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DeLucca hired as TASD interim super
  • Updated

The Tunkhannock Area School Board hired veteran educator Joseph DeLucca to be Interim Superintendent after current Superintendent Heather McPherson retires in January.

The vote was unanimous, and there was no public discussion about the interview process that brought his name to the table.

DeLucca is 49, married and has three sons. For the last 11 years, he had been director of federal, state and nonpublic programs at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, a consortium of schools in the Wyoming Valley, which includes Tunkhannock Area.

Contacted after the meeting, DeLucca said he had applied for the Tunkhannock Area superintendent’s position four years ago when McPherson was eventually selected.

The interim position will pay $300 a day, with the start date to be negotiated.

Last Thursday was the re-appearance of an in-person meeting in the high school auditorium.

Questions about agenda items seemed reasonable at the front end of the meeting, and the board proceeded with issues that were part of its agenda.

At the end of the meeting, Solicitor John Audi was called on at a couple of junctures regarding questions of the board. At the end of the meeting, a man who claimed to represent the interests of members in the district, but was not a district resident, was ruled out of order and other audience members demanded to be heard.

A decision by board members was made to abruptly end the meeting, which it was.

Based on a agenda seen ahead of the Nov. 18 meeting, the board has decided to return to Zoom meetings for the foreseeable future.

Other actions of the board included:

  • the appointment of John Burke and Lori Bennett to a nominations committee to recommend officers at the December reorganization meeting of the board.
  • approving a resolution to increase daily substitute teacher pay through Kelly Services from $85/day to $105/day.

accepting Superintendent McPherson’s report, which included the retirement of Mary Beatty as director of special education; the resignation of Marie Vieczorek as primary center teacher; a leave extension of Michelle Snyder as Intermediate Center Principal from Dec. 27 to June 3, 2022; a sabbatical leave of primary center teacher Susan Williams for the second semester of 2021-22; an updated volunteer list for 2021-22; and approving Cheryl Terbush as support staff substitute.

Veterans came out in droves Thursday morning to accept thanks (and a breakfast) of the Sheldon and Sheldon-Kukuchka family of funeral homes at the Triton hose house. The annual tradition was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID, and Tom Kukuchka said it was a blessing to be back.

Veterans thank you

Trail students focus on Veterans
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It was different than what normally occurs, but students at Lackawanna Trail High School still got to learn about the importance of Veterans Day.

Rather than have a usual auditorium assembly with a guest speaker, principal Mark Murphy decided to take a pause out of instructional time to present a virtual presentation to the students.

The presentation consisted of three different sets of videos and each video had a different topic. The first video was a lesson on what Veterans Day is, the second a video about who veterans are and what they do when they return to civilian life, the third video showed students how to properly thank a veteran.

“Rather than students gathering for a speaker, we wanted to have them in their classrooms to have an intimate discussion about what Veterans Day really is,” Murphy said. “A lot of these kids might not know the history or significance of this day, so we wanted to teach them about that.”

Once the videos were done being presented, each classroom received a series of discussion questions. The classroom teacher would be the moderator for the discussion.

Veterans Day is very special to English teacher Kelly Hopkins. Her father served in the Vietnam War. One question she received from her students was why other area schools receive an off day for Veterans Day. She said while the day is rightfully considered a federal holiday, it is better to be together to learn the significance of the day.

“Kids who don’t grow up in a military family might not know that soldiers aren’t just people who fight in combat,” Hopkins said to the students. “It’s the military nurses, cooks and barbers who played a big role as well. This is a day to make sure everyone gets remembered, and I’m glad I get to teach all of you about the military.”

Across the hall, Gena Lengle asked her group of seventh graders whether they had any family members who were Armed Forces members. Kennedy Murphy, 13, answered her dad previously served in the Air Force and her great-grandfather had fought in the Vietnam War.

Although Kennedy has heard a lot about the military from her father, she said she has been learning a lot from her teachers as well, and is glad her fellow classmates were learning a lot also.

“I love learning about our country’s history,” she said. “It’s important to learn about the military because a lot of people have lost their lives in battle. We need to always remember to celebrate and honor their lives.”

At the end of the ceremony, a moment of silence was held for 1999 Lackawanna Trail graduate Scott Laird who passed away Nov. 1 after a battle with cancer. Laird served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard before he was diagnosed with cancer.

“It hurts a little bit extra when you lose one of your own, especially someone who has been here to speak to the students before,” Murphy said. “He will be very missed among the Trail community and we wanted to take the time to properly honor him today.”

Wyalusing woman sentenced for animal cruelty
  • Updated

A 45-year-old woman from Wyalusing was sentenced in Wyoming County Court on Wednesday (Nov. 10) to 36 months probation commencing with 30 days house arrest in a case in which she admitted responsibility for the deaths of 11 cats last December.

Erin Marie Putney of Valley View Road had faced up to eight years in jail when she entered a guilty plea in September to four counts of animal cruelty in connection with the incident.

According to court records, Meshoppen police said that on a cold Dec. 22, 2020, in Meshoppen Township, Putney dropped off a cardboard box with three adult cats and eight kittens on the side of the road.

