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  • Information on Weather-Related School Schedule Changes

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 11/14/2018

    Snowflakes graphic The safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority at Derry Township School District. At DTSD, we make decisions by relying on forecast models, recommendations from emergency management personnel, reports from our Transportation Department staff and the township road crews and we consult with other local school districts. After careful and thoughtful review, the district then makes what we believe to be the best decision based on the information it has available at the time.

    We often have to make decisions BEFORE a weather system arrives. Any change to the usual schedule involves an inherent operational time lag. Buses need drivers and drivers need time to report to the bus garage, prepare their vehicles and then travel out to the first stop on their routes.  And then, of course, there’s the time it takes for buses to complete the route. As a practical matter, “go/no go” decisions” must be made 2-2:30 hours PRIOR to the normal opening bell. Even with the best predictors, however, conditions can change quickly and in ways not forecast or foreseen. So we are in constant communication so that, if need be, we can change our original plans in the best interest of safety.

    When conditions dictate unscheduled closings, delays, or early dismissals are in the best interest of student safety, the district will announce information via an automated phone messaging system, on its website and social media feeds. These district-operated notification tools are the primary mechanisms by which schedule change information will be communicated.

    In the event of a weather-related schedule change announced outside of normal school hours, calls from our high speed messaging system will go to the number(s) families have designated as their “home/primary phone(s)” on the student information system.  In the event of an early dismissal announced during the course of a school day, we reach out to all phone numbers (primary/home, work, mobile, etc.) we have for your family in a good faith effort to reach parents and guardians wherever they may be during the day.
    When school schedule changes are announced outside of normal school hours, that information is also shared with a variety of local media outlets as a courtesy. All decisions on how this information is then used are at the sole discretion of each individual outlet. The manner by which this information is shared (broadcast, web post, push notification, etc.), the frequency of publication and the accuracy of the language used to do so is the responsibility of each media outlet. 

    Whatever Mother Nature throws our way this winter, be assured that we’ll do our best to make the right call.


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  • Take Ownership for Engaging and Elevating our Students

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 8/21/2018

    Ownership graphic Welcome back for another great school year!  We are so excited to welcome our students on Monday, August 27 and look forward to what lies ahead.  As we prepare to launch into this year and continue building upon our focus, understanding and application of our COCOA Principles, we will center on our Ownership “O” this year.  We will be building upon the importance of relationships, looking for opportunities to grow and enhance our community and OWNING our role - both personally and as members of the school community - to do our part in creating an exceptional learning environment where all students are engaged and elevated.  We will work together, communicate well, respect differences and honor each other to create a place where people know they are truly heard, respected and valued.

    For our students, we want you to OWN your role in coming to school eager and ready to give your best to learn, grow, explore and take risks (which sometimes will cause failure), learn from all mistakes and failures and be an engaged, active members of our DTSD family.  We encourage and challenge you to discover your passions and talents, explore ideas with an inquisitive mind, challenge yourself and use your gifts and talents for the betterment of our school community, the larger community and our world.  Be the change you wish to see in the world and own your role in it.

    To more clearly define what “Ownership” looks like and to guide our thinking this year, we are sharing the following “7 Characteristics of Ownership”:

    • Being personally engaged
      • Am I personally engaged in our mission, vision and values?
    • Being trustworthy
      • Am I holding myself accountable as a member of the DTSD community?
    • Being Open-Minded
      • Am I managing the tension triggered by new ideas, innovation and change?
    • Practicing Healthy Communication
      • Am I actively embracing healthy communication patterns?
    • Being Supportive
      • Am I protecting the unity and community of DTSD?
    • Practicing a Servant Attitude
      • Am I modeling a servant attitude while serving others?
    • Seeking Constant Improvement
      • Am I modeling a “lifelong learner” mindset?

    We are an incredible community, both inside and outside our school walls!  We all have roles and responsibilities to our students.  I encourage all of us to reflect upon our individual and collective roles in modeling and living out these ownership characteristics.  Whether we have the role of student, teacher, staff, administrator, parent, community member, board member or neighbor, let’s join together and “own it” this year!

    There are many exciting adventures awaiting all of us.  Let’s look to those as opportunities to learn and grow.  Let’s commit to supporting one another, encouraging one another and spurring one another on to growth and learning! 

