Persons attending the Tunkhannock Area School Board meeting last Thursday via Zoom asked school board members to quit hiding behind the virtual venue so people could see their faces and follow appropriate discussion.
Addressing an agenda item, parent JoDee King said she was representing People United, a group representing 200 citizens and wished to speak on behalf of the possible hiring of a freshman basketball coach.
She raised concerns as a parent of one of the girls’ soccer team members who had been coached by the person being considered, and said she had serious reservations about why the person in question was even being considered. She said her main concern was how he interacted with players.
Another person said. “I am disappointed in the board...” that this man is allowed to coach.
Lynelle Farber, another person from the United group, asked questions about payments in the printed agenda book which she thought were out of line. Board member Lori Bennett said that in some cases they were for services extended to special education students.
Farber later noted that the school board meetings should be open, given that the board members are elected public officials.
During Thursday’s board meeting, the superintendent’s report asked for approval of all but the extracurricular appointments. She said the matter would be tabled. It was not clear when it might be revisited.
Board member Holly Arnold, announced that the next board meeting, on the first Thursday in December was designated as a re-organization meeting and its agenda would be defined by organizing for 2022 with possible new officers and meeting dates as well as committee assignments for school board members.
She expressed that she hoped there could be a meeting on Dec. 9 or 16 to address a path forward regard the recent court ruling striking down the governor’s mask mandate as well as continuing concerns about contact tracing.
As this was the final meeting for Rob Parry, Bill Swilley and Shana Gregory, each was thanked by board colleagues for unique gifts they brought to the floor in their respective tenures as school board members.
Under new business, the board approved a contract for psychological services with Jacqueline Marsalek.
In other matters from the superintendent’s report, the board
Approved the following K-12 coordinators: art (Barbara Sick), music (Kevin Kreinberg), physical education (Paul Grabowski), nursing (Lynn McAndrew) and Title 1 programs (Amy Baylor);
The Elk Lake School District will hold a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for 5-11 year olds.
Superintendent Ken Cuomo announced at a school board meeting on Thursday night that the district will hold the clinic on Friday, Dec. 17, at the elementary school. A clinic for second shots will be held on Friday, Jan. 7, at the elementary school.
“We know the vaccine has been a polarizing issue with some people,” Superintendent Ken Cuomo said. “We want to give our kids a chance to get the shot if their families think it is the right decision.”
Also on Thursday night, the board voted to approve a raise for substitute paraeducators from $10.90 per hour to $12 per hour, and substitute secretaries and maintenance staff from $12.30 per hour to $13.25 per hour. The moves were done in the hope of attracting more substitutes in those positions to the school district.
“Like lots of school districts, we are struggling to find substitutes in all positions,” Cuomo said. “I’m glad the board approved these changes so we can hopefully try and better our situation, because it has been a rough go this year.”
The board also voted to approve the start of an elementary homework club for grades 4-6. The program would be similar to the high school program where students can stay after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. for peer tutoring and homework help.
“We encourage all students who are struggling in any subject to take advantage of our homework club,” High School principal John Warnero said. “I’m glad to be able to help out the elementary kids with our peer tutors who do a great job.”
Warnero also announced the school’s junior high Christmas concert will take place Wednesday Dec. 1, and the senior high Christmas concert will be Thursday, Dec. 2, both concerts will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
Elementary principal Marc Weisgold announced the fifth and sixth graders are taking part in a compost challenge through the end of the year. So far, the grades have collected more than 200 pounds of recyclables for the challenge.
In other business, the board voted to approve:
Director of Member Services for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Shane Pagnotti was on hand to thank some members for their dedication while serving on the board. Donica McGee was honored for 12 years of service, Chuck Place and Jack Sible for 24 years of service, and Arden Tewksbury for 60 years of service. The four directors were presented with certificates for their service.
The Elk Lake School Board will next meet Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m., at Elk Lake High School.