She originally faced 11 counts of cruelty to animals and 22 counts of neglect of animals, but in a plea arrangement worked out in September between Putney’s attorney, Jesse Hallinan, and the district attorney’s office, the plea was reduced to four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, each carrying a maximum sentence of two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The animals were discovered three days before Christmas, near the intersection of Route 6 and Copperhead Lane, left next to a dumpster in a taped cardboard box.

The next day a Facebook post had yielded a person who was able to identify the cats and who they previously belonged to.

On Dec. 28, police contacted Ashlie McMicken who admitted the cats did belong to her. She explained that two female stray cats showed up at her home in 2019, and she had tried to find homes for subsequent litters.

According to a criminal complaint, Putney acquired the animals from McMicken who told police she didn’t have the heart to leave the cats at a shelter, but her friend offered to do it for her.

It was McMicken’s understanding that Putney would take the cats to the Meshoppen Cat Rescue and leave them there. But, according to the complaint, Putney said she saw cameras at the cat rescue and panicked, so she allegedly left them by a dumpster.

It was later determined that all 11 cats became ill and died.

During her guilty plea in September, and at an an initial sentencing hearing Oct. 6, Hallinan said his client had extreme remorse for the animals’ demise, and had taken a series of online trainings that demonstrated she understood the proper care and feeding of pets.

She also acknowledged having two adult cats which she wished to keep.

President Judge Russell Shurtleff explained in September that in instances of animal cruelty it had been the court’s practice to eliminate all animals from a defendant’s household.

On Wednesday, Hallinan presented a parade of witnesses — including Putney’s estranged husband; a pastor, assistant pastor and mentor of the church she attended; as well as her sister — all of whom testified to upright qualities.

Her husband, Brian Putney, said “she made a mistake and she owned the mistake.” He acknowledged, however, that in the care of their 7-year-old daughter, “I know she is better than that.”

The pastor at Braintrim Baptist Church said, “What she did is out of character with what she does now.” He turned to the judge and added, “We pray that the Lord will give you wisdom in this matter.”

A church mentor noted that Putney had been baptized during the summer, “and has been honest from the start. It’s always best to trust God and accept responsibility for one’s actions.”

An associate pastor said Putney was earnest in her desire to know Christ. “She admits humility and is involved with the church, and we are glad to be a part of her journey.”

Putney’s sister said she had known her for 36 years, and she had always been a role model, “Most importantly she is honest. She recognized what she did that night was wrong. Her lapse in judgment should not make her a bad person.”

Attorney Hallinan pleaded with the judge for a probationary sentence and if Putney had to face incarceration he asked that it be house arrest.

In a closing statement to the judge, district attorney Jeff Mitchell said, “Her actions that night in December were clearly wrong.” But, he also acknowledged there was no denying she had accepted responsibility and has tried to make the best of it. “We recommend house arrest.”

On the first count of animal cruelty, the judge handed down a sentence of a $500 fine and 18 months probation commencing with 30 days house arrest. On the second count, the sentence was a $500 fine and 18 months probation, to be served concurrent to the other sentence. On the third count, the sentence was a $500 fine and 18 months probation to be served consecutive to the other. On the fourth count, the sentence was a $500 fine and 18 months probation to be served concurrent to the others.

In explaining his sentence, Judge Shurtleff said, “Eleven cats died three days prior to Christmas, and they had been left in a taped box in freezing weather.”

He added, “The defendant cannot own, attempt to purchase, possess or have any animals in her care during the period of her probation supervision.”

Blue Star Moms get heroes

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Who is Joseph DeLucca?
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Editor’s note: What follows is information responding to some questions put to the new interim superintendent of the Tunkhannock Area School District, Joseph DeLucca.

Examiner: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

DeLucca: I am 49 years of age and currently reside in Pittston Twp. with my wife Maria, 3 boys – Joseph, John and Drew and our dog Calvin. I am a graduate of Wyoming Area, Bloomsburg University and Marywood University where I earned my Master’s degree in School Counseling and my School Superintendent certificate. I am in the process of pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

Examiner: Tell us about your past work experience.

DeLucca: I have been in the field of education for 25 years. Early in my career, I served in various school districts as a teacher, school counselor, vice-principal and a coach (football, basketball, cross country, track and baseball). I spent the last 11 years as the Director of Federal, State and Nonpublic Programs for the LIU 18 in Kingston. I was also the President of the LIU Safe Schools Committee and the Regional Lead for School Safety. Some of my duties at the LIU included overseeing programs and services to all Nonpublic schools, managing Federal/State grants and supervision of programs, and consulting and coordinating school safety for all schools in our footprint. In addition, I was an adjunct professor at Kings College and Marywood University with courses focusing on school safety, mental health, crisis intervention and teacher/school counselor development.

Examiner: Have you had previous experience with TASD?

DeLucca: I applied and interviewed for the Superintendent position four years ago. That gave me an opportunity to meet some of the board members and learn about Tunkhannock’s vision. Even though I didn’t get the job, it was an invaluable learning experience.

Examiner: What appealed to you about the interim position?

