said middle school Principal Karen Krisch.

Read more: School districts roll out changes on first day of classes.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tours Centre County technical school, calls programs strong.

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2011

BY ED MAHON

PLEASANT GAP — With President Barack Obama scheduled to give a major jobs speech before a joint session of Congress in less than a week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey visited the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology on Friday and applauded the school’s role in training students.

Read more: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tours Centre County technical school, calls programs strong.

Bald Eagle Area School District leaders look again at drilling leases

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, AUG.22, 2011

BY ED MAHON

BOGGS TOWNSHIP — In January 2007, landmen made Bald Eagle Area school board members an offer.

They wanted permission to drill into hundreds of acres of district land, hoping to extract natural gas from a formation that few people had heard about: the Marcellus Shale.

The two sides negotiated and agreed that T.S. Dudley Land Co., of Oklahoma, would pay $125 an acre to lease the mineral rights to about 224 acres north of South Eagle Valley Road, behind the high school, and to 330 acres south of the road, behind administration offices.

That deal netted the district $69,226 over the next five years — that’s roughly enough to cover the salary for one teacher, earning the district average of $44,640, for about a year and a half.

“At that time, I think most people in the area thought that was a fair price,” said Bald Eagle Area School District Superintendent Dan Fisher, adding that the district consulted with a Williamsport attorney before signing the deal.

Four and a half years later, no drilling has taken place on district land, gas companies have paid 10 times as much or more for such leases, and district leaders want to negotiate new contracts.

But they may be stuck with the two current leases until 2017. The gas company that now owns the leases, Chesapeake Energy, can opt to renew them, provided it meets certain, fairly broad, conditions.

In July, The Associated Press reported that thousands of Pennsylvania residents signed lowball leases in the years preceding the state’s gas drilling boom.

In some cases, landowners leased their mineral rights for as low as $2 or $3 an acre. On some land, landowners say gas companies have done minimal drilling with the goal not of finding gas, but renewing favorable leases. Some of those landowners have filed lawsuits.

“There’s just too much money at stake — between a $3 lease and a $7,500 lease — for the operators to walk away from,” Robert Jones, an attorney in Endicott, N.Y., told the AP. He represented a group of landowners who sued successfully in federal court to shed their old leases. “They’re desperate to hold on to them like the landowners are desperate to get rid of them.”

It’s not clear exactly how much Bald Eagle Area could get for a new lease.

Outside consultants recently told board members that gas companies have been willing to pay $1,500 to $2,000 per acre for similar leases.

Eric Cummings, a Clearfield attorney who specializes in natural gas and oil real estate issues, said in 2010 companies were paying between $1,500 and $3,500 in the Centre County area.

If Bald Eagle Area’s original leases had been negotiated at $1,500 per acre, the district would have taken in about $831,000 for the first five years.

“At the time that this was negotiated, this was a very new business,” said Bald Eagle Area school board member Tom Letterman. “So we were all learning.”

Read more: Bald Eagle Area School District leaders look again at drilling leases.

Thursday, May 22, 2008, Section: , Page: , Matches: , Word Count: 000000  Caption: Bald Eagle Area School District Superintendent Dan Fisher points to Centre County’s place in the Marcellus Shale distribution on Thursday, May 22, 2008.