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CHAMBERSBURG (Sept. 3, 2019) — Local residents want the focus in their schools shifted from buildings to children.

“In the past, the focus has been on buildings and running an organization,” Chambersburg Area School District Supt. Dion Betts said in a recent interview. The district’s new plan shifts the focus on children and their achievement.

Dr. Dion Betts rode a bus to Guilford Hills Elementary School on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year.
Dr. Dion Betts rode a bus to Guilford Hills Elementary School on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year.

Betts was hired by CASD last spring, to replace Dr. Joseph Padasak, who retired June 30. He came on board in March with the title of Chief Educational Officer and was sworn in as superintendent on July 1.

The school board’s decision to bring him to the district early to work with Padasak gave him valuable insights into the inner workings of the district, he said. It also gave him time to talk to and get to know students, parents, teachers and others in the community.

He took advantage of that time, asking questions and listening to the answers.

“Everyone said they wanted a bigger focus on the (district’s) children,” he said. “Many thought we could provide a better education.”

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A Vision Statement and Five-Year Plan

Those early conversations led to developing a vision statement and some goals, and eventually a five-year plan to achieve those goals.

“Folks here are hard working and they care about kids,” Betts said. “The community support is here, so the response was ‘yeah, we should be doing that’”.

“That every child achieves in school and attains skills needed to achieve success in the future in a highly collaborative culture of honesty, trustworthiness and passion for our mission of bettering the lives of children”

CASD Vision Statement

To achieve that vision, Betts and his team have set these goals:

  • Improve student achievement and outcomes.
  • Ensure students are career and college ready by the time they finish high school.
  • Make sure the district has the most talented staff.
  • Ensure the district is financially stable and evidences financial stewardship.

Each goal has multiple steps in the plan, but Betts doesn’t expect instant results, or to accomplish everything this year.

“We will be working on raising student achievement and getting the district’s children ready for the real world,” he said.

A Team Effort

The job will be a team effort, involving not just the administration and teachers, but every district employee.

“Every single administrator in the district will be working toward meeting these goals,” he said. “But more importantly, so will everyone else, from teachers right down the line to food services to transportation.”

He said the district has about 1,200 employees passionate about bettering the lives of children.

Dr. Dion Betts, right, greets staff during teacher in-service days prior to start of school last month.
Dr. Dion Betts, in the blue suit and red tie on left, greets staff during teacher in-service days prior to the start of school last month.

One of the most immediate, and perhaps most important, tasks will be boosting student achievement.

“We need to make sure every child is literate and can read, write, think and speak at grade level,’ Betts said. “That applies to every single grade level.”

The said that was especially important by the third grade level.

“We need to build a foundation early on,” he said.

Betts also believes all students need to be better prepared to handle life’s challenges after graduation. That, he said, calls for more challenging course work in the classroom, coupled with relating classroom experiences with real life.

“We need to make sure all every child has a pathway or interest they can really explore on the high school level, whether they go to college or not, ” he said.

More Than Academics

The school’s job is more than just academics, however.

Betts said to succeed, the district will have to provide more than challenging classroom work for its 10,000 students.

“To make sure every single child is successful, we need to take care of their social and emotional learning needs too,” he said. “We have to create the conditions for learning. It’s not just academics but helping children get ready to learn.”

Betts believes with the new vision for the district in place and district employees motivated and enthused about the change in direction, the next five years will see dramatic changes for CASD.

Of 500 Pennsylvania school districts, CASD sits right in the middle when it comes to student achievement.

“We should, and can, do better. I believe we can be one of the state’s top school districts,” he said.

He said he has already seen people doing amazing things in a really short period of time.

“I’m not a micro-manager. I believe in people and we have a smart, willing group of people in the district who really care about kids,” he said.

The Betts File:

Betts is a graduate of Widener University with a doctorate in school administration. He got his master’s in psychology from Drexel University and a bachelor’s in psychology from the State University of New York at New Platz. He received a master’s degree in education from the State University of New York at Albany.

Betts was the superintendent of the Boyertown (Pa.) Area School District before moving to Philadelphia.

He was an assistant superintendent with the Philadelphia School District from 2013 until he came to CASD in March.

Betts’ contract with Chambersburg will run through 2024.

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