DeLucca: There are several things that appealed to me about the interim position at TASD. Having the ability to gain experience under Heather is a great opportunity. The district has done a tremendous job being sound fiscally and puts students first. I did apply for the permanent position as well. My hope is that the board and I find that we are great fit for each other. In the interim, my goal is to learn as much as I can about the TASD community. I am not one who professes to know everything, and there are tremendous leaders, teachers and staff at Tunkhannock who fit in nicely to my team approach. Since my high school days, I always had a deep respect and admiration for the TASD and the way they did things. I also appreciate the beauty of Wyoming County and the surrounding area, especially at this time of year.

Examiner: Can you talk about COVID and how it has changed the process of education?

DeLucca: COVID has certainly been a major challenge in education and the way we do business. For all the negative it has brought, it has also led to some positives as well. As I began taking Doctorate courses, my main area of research focused on the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health and socio-emotional well-being of our children. My concern is that the pandemic shutdown itself was a major traumatic event for many students. In addition, they could also have experienced ancillary trauma during that time. It has been well documented in research, the profound impact that trauma can have on students’ ability to learn and function appropriately. Care for the whole child and their socio-emotional well-being would be one of my main areas of focus as a superintendent.

Examiner: Along those lines, can you comment on how COVID is creating polarization at school board meetings?

DeLucca: I have witnessed polarization not only at school board meetings, but across our country, our communities and even within families. Historically, when our country goes through a crisis, it usually brings people together. With COVID, I have seen people split apart and become so angry and resentful. We could certainly respectfully agree to disagree. As adults, we need to model behaviors that will teach our children how to respond appropriately in conflict and respect opposing viewpoints.

Examiner: Do you see yourself more as a realist or an optimist?

DeLucca: Definitely both. Whether I am in my role as a school leader, coach or father, I need to have high aspirations and optimism for the future, while at the same time setting realistic goals.

Examiner: Any final thoughts?

DeLucca: I would like to thank the TASD board of directors for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to serving and building relationships with the Tunkhannock Area students, staff, families and community.

County sees sharp spike of COVID
  • Updated

Wyoming County saw a spike last week in COVID-19 cases not seen since December 2020.

For the period of Nov. 9-15, there were 123 reported positive cases of COVID-19, which is a large increase from 69 cases reported the previous week. The new cases bring the county total to 2,871 since the pandemic began.

The big spike is in large part due to 50 new cases reported on Saturday, Nov. 13, a day where most counties in the state saw spikes in cases compared to previous days and weeks.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced the high jump in cases was because of the first time inclusion of 15,414 people who were infected twice more than 90 days apart. The department said it reported the reinfections as new cases to follow new federal reporting rules.

DOH did not have a county breakdown of the reinfections.

Wyoming County Emergency Management Director Gene Dziak said he was glad for the clarification from DOH as the big rise on Saturday raised some eyebrows.

“Every other day of the week, there was really nothing out of the ordinary when it came to cases,” Dziak said. “We’ve had no reports of any clusters of cases, so we thought it was a backlog in reporting.”

There was one COVID-19 death reported during the past week. The death was reported on Friday, Nov. 12. The county has now reported 65 COVID-19 deaths since April 2020.

Wyoming County remains in the high spread category of transmission according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are recommended indoors for everyone, even fully vaccinated individuals in areas with high transmission rates.

According to CDC data, the incidence rate of COVID currently stands at 447.9 cases per 100,000 residents, which is an increase from 238.9 cases during the previous seven day period. The positivity rate for the week stood at 17.5 percent, which is an increase from 13.4 percent the previous week.

“They are obviously big jumps,” Dziak said. “But as we no now it’s from a backlog in reporting. It’s really weird that all of those cases would be reported in just one day.”

Vaccination rates in the county took another rise during the past week. According to CDC data, 67.7 percent of county residents 18 and older are now fully vaccinated, which is a 0.5 percent increase from the previous week. 82.9 percent of county residents 18 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

With children ages 5-17 now eligible to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, children are now being put into county vaccination numbers as well. 57.6 percent of Wyoming County’s population is fully vaccinated, with 70.6 percent having received at least one dose.

“I’m very happy those numbers are continuing to go up,” Dziak said. “Our adult numbers have been good, and we’re starting to see the schools offer more options for children as well.”

For anyone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 or is looking to receive their booster shot, Dziak encourages to contact your family doctor, or any local pharmacies to see if the shot is being offered and if there are any appointments available.

Mayhem leads to White House
  • Updated

A Kingston man wanted on charges of terroristic threats, simple assault and criminal mischief stemming from an incident in Wyoming County on Friday was apprehended by the U.S. Secret Service outside a White House security gate Saturday, Tunkhannock Twp. police said.

Police said Joseph Anthony Frank, 36, entered a family member’s home on Shupp Hill Road on Friday around 2:14 p.m. and smashed windows with a baseball bat before threatening the man with the bat.

The victim, who feared for his life, fired one shot from a handgun into the ground near Frank, which caused him to flee the scene, police said.

Frank will be charged as a fugitive and extradited to Wyoming County, police said.