    As your Superintendent, it is my privilege and honor to be a part of your lives and be a Hershey Trojan!  We are in for a great year together and I look forward to welcoming everyone back for the 2018-2019 school year! 


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  • Strengthening our Community Through Transitions

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 5/4/2018

    Bridge Day 2018graphic I am excited to share with you some news regarding our continued efforts to build upon the many activities and events we have to help our students as they transition from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school.  As many of us remember, these times are filled with great excitement - but sometimes great anxiety as well.  What will it be like?  Will I know where to go?  What to do?  How do I manage a locker?  What if I get lost?  Will I know anyone?  And the list of questions goes on and on! 

    For years, we have had students visit their new buildings, talk with counselors and teachers who provide them with an overview of what it will be like.  In eighth grade, we have had great programs through GOLD and STAR where high schoolers mentor the eighth graders and engage in a variety of events for those students.  As a district team, we looked for ways to build upon these opportunities and enhance them to strengthen the connection and sense of community among the students and staff.

    To help make the journey smoother and to build a stronger school community, we’re excited to offer “Bridge Day” – a voluntary half-day of “school” prior to the official first day of the school year.  The inaugural Bridge Day will be Wednesday, August 22, 2018! 
    Rising Sixth and Ninth Grade students are invited to school at their regular start time (7:37 a.m.) to spend a morning building relationships with their new teachers & classmates, running through their day in a “mini-schedule”, and learning about all the exciting things in store as they launch into their middle/high school experiences. There will even be time for participants to master those all-important tasks, like finding and accessing your locker! Bus transportation will be provided and all students will receive a free continental breakfast that morning.  Students will be dismissed at 10:10 a.m. 

    We strongly encourage all rising sixth and ninth graders to take advantage of this opportunity!  You will NOT want to miss out!   Be watching for more information through social media, the district website, your child’s backpack and other correspondence. 


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  • A Community Approach To Well Being and Safety

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 2/21/2018

    Although 2018 is barely two months old, this year is proving to be a very trying one for our nation.  Across the country, senseless acts of violence have created fear, frustration, a sense of loss and anger.  These feelings can be magnified when such acts are threatened against – or take place at - schools.  You entrust us with your children every day; please know the safety of students and staff will always be our single highest priority.

    We routinely review and revise our Incident Response Plan based on guidance from local, state and federal law enforcement.  We regularly review and practice safety drills with students.  We have many supports and services for our students who may be experiencing barriers to their learning and well-being. 

    However, the underlying societal issues that seem to have fractured our country cannot be solved by schools alone.  So I am writing today asking for your assistance in some very specific ways:

    • Monitor your child(ren)’s social media accounts.  Sadly, the highly publicized violence in Florida has more recently been followed by vaguely worded threats and/or rumors at schools closer to our area.
    • Report suspicious behaviors to the proper authorities immediately and encourage your children to do the same.  Emphasize that it is OK to seek help for themselves or others.  In fact, doing so aids the entire community in becoming more safe and secure.
    • Talk with your children about civility, respect and appropriate discourse. Acknowledge that we live in a society with many deeply held and diverse viewpoints which can sometimes be at odds.   At school, we strive to teach students to respectfully disagree when voicing their opinions and values.
    • Model the type of behavior we expect of our children.  Be civil.  Verbal attacks (in person or online) only polarize; respectful and appropriate discourse can help reduce feelings of anger and isolation that can lead to violence.

    Conversations like the ones I am asking you to have at home can be challenging for us as parents.  To assist, I am linking to several documents from the American Psychological Association and National Association of School Psychologists.  Please also know that we have staff who are dedicated to supporting you and your family and we also have access to other resources that may be useful to you.  Please let us know how we may be of assistance. As a community, it is imperative that we work together to ensure the well-being and safety of all.

    arrow  Related Links:

         Talking to your children about recent school shootings

         In the aftermath of a shooting - Help your children manage distress

          How to talk to children about difficult news

         Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

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  • Building Stronger “Communities”

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 2/2/2018

    February: middle of the winter…Groundhog Day… Valentine’s Day… Black History Month and Presidents’ Day.  Some of us love it and others just want it to end so we can move closer to spring and warmer, sunnier weather!  But, there are a lot of wonderful things going on in DTSD and we don’t want you to miss them!

