The Tunkhannock Area School Board last Wednesday accepted the resignation of Superintendent Heather McPherson effective Jan. 14, 2022.
The news came as somewhat of a surprise to the public because in March, the school board renewed her contract for another three years.
Board vice president Holly Arnold said the school board had received a letter dated that day that Mrs. McPherson would be pursuing other options.
McPherson clarified that at an executive session of the board two weeks earlier she had informed them of her intention to retire after the first of the year, and she more recently had a conversation with the faculty regarding pending plans.
She acknowledged that recently she had a second grandchild and had been thinking about options "allowing me to pivot to my family."
She added, "It has been an honor to be here with a board that has been excellent to work with."
McPherson reviewed some of the accomplishments that happened on her watch including consolidation of the schools and selling of two buildings, addition of a STEM Academy, defeated the possibility of a charter school, saw the board push through a bond so much needed renovations could take place, created a Fusion C3 virtual curriculum that got tested last year during the peak of the COVID pandemic, updated the curriculum in most efforts, and supported a Tiger Fund for Excellence that allows supporters in the community to get financially involved in helping the district make improvements.
"The truth is we have made major improvements in almost every area," McPherson said.
She noted that because of COVID and public issues with masking, "It might be easy to forget all of the good that's been accomplished. I don't take credit. It's been a team effort from the start. I want us to be focused on the positive, and I promise I will give 100 percent until my last day here."
Board member John Burke thanked McPherson for her contributions. "There is no question we are in a much better place than when you came here, and there have been some tough challenges we have had to go through."
Member Rob Parry said he had seen a lot of superintendents since he had come on the board since he joined it in 1997, "and you are unquestionably the best. You have done a lot of good for this district that people don't always see."
Arnold said, "I'm going to miss you're not being here, but we are grateful we got the time we had. Regrettably, we will have to vote on this later."
Member Lori Bennett said, "I did not expect Heather's retirement. It has been a pleasure to work with you. You brought the board to be a working board, and honored that it was okay to agree to disagree, but we have all worked together. I wish you good luck."
Member Bill Prebola said, "You know I'm upset you are leaving. We got a peach of a superintendent when you were hired. I thank you for your years of service."
McPherson was hired in 2016 at a salary of $130,000. Prior to joining the TA district, she served as superintendent of the Northeast Bradford School District from 2008.
Member Shana Gregory also thanked the superintendent for her service, and said, "I'm very proud of you for doing what you need to do."
The vote to accept her retirement was 7-0 with Phillip Farr and Bill Weidner not present on the virtual meeting.
The board then went into a couple of other issues on the agenda- matters dealing with the district's legal budget and right-to-know duties.
Prior to the retirement discussion, there was an opportunity for public comment.
Resident George Yuhas raised a sunshine law objection, but solicitor David Conn said there was no violation of such occurring at that night's meting. Yuhas appealed to board members to speak on their own behalf.
Resident Barbara Ruckowski also read a letter she said was written by her husband and five others who called themselves Citizens Advisory Committee. The letter raised a litany of concerns and ended with the group calling for the superintendent and all of the school board members to resign.
After attempting to clarify who actually composed the letter, Arnold said for the record "I am not going to be resigning."
Parry also jumped in and said, "Let me get this straight there are six of you who wrote this letter, and another 15,000 residents in the district who did not?"
The board did not address the letter because it was being emailed to each of the members, and it seemed clear they had not seen it although a few had been aware of a rumor that such a letter might be coming.
Board member John Burke opened discussion about the school district's legal budget, and noted that legal expenses were budgeted at $145,000. He noted that some 15 right-to-know requests had come to the district and expressed concern if all of them were addressed it could bust the budget.
Prebola said, "That you don't agree with everything we say doesn't mean we are sinister persons. We want to keep the district moving forward."
Parry, who is not seeking reelection this year said that from his vantage point, it looked like "Ten people are destroying this school district in a lot of ways."
Burke said the district can honor all of the legal requests, "But just so you know those costs could lead to cuts of other programs."
Parry said he felt some of the concerns were based in crazy conspiracy theories, and it needed to stop.
Prebola said, "COVID has everyone discombobulated, but we as a board have to steer this ship forward."
Arnold asked if any action on the legal budget need to be taken, and Burke said he just wanted the public to know where things currently stood.
In the final opportunity for public comment, Yuhas said he wanted the board to know, "A shaming campaign won't stop me."
Others offered comments thanking the superintendent for her service.
Patrons driving on Bridge Street by the Dietrich Theater might have their eyes caught by a new addition to the side of the building.
This past week, Tunkhannock artist Bob Lizza installed the third mural that will adorn the Dietrich Theater’s walls. The new 40-by-12 foot monstrosity will be a depiction of the Vosburg Neck.
