Varner’s support of students also involves community

Varner’s support of students also involves community

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Vance Varner, Mifflin County School District Superintendent of Schools, sees a huge benefit in being engaged with the employees and students within the district.

(Editor’s Note: The start of another school year is just around the corner. Many of the high school administrators in The Sentinel’s coverage area were interviewed to share their thoughts on the upcoming school year. This is the first in the series.)

LEWISTOWN — It’s not hard to know when Vance Varner is in the house. The Mifflin County School District Superintendent of Schools is usually front and center, taking pictures or videos to post on social media.

Whether it’s a school dance, athletic event, meeting or musical, no one can ever say Varner doesn’t support his students. He loves being the Huskies’ No. 1 fan, from the kindergartners on their first day to the high school seniors on their last as graduates.

“One of the goals I set for myself transitioning into the superintendent position was that I wanted to increase community engagement and visibility from the superintendent position,” said Varner who has served in that capacity since September 2021. “I also want to be the number one advocate of the Mifflin County District.

“I truly see a huge benefit in being engaged with the employees and students within the district,” he added. “It is my objective to make systematic and frequent visits to classrooms, sporting events, band competitions, student activities and community events.”

Besides supporting students of all ages, Varner also believes it’s important to share their accomplishments with the community.

“We have so many great things occurring in the Mifflin County School District and I feel it is important to share what is taking place in the school district,” Varner explained. “One avenue that I use to share with the parents and community is social media.

“Social media allows me to connect with students, parents, grandparents and community members in our district as well as others outside our local community who want to stay connected with MCSD.

His approach is working as his posts are definitely widely read.

There have been many times I have been stopped by parents and grandparents, expressing how much they appreciate our use of social media,” Varner said.

Varner is anxious to begin another school year on Wednesday, Aug. 30 — the 2023-24 year will be his third as superintendent. “There is always an excitement that fills the schools when students return for the first day of school for a new school year,” he added.

Despite the summer break, there is a lot of preparation already underway for the new year. The district had about 100 elementary teachers participate in an intensive professional development training called “Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling,” or LETRS. It’s a comprehensive professional learning program designed to provide early childhood and elementary educators and administrators with deep knowledge to be literacy and language experts in the science of reading.

LETRS teaches the skills needed to master the foundational and fundamentals of reading and writing instruction — phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and written language.

The district will also continue its emphasis on STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Varner said.

“Students within all eight MCSD schools are being immersed in STEM education,” Varner explained. “Primary students are learning to code and program devices, such as bee-bots, code and go mouse, ozobots and micro-bits.

“They are participating in engineering challenges in their makerspaces and classrooms, which push them to be innovative problem-solvers, and they are learning how to showcase their work through the use of greenscreens and video editing platforms,” he added.

In secondary schools, Varner said STEM standards are being infused to core subject areas in which teachers challenge students to use the makerspaces to create artifacts that solve problems, test hypotheses and showcase understanding as individuals or in a group setting.

In electives, STEM standards have helped push the development of new courses which focus on STEM concepts, including digital electronics, robotics and engineering, 3-D printing, laser engraving, advanced computer science, mechatronics programs at the Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology.

Despite all of the positives taking place within the walls of the schools, a new year has brought some familiar challenges. Varner spoke about one of those major concerns – a teacher shortage which is affecting the entire country – in front of a national television audience on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

It’s a frustrating situation for Varner and his administration because there are so many great things happening in the schools.

“The MCSD is experiencing a decrease in the number of teacher applicants applying for open teaching positions throughout grades K-12,” Varner said. “This is not just a Mifflin County issue but an ongoing issue in Pennsylvania as well as across the nation.

“Since 2010, Pennsylvania has seen a 66% reduction in newly certified teachers obtaining Pennsylvania teaching licenses,” he added. “For the first time in history, the number of applicants for emergency teaching permits in Pennsylvania is greater than the number of new college graduates applying for Pennsylvania teacher certification.”

Additionally, the district is also being plagued by transportation issues due to a shortage of bus drivers and a shortage of substitute teachers.

“We have ongoing difficulties filling our transportation needs for athletics, school activities and field trips,” Varner explained. “When we do not have enough substitute teachers, we are forced to temporarily increase class sizes or pull teachers from their normal duties to cover classrooms.”

Despite the ongoing challenges, Varner doesn’t let them overshadow the remarkable achievements that he and others have made in the district. They include expanded educational opportunities to provide students with the skills needed to compete in today’s workplace; creation of a district-wide newsletter called, “The PawPrint;” and utilization of social media on a consistent basis to communicate with stakeholders.

Additionally, he’s part of a multi-year initiative to update the MCSD Policy Manual; working cooperatively to maintain positive school climates; focusing on mental health and trauma services as well as interventions for students; and taking on a Career Pathways approach to education which has resulted in an expansion of the district’s cooperative education program, creation of many new and exciting classes in English, science, art, mathematics and technology as well as a partnership between the Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology and the district to provide customizable opportunities for students to access more of the resources that are available.

To find Varner on social media:

Facebook: Mcsd V Varner

Instagram: Mcsd V Varner

X: @McsdVVarner

Website: mcsdk12.org

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