    Kindergarten Registration graphic First, just a reminder for parents of the Class of 2031 (yes, that is next year’s Kindergarten class!).  Pre-registration is now open so don’t delay, pre-register online today! While starting kindergarten is always an exhilarating time for both students and parents, this coming year is exceptionally exciting for us!  The Class of 2031 will be our first class to have the opportunity to attend full-day!  This will give every student the opportunity to build stronger relationships with his/her peers and teachers, participate in specials, deepen learning and enjoy times of structured and unstructured play.  We are working tirelessly to get all the details in place and can’t wait to welcome our newest learners and school community members in August 2018.

    Java with Joe graphic Additionally, as Superintendent, one of my goals is to provide multiple opportunities to develop strong working relationships with all members of our community; both inside and outside the school.  To that end, one of those opportunities are quarterly Java with Joe meetings.  These informal times are a chance to sit, enjoy some “java”, learn more about the district and just dialogue about any topic on the minds of those who attend.  The next Java with Joe will be held on Friday, February 9 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the middle school LGI.  No registration is needed and all are welcome to attend.

    Guiding Good Choices graphic Next, as a community, we all care deeply about the healthy development of our children.  And, as parents, there is no greater desire or responsibility than to help, raise and guide our children to learn and make good, responsible choices as they navigate childhood and teen years on their way to healthy adulthood.  As we all know, there is no user’s manual that comes with our children when they are born that tell us how to specifically help them navigate their growing years and making good choices.  But, our district, in partnership with a few dedicated parent volunteers are offering a FREE workshop series called Guiding Good Choices

    Guiding Good Choices is an interactive program for all parents. In a lively and open atmosphere, parents will learn specific strategies to help their children avoid drug use and other adolescent problem behaviors, and develop into healthy adults. Parents and guardians will learn to set clear family guidelines on drugs, as well as learn and practice skills to strengthen family bonds, help their children develop healthy behaviors, and increase children’s involvement in the family.  Learn more and register on the district web site.

    So, as you can see, many exciting things are happening this month as we continue to build, develop and enhance our “community”!  Now, come on spring!

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  • The Snow Woes: Making the Call

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 12/11/2017

    Snow Woe graphic In many ways, being superintendent of Derry Township School District has been a blessing and I usually absolutely love the opportunity to lead this tremendous district.  Except one thing that always creeps into the picture this time of year.   Let me explain why.

    You see, I love snow.  Well, I used to.  But now that I am superintendent, anytime I see snow in the forecast, I get a little shiver – and not just because it’s cold outside.  The fact of the matter is that weather-related delays and cancellations calls OR the decision to proceed as normal are some of the most difficult decisions school administrators make. They are certainly the most second guessed.  We usually get it right.  But sometimes, hindsight suggests otherwise.  I’m the first to admit it’s an inexact exercise, but it’s also far from just making a wild guess.  I’ve shared the decision-making process in the past and this seems like a good time of year to review it again.

    Let’s start with the understanding that the safety of our students and staff is always our first consideration.  We are also very much aware of the impact schedule changes can have on child care, parent/guardian work schedules and even state mandated education requirements. But if we are going to err, we will always lean toward protecting safety over all other considerations.

    At DTSD, we make decisions by relying on forecast models, recommendations from emergency management personnel, reports from our Transportation Department staff and the township road crews and we consult with other local school districts.  After careful and thoughtful review, the district then makes what we believe to be the best decision based on the information it has available at the time.

    We often have to make decisions BEFORE a weather system arrives. Any change to the usual schedule involves an inherent operational time lag.  Buses need drivers and drivers need time to report to the bus garage, prepare their vehicles and then travel out to the first stop on their routes.  And then, of course, there’s the time it takes for buses to complete the route.  As a practical matter, “go/no go” decisions” must be made 2-2:30 hours PRIOR to the normal opening bell.   Even with the best predictors, however, conditions can change quickly and in ways not forecast or foreseen. So we are in constant communication so that, if need be, we can change our original plans in the best interest of safety. 