Mayflower descendant Sharyn Davis of Tunkhannock gave a program in Tunkhannock earlier this month on the first Thanksgiving, and while she wasn’t there, she is proud to say that at least four of her ancestors were.
She spoke on Nov. 13 to the members of the DAR — the women who can trace their ancestry to a patriot in the American Revolution — and indirectly challenged them to try to push their ancestry back another five or six generations.
Bit by the genealogy bug a long time ago, Davis said she has always been fascinated about her ancestors, and it was around nine years ago that she finally was able to make all the connections through 12 generations to the folks who in September of 1620 on a ship bearing the name Mayflower set sail with 102 passengers from England and landed nine and a half weeks later near what is now known as Plymouth, Mass.
Half of the passengers died that first harsh winter, including the parents of her 11th great grandmother, Elizabeth Tilley, Davis said.
The following year with the help of native peoples, the new arrivals had a prosperous spring and summer, and in the fall gathered in a bountiful harvest with a feast of thanksgiving in a tradition that has had no problems surviving 400 years.
Of the first Thanksgiving, the actual date is unknown, Davis said. But the 50 Pilgrims who survived their first year in North America sat down with 90 Wampanoag men and were likely greeted with venison, duck, goose, turkey, oysters, lobster, eel and fish, alongside pumpkins, corn and cranberries.
Davis, a library aide in the Tunkhannock Area School District, has visited Plymouth three times — the most recently in August — and would go back in a heartbeat to whet her imagination further.
She said that every time she goes she gains a little more clarity as to the Pilgrim experience, and in her talk acknowledged some misconceptions in the American public’s mind.
Davis said that probably the most egregious is that many confuse the Mayflower’s passengers with the Puritans, a strict religious sect who landed a couple of generations later and settled Salem, Mass.
She acknowledged most of those aboard the Mayflower were people disaffected by the Church of England who covenanted together in Scrooby, England, 12 or 13 years before the 1620 voyage and sailed originally to Leydon, Holland, where they could more freely practice their faith.
They left Holland for Southampton, England, with a sister ship, Speedwell, in the summer of 1620, but it had to be abandoned because of an ever present need of repairs.
She also noted it was not smooth sailing for the Mayflower in 1620.
“Imagine seasick passengers with no restrooms,” Davis smiled. “And during a storm, one of the main beams cracked, which was repaired with a large iron screw that just happened to be on board. How lucky was that or was it providence?”
Davis also acknowledged the role of Native Americans in the pilgrims’ survival.
“Had it not been for the Native Americans, more Pilgrims would certainly have died — particularly in that first harsh winter,” she said. She noted that the record showed Samoset, Squanto and Ousamequin forged relationships which were critical.
One of the true blessings, she added, was that upon their arrival in the New World, the Pilgrims forged a civil document known as the Mayflower Compact, which set the groundwork for how a society should conduct itself and is now considered a forerunner to the U.S. Constitution developed 160 years later.
These days, in addition to her school work and continuing to pursue her own family history, Davis helps the Pennsylvania Society of Mayflower Descendants evaluate lineages submitted by prospective members.
She said, among the helpful tools for anyone to see if they might have a Mayflower ancestor is at the Wyoming County Historical Society in Tunkhannock which has a collection of ‘Silver Books’ which trace known lineages of Mayflower passengers through the first five generations.
“They are an extremely valuable part of our collection,” Historical Society curator Paula Radwanski said. The historical society is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays by appointment at 570-836-5303.
Davis noted that while many people think that the Society of Mayflower Descendants might seem like an exclusive group, with about 100,000 members, it is believed that as many as 35 million people around the world are very likely eligible.
To her DAR sisters, Davis added, “This Thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect. Think about where we would be as a nation, as a people, and as individuals if it weren’t for the 102 brave souls who took a chance on freedom, relying on their strength of character and determination, who endured personal sacrifices to lay the foundation for the country all of our Patriots fought for.”