Lizza said he started this particular mural around two months ago. He got a frame of reference by looking at aerial shots of the Vosburg Neck and driving to the area to get the best possible visuals for the painting.
“After looking at all of the pictures, I hand drew the art, and then I painted it,” Lizza said. “I loved painting this. It was a lot of freestyle with getting to mix colors, and that’s more my type of style.”
The Vosburg neck will be the third mural to grace the Dietrich Theater’s walls. The past two years, Lizza installed two paintings in the back of the theater showing the Nicholson Bridge. Dietrich Theater Executive Director Erica Rogler said she formed a mural committee consisting of the Wyoming County Commissioners, members of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region, as well as Dietrich staff members to pick a landmark for the mural.
“We went for a piece of historical architecture with the Nicholson Bridge. With this mural, we wanted to focus on something more natural,” Rogler said. “The Vosburg Neck is definitely one of the most unique portions of the Susquehanna River, and we wanted to focus on its beauty.”
One thing the committee wanted to do is make the mural look like a vintage postcard showcasing the area to show off the majestic beauty of the Endless Mountains Region during the fall season. Lizza jumped at the opportunity.
“Being able to add fall foliage added a new element to this painting for me,” Lizza said. “When I painted the Nicholson Bridge, there were a lot of fine details to match the architecture. I was really able to get creative with this and I think it’s going to look really good.”
The style of painting that Lizza used to make the mural is called “trompe l’oeil” or trick of the eye, a style he used to make it look like something you can walk right into the scene and be in the painting. He said he is actually ahead of time with this mural compared to the last two.
“The previous two years, I wasn’t installing until November,” Lizza said. “This year I’m ahead of the game, which is good because you never know what type of weather northeastern Pennsylvania is going to bring you.”
Lizza started installing the panels for the mural on Oct. 6, he wrapped up the completed project on Monday afternoon.
The murals are funded through the Endless Mountains Heritage Region Mini-Grant program and a Wyoming County Room Tax Grant. Rogler said a couple of years ago when she was staring at the Dietrich’s empty walls, she knew something could be done to make the place shine.
“This place has great, expansive outdoor walls,” Rogler said. “I hope that these murals remind the residents of the great beauty and heritage of our community, as well as make downtown more of a cultural destination.”
The Dietrich Theater will look to show off all three murals to the public all month long during its Fall Film Festival.
Every Oct. 11, the LGBTQ community celebrates National Coming Out Day, a day meant to give a voice to those who are under the acronym’s umbrella terms for expressing their sexuality and gender identity.
Coming out for the first time can be a very emotional and hard process for anyone, and on Monday night, Keystone College wanted to help students who may currently be going through the process.
The college’s Opposing Prejudice and Ending Negativity Club along with the Counseling and Well-Being Center sponsored a ‘Stop the Stigma’ event so members of the LGBTQ community could find a safe space to talk, or just listen to others share their stories.
Keystone Wellness Coordinator Carla Salsman and OPEN Club President Jared Williard put together a presentation about the challenges of coming out.
“Coming out is a lifelong process of understanding and accepting,” Salsman said. “The first person you have to come out to is yourself, and that could be the hardest part.”
Salsman shared some of the biggest challenges of coming out. The process could lead to anxiety, self-esteem issues, fear of rejection and confusion. But at the end of the day, coming out allows you to finally be yourself, not trying to be someone else.
Salsman and Williard then went on to share their coming out stories. Salsman officially came out in 2013, but said she had always known she was gay. Growing up in a religious family made the process a lot harder for her.
“I was terrified coming from a good, Catholic family, but I couldn’t handle living a lie anymore,” Salsman said. “God made me who I want to be. It was the most agonizing decision I have ever had to make.”
Her decision to come out did not sit well with everyone, she said to this day she has still not spoken to some of her siblings, but the overall true love and friendship she has experienced has been overwhelming.
“I pray that this can be an easy process for future generations, and we can continue to pave the way so people don’t have to hide who they are,” she said.
Williard came out in 2014 when he was 15 years old. He said during the process he was bullied in school, and it was even hard to explain to his parents.
“The decision to come out publicly riddled me with anxiety,” Williard said. “I have many amazing friends who support me in every single way, but there are times where I still really struggle with self-esteem.”
Williard talked about how clubs at Keystone like OPEN have really helped him become an ambassador for helping other people who face fears just like he has.
“People shouldn’t have to hide in fear,” he said. “It’s a shame that in 2021 people still have to hide who they really are, and fear for their lives in some places to do something like this.”
To end the presentation, the two talked about how non-LGBTQ people can be allies to the community, and help someone who may be in the process of coming out.
“You can help just by being visible and sticking up for someone,” Salsman said. “Help your friends through this process. Hold their hand, be their shoulder to cry on when they need it.”
