JACKSON TWP — School leaders from across the region gathered at Seneca Valley’s secondary campus Thursday for the Pennsylvania Department of Education Superintendent’s Academy site visit.
Seneca Valley superintendent Tracy Vitale was selected to be part of the Pennsylvania Superintendent’s Academy two years ago when the program began.
The academy is a professional development program formed by state secretary of education Pedro Rivera. It is open to superintendents from schools with high levels of poverty or special needs students, she said.
“We talk about best-practices, benchmarking, or comparing ourselves with the highest-achieving schools, and we study successful systems,” Vitale said.
As part of an action learning project she had to complete, Vitale and Seneca Valley hosted a site visit to showcase the district’s programs, share ideas with other school leaders and to be evaluated by representatives from the National Institute for School Leadership.
The department of education partnered with the National Institute for School Leadership to offer the program.
About 20 superintendents from the southwest region of the academy sat in on presentations and tours about Seneca Valley’s programs, projects and systems. One of the presentations was on the district’s unique cyber and performing arts program, the Academy of Choice.
“The times have changed,” Vitale said, of the need for a cyber program. “We have to be more flexible.”
The program began 10 years ago with 18 students, said Denise Manganello, principal for the cyber program. Now there are more than 1,000 students each semester in the cyber program.
The district made cyber instruction a priority when students began leaving for cyber charter schools or Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, Beaver County, Manganello said. They wanted to know why students were leaving and how they could keep them in the district, she said.
Students wanted more flexibility and more options, Manganello said. Many wanted the ability to pursue a dance or strings program that would prepare them for a career, like the program at Lincoln Park, or to train in other preprofessional athletic programs across the country while staying in school.
Some who had social or school anxiety issues opted for cyber school as a way to ease mental health issues.
So the district created the Academy of Choice, which is part cyber program and part performing arts school. It’s kept Seneca Valley students in the district, officials say, which also keeps money in the district.
“We like to provide a lot of flexibility and opportunities for our students,” Manganello said.
In addition to accommodating students who need more flexible schedules, the program has allowed students to take classes that couldn’t be offered in a traditional setting, and to take extra classes that would not fit in their regular class schedule. There are 796 students in grades 9 through 12 taking cyber courses this semester, 132 in grades 7 and 8 and 73 in grades K through 6. Seneca Valley also partners with other school districts to offer their students cyber education opportunities.
After completion of the academy program later this spring, participating superintendents will be awarded ACT 45 Pennsylvania Inspired Leaders Program hours, a statewide standards-based continuing professional education program for school and system leaders.