New PV school board promises new beginnings

On Monday, December 4, 2023, the new members of the Perkiomen Valley school board were seated following the general election in November. All five members of the PV Forward slate secured the open seats with the following votes: 6,443 for incumbent Laura White, 6,355 for Todd McKinney, 6,261 for Treena Sadler, 6,197 for Wayde Weston and 6,150 for Robert Liggett, as reported by Montgomery County Voter Services. The five new school directors will each serve for a total of 4 years.

Following the official swearing-in and seating of the five newly-elected board members, the board solely nominated and unanimously voted Laura White as president and Todd McKinney as the vice president.

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to serve in this capacity. I look forward to a productive and cooperative tenure in this position,” PV School Board Vice President Todd McKinney said. “I hope to work with all members of this board and this community to bring us back to a place of civility and kindness.” 

The PV School Directors race was a highly contested election as major issues – threats of book banning, implementation of a sex-based bathroom policy and bomb threats jeopardizing school safety – hang in the balance. A total of 811,898 ballots, leading to a voter turnout of 47% – an increase from 42% in 2021 and 38% in 2019. Not only does the recent election signify an increasingly politically active electorate, but the shifting majority of the community’s views and subsequently the board itself. Over the past ten years, the board has swung, like a pendulum, from Republican to Democrat: in 2013, all 4 Republican candidates were elected, then for three consecutive elections from 2015 to 2019, mostly Democrats were elected, and finally, in 2021, the majority of open seats went Republican. The win by the Democrat-led PV Forward team establishes a 6-3 Democrat majority, replacing the previous 5-4 Republican majority.

PV Forward’s campaign was led under four core values: Freedom of Thought and Expression, High-Quality Public Education, Transparent and Responsible Decision-Making and Safe and Supportive Schools. In her acceptance speech, Laura White spoke about these values and how the board plans to implement them in the future, with the well-being of the community at the forefront of their decision-making.

“I have given a great deal of thought as to what this board will look like from this day on and the last several years have presented challenges that none of us could have anticipated,” President Laura White said. “Beginning today, I ask that each of us be accountable to a new standard of behavior and lead by example with all respect intended. If a behavior or comment would not be acceptable in one of our buildings during school hours, that behavior will not be tolerated or acceptable during a board meeting.”

Laura White continued to explain that “the most important lesson here is one of grace, humility, and understanding for our individual humanity.” To foster more community and gain a variety of perspectives, the new board plans to work with Dr. Russell to broaden opportunities for student voice and engagement.

Following the brief adjournment to allow new board members to be entered into the district system, the mood of the meeting shifted as many community members came to address the physical altercation that transpired on Friday, December 1, at the high school. 

Before opening the floor to public comment, Superintendent Dr. Russell clarified some of the concerns about PV’s discipline and safety protocols that have been in question. Dr. Russell explained that the immediate consequences are not always final but instead act to provide due process to the investigation. Security guards and SPOs of any gender are able and expected to intervene in fights among students of any gender. Students and staff are not required or expected to intervene physically but can, and for students specifically, they will not be disciplined.

The most moving accounts came from those directly impacted by the situation. 

“On Friday, I had to watch my best friend be attacked. I was running through the halls looking for someone to help me, and there was no one around. It wasn’t until 10 minutes after the attack that I saw a single security guard,” sophomore Johanna Stroman said. “I just want to know what you are going to do to protect us so I don’t feel unsafe at my school.”

Johanna Stroman and Gianna Messina used their voices and personal experiences to implore the board to take clear, definitive action to prevent future altercations and protect student safety.

“To feel unsafe in this school is an understatement. Being attacked, no one in the school should have to feel like they can’t go to a class and walk with their friends and have to feel unprotected while doing it.” sophomore Gianna Messina said. “Every single day we have so many security guards guarding the school and one day, there’s no one to protect you, no one to stand by your side, and no one to help you when you’re going through something like this.” 

In her report, student liaison Claire Tremba weighed in on the situation, discussing the various physical threats, derogatory comments on social media and physical attacks happening in and out of the building since August.

“As a representative, I’ve seen it from both sides. I have witnessed the behavior of the adults in our community at these school board meetings. I have witnessed the behavior of our students in school, online, and out of school.” Claire Tremba, student liaison, said. “I would like to remind you, the adults, that our students’ behavior is a reflection of your behavior. Our students learn from you and I would hope that they would learn compassion and kindness.”

After concluding public comment, Dr. Russell addressed the community’s concerns. 

“As a followup to some of the conversations that I’ve had with parents and individuals directly involved in these altercations, I have offered to have a superintendent-type round table to have conversations about or from parents’ perspective and to get their views on the experiences of the students.” Dr Russell said. “I really welcome any conversations and a willingness to discuss further with our community.”

Student safety, whether it be physical or emotional, has been in question from the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. As the new board settles in, the community awaits the members’ actions and policies that will set the tone for the rest of the school year.