Before ending, she left the audience with one final quote that left a powerful impact on the people in attendance.
“Those who really love you always will, and those who no longer can, never really did,” she said.
Wyoming County Commissioners approved an ordinance refinancing the county’s existing debt.
At a commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday morning, commissioners said the debt refinancing could give the county an additional $3 million. Commissioner Rick Wilbur said that money will be used for the county’s pension plan, and two projects, details of which commissioners weren’t ready to release to the public just yet.
“We are very happy about this,” Wilbur said. “We’ve been trying to find solutions to help our pension fund for a while now, and this is going to help a great deal. This is going to make a lot of people happy.”
The refinancing is coming from the refunding of the county’s two outstanding general obligation bonds from 2015. Wilbur said that the county’s debt surface payments will remain the same at $500,000.
Commissioners provided an update on the hookup of natural gas lines to the courthouse, jail and EMA Building. They recently held a meeting with Lance Stange of Novak Strategic Advisors, and everything is still going along as planned. Gas lines are expected to be hooked up to the buildings by the end of the year.
Skyhaven Airport is currently looking for grants to extend its runway, which airport officials hope can open up more of a revenue stream. Commissioners recently attended a meeting at the airport, and committed to helping find grants to possibly fund this project.
“They are hoping that extending the runway will allow them to do more events and bring in more business,” Commissioner Tom Henry said. “I was really impressed with everything I was shown at the airport, and hope we can help out.”
Plans for a Wyoming County reentry program remain ongoing. Commissioners recently held a meeting with Cross Trade. The company provides vocational training to recently released inmates. Commissioner Ernie King said he has met with many companies that provide services, but this one was very important.
“When these inmates are released, we can’t just throw them back out on the street,” King said. “We need to try and teach them proper skills that will be useful as they get back into normal life. There is always a need for these vocational jobs, it could be a great starting point for these people to get back in the world.”
Commissioners plan to meet with the Tunkhannock Borough Municipal Authority in the future to discuss stormwater management. Recently, the authority has been seeing problems with stormwater mixing with wastewater, which can cause some damages to the sewers and storm drains.
Wilbur said the county is going to help them look to see how much- if any- repairs are needed, and help them find possible grants for those repairs.
It was also announced the Iroquois Trail will be closed to the public, Oct. 18-25. Multiple dead ash trees that are causing a safety risk for walkers and runners will be removed from the trail.
Commissioners also signed two proclamations at Tuesday’s meeting. The first declared Oct. 17-23 as Women in Business Week in Wyoming County.
“Our businesses wouldn’t be what they are without the many great women in this county,” Henry said. “We have many great women-run businesses here, and I’m proud to take a week to honor them.”
The second proclamation honored Tunkhannock Area freshman Hallie Brown. Brown became the first TA female golfer to win the District 2 AA girls golf championship since the Tigers joined District 2 in 1982.
Wyoming County Commissioners will next meet on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 10 a.m. at the courthouse.
More than 2,000 wine and beer lovers descended upon Tunkhannock’s Lazybrook Park Saturday, for a day to kick back with friends and family.
Ron Furman, who has chaired the Tunkhannock Rotary Harvest Festival for eight years, said this annual event probably went off the smoothest ever, with everyone reporting a good time.
Because of COVID-19, there was no festival last year, Furman said.
“We did a calendar raffle last year, but that was no comparison to what we have been able to do today. This year’s event has been about replenishing the treasury so our Rotary can spread more goodness around.”
This had been TV personality Nick Toma’s third such time emceeing the day’s activities.
“This is definitely one of the biggest wine festivals around,” Toma said, “and given it was in Tunkhannock is considered a destination event. It is not stuffy and people seem to be having a great time. People here are friendly, but not rowdy.”
Susie Werner drove all the way up from Wind Gap to check it out for her first time, and she and her three girlfriends “had a great time.”
“We had been talking since COVID appeared to do a wine tour of the northeast region,” Werner said, “but here we could do 13 establishments in one setting, and that made it really easy.”
She added, “While some lines were long to get a splash of wine, I’ve seen a lot worse at Ocean City, Md. The variety of offerings was terrific, and we’ll definitely be back.
She said the food lines were a bit of a challenge, but once we got served, we could sit back and enjoy the non-stop music performed by PopStarDrive and Inside Out.”
Furman noted that Kip Bowman, a fixture at the wine festival where she sold drink cup holders since forever, was absent following her death earlier this year. But her family donated her stock of the holders with the proceeds to be used for planting memorial trees at Lazybrook.
“We’re grateful for the generosity,” Furman said. “I also want to give a shout out to about 10 new Tunkhannock Rotary members who joined in recent months, and lightened everyone’s load. Our success is definitely a team effort.”