    Who knows what Old Man Winter will throw our way, this year.  But rest assured that whatever comes our way, we’ll do my best to make the right call.


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  • Modelling Digital Citizenship on Social Media

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 10/3/2017

    Cave Painting Cave paintings, hieroglyphs, rune stones; from the very beginning it seems humans have had an innate need to post their experiences and thoughts for others to see.  Today, of course, it doesn’t take us weeks to painstakingly scratch a pictograph into solid rock.  It takes just seconds to tap out some digital characters on social media so that anyone and everyone can see our “hot take” on the issue of the day. A triumph of technology?  Yes.  And no.

    There’s a tremendous amount of value and perspective to be gained when we’re force to take our time to carefully craft and reflect upon exactly what we’re putting up for the world to see. I’m not suggesting that we throw away centuries’ worth of technological advances and go back to communicating like the ancients.  But when we fire from the hip – or the fingertip –we run the danger of our words causing injury just like sticks and stones.

    It is very easy to get caught up in the emotion and immediacy of social media posts and posting.  As adult we need to be particularly cognizant not just of the words we use on social media, but also what we desire to teach our children about the digital citizenship skills we expect them to show.  We are all role models to somebody.  So if we’re not careful, the lessons we teach might not be the ones we intended. “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work in today’s world.  We need to change that saying to “Do as I say AND as I do.” 

    How can we do this?  First, as we are using social media, it is important to verify “facts” and information posted.  Believe it or not, not everything posted online is true.  Often the information is filtered through personal experience, emotion or bias.  So, before sharing or commenting, let’s model what we want to teach and ensure the information is accurate.  Secondly, let’s agree to use the phrase we learned in kindergarten, “if we don’t have something nice to say, let’s not say it at all.” 

    Social media can be a wonderful place to catch up with old friends, stay connected with loved ones and share important and exciting news.  But, unfortunately, it is too often used to tear people down, bully or harass.  And, this isn’t just limited to our youth doing that to one another.  How often, if we are honest, have we as adults “liked,” “shared,” or “commented” on something that was hurtful or demeaning to someone or some organization?  I think the question we have to ask ourselves when we do this is “why?”.  What are we trying to accomplish?  As we focus on our COCOA principles; especially the Community “C” and being Community-builders, I ask you to commit to coming together and modeling appropriate, healthy, respectful digital citizenship on social media so that our kids will see the positive possibilities of social media while learning what not to do with these tools as well. 

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  • We Are A Community

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 8/25/2017

    We Are A Community graphic One of our COCOA principles is “Community” and this year, we are focusing on what it takes and means to be “Community-Builders.”  Oxford Dictionary defines community as “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”  One of Milton Hershey’s driving forces was to ensure that those around him received a great education and that driving force, that common interest and goal, still drives us as the Hershey Community today! 

    Being a community is more than just an address, a place of work or a bunch of words.  It takes dedication, focus, energy, humility and perseverance.  It takes all of us working together and striving for that common goal of ensuring that every individual finds and realizes his or her passions and talents so that they can make positive contributions to the global community and find excitement in learning and joy in life. 

    One of our goals as a district is to ensure that everyone with whom we interact knows that they are valued, heard and respected.  Again, that is simple to say but takes a focus and dedication on everyone’s part to ensure it happens.  And, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be disagreements or that everyone will be happy at all times with decisions or outcomes.  But, it does mean that we will all respect one another, listen to one another and do whatever we can to ensure and preserve the value of each individual. 

    We invite you, our larger community, to join us in the journey!  We are so blessed by an incredibly supportive community of parents, community members, business leaders, school board members and staff.  It is going to be a great year of learning, collaboration and community-building!  We look forward to welcoming our students back with us on Monday, August 25, 2017 to begin the next chapter of our “story” together!

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  • A Message From the Superintendent

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 6/13/2017

    This has been a week of very conflicting emotions for all of us.  On one hand, we celebrated and honored almost 300 Hershey High School graduates.  On the other hand, we mourned the loss of one of our high school students.  As I noted prior to leading a moment of silence at commencement, it is an odd, and somewhat confusing juxtaposition of very different feelings.