A COVID-19 resurgence continued in Wyoming County over the past week.
For the period of Nov. 16-22, there were 92 reported positive cases of COVID-19, which is a decrease from 123 reported cases the previous week, but still a number larger than what the county has been seeing in recent months. The new cases bring the county total to 2,963 since the pandemic began.
There was also a spike in deaths during the past week. There were three COVID-19 deaths during the last week, all of the deaths were reported on Thursday, Nov. 18. The county has now reported 68 COVID-19 deaths since April 2020.
Wyoming County Emergency Management Director Gene Dziak said EMA has not received information about any clusters of cases or deaths, but said the recent rise in cases has been “concerning.”
“We thought we were on the mend for a little bit in the early fall, but like the whole state the county has experienced a little bit of a resurgence,” Dziak said. “This is why there are still mitigation efforts in place inside county buildings. I hope everyone does their best to follow those efforts.”
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 365.6 cases per 100,000 residents, which is a decrease from 447.9 cases during the previous seven day period. The positivity rate for the week stood at 16.8 percent, which is a decrease from 17.5 percent the previous week.
With Thanksgiving this week and the holiday season fast approaching, Dziak reminds people to take the proper precautions when getting together with family over the next month, especially around the elderly.
“Lots of people are going to be gathering again this year and that’s a good thing,” Dziak said. “Just remember the virus is still very much around. We saw a surge around the holidays last year. We don’t want to see that again.”
Vaccination rates in the county have continued to rise over the past couple of weeks. According to CDC data, 65.9 percent of county residents 12 and older are now fully vaccinated. 81.4 percent of county residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
With children ages 5-11 now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, Dziak said that is a big reason as to why the county has been seeing the vaccination rate rise over the past few weeks. Currently 57 percent of Wyoming County’s population is fully vaccinated and 72 percent of the population have received at least one dose.
“I’ve been saying for months the vaccine is the main way we are going to get out of this pandemic,” Dziak said. “I’m glad to see more people are getting the shot, especially with it being available to young children now.”
For anyone who has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 and is looking to get the shot, or anyone who is looking to receive their booster shot, Dziak encourages them to contact their family doctor or any local pharmacies to see if the shot is being offered and if there are any appointments available.
Wyoming County Commissioners hope to soon have more thorough answers on the use of American Rescue Plan funding.
At a work session meeting on Thursday morning, Commissioner Rick Wilbur said the county currently has $2.6 million of its $5.2 million ARP allotment sitting in the bank. It has not allotted the money for any projects yet, because Congress has been amending the rules as to how the money could be spent.
“We’ve finally been getting some direction from CCAP (County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania),” Wilbur said. “As soon as we get final approval and final rules, we’ll be able to put this money to good use.”
All three commissioners hoped to get final guidance at the annual CCAP conference being held in Hershey Nov. 22-23. Commissioner Ernie King said he is hoping the county is going to be able to use the ARP money to help with expansion of broadband internet access.
“You can argue that broadband is just as important as electricity now,” King said. “There are some areas of this county that are still very behind in that capacity. We’re hoping we can get a good answer when it comes to using the money for broadband.”
King made it very clear when the county does get final rules on distribution of the ARP money that the projects it will be used will have impacts that will last a long time.
“We want people 30 years from now to look at something we did with that money and say ‘that was money well spent,’” King said.
Wilbur also announced the county is continuing to work on a preliminary budget for 2022. They are hoping to have it completed after Thanksgiving to present to the public at the first commissioners meeting of December. The budget then has to be advertised for 20 days before a final vote can be taken.
“We are planning to do whatever we can not to raise taxes,” Wilbur said. “That is the last thing we want to do to our constituents, especially with some people still reeling from the pandemic.”
Wyoming County Commissioners will next meet on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m. The meeting will take place on Wednesday instead of its regular Tuesday date because of the CCAP conference in Hershey.