    In times of loss, it is natural for all of us to question “why?” and to look for reasons or places to place blame.  It is natural to think things like, “It’s not fair”, “What could I have done?” “What could have others done?” and “This doesn’t make sense.”  These reactions and questions are all normal and part of the grieving process. As I walked the halls these past couple days I can assure you that our teachers, administrators and staff members are struggling with all of the same feelings and emotions as the community at large.  We see these students as “our kids” and love them dearly.  Our hearts soar when they find joy in life; they break when they do not.

    Now, of course, we are not parents; nor do we want to ever over-step our role as educators.  But, please know we do truly care about all children and do all we can to create and ensure a safe, nurturing, caring, and enriching environment.  That is why we established our COCOA principles and teach them to our students.  That is why we teach students about empathy and impulse control through Second Step.  That is why we teach digital citizenship and ethical use of technology.

    As a community and district, we have many supports in place for our students who are struggling - both personally and academically.  In February, we partnered with a community group to bring LeAnn Hull to Hershey to speak on youth mental health/youth suicide.  Out of that, a community task force has been established to work collaboratively with all members of the community (parents, business leaders, church leaders, school leaders and community advocates) to look for ways to collectively better help and support our community’s young people.  We have been focusing on the importance of relationships and helping everyone know, believe and realize that, “You Matter.”

    Our vision is to help everyone discover and use his/her passions and talents to make positive contributions to the global community and to find excitement in learning and joy in life.  Out of that focus, several new student clubs were started this year.  For example, the RAK club focuses on ways to promote and model Random Acts of Kindness.  The staff and administration instituted a “You Matter” campaign in the spring to write a personal note to each student in the high school to show them in a tangible way that they are known and are cared about.

    This year, we also established a partnership to provide school-based counseling to students in need.  We have our student assistance teams (HIP) in each building to support students and families.  Our social worker connects with families to help in times of need

    We are passionate in our commitment to our students and we are always looking for ways to enhance and improve our services and supports to our students.  Can we do this alone?  No.  The school is a central hub in our community and for that we are thankful.  Which is why we need to ensure that we continue to come together as a community.  We can’t allow emotion to guide us.  We must continue to work together, have dialogue and problem-solve solutions to continue to enhance our systems and supports for our students (both inside and outside the schools).

    Our theme for this year has been one of Opportunity and being “Opportunity Makers.”  As a staff at our end-of-year meeting last Thursday, we celebrated the many ways all staff took advantage of being ‘Opportunity Makers.’” Today, I ask us all to reflect and ask ourselves how can we take tragic events like we have recently experienced and turn them into positive opportunities for growth.  We can only do that by working together, listening deeply to one another, not acting or reacting on perception or hearsay and by caring for and trusting one another.

    I urge us to come together.  We are the models for our kids.  They watch us and see how we act and react.  May they see that we seek understanding and common goals and that we can dialogue and communicate even when we don’t understand or agree with one another.  It is imperative that we model what we expect from our students.

    I’d like to end with a quote that I shared with the entire staff last Thursday.  It is by Stephen Grellet, a Quaker missionary.  He stated, “I shall pass through this world but once.  Any good that I can do, or any kindness that I can show any human being, let me do it now and not defer it. For I shall not pass this way again.”  We all want the best for our students and we will continue to work to ensure that we, as an entire community, are working together for all students.

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  • Message to Families Regarding "13 Reasons Why"

    Posted by Joe McFarland on 5/18/2017

    Joe McFarland photo I want to call your attention to concerns being raised by a series running on Netflix entitled “13 Reasons Why.” Although fictional, the show is drawing criticism as potentially glamourizing teen suicide.  Mental health experts, including the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), are pointing to research indicating that exposure to another person’s suicide can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.

     Due to the graphic and heavy emotional content of the series, as a school district we will not be formally addressing the show in our classrooms.  However, we do know that district students are watching the show and that the series and/or the topic of teen suicide may come up during informal discussions.  To that end, we have taken steps to reinforce with our staff the many resources available in the district and the community.

     We also want to share two resources with you.  NASP has created a blog post dedicated to considerations raised by the series.  Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the JED Foundation have also created talking points for conversations with youth specific to the "13 Reasons Why" series.   We encourage families to engage in safe messaging, including reinforcing that Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. There is help, including talking to a trusted adult at home or school, calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or texting “START” to 741741.

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