School board keeps PE position closed; students, PE department feel effects

Superintendent says board kept position closed because high school schedule worked with one fewer teacher

The Punxsutawney Area School District did not hire a physical education teacher to replace Lisa Good after her retirement last year, rearranging the high school’s PE department and students’ schedules.

With Good gone, the high school now has four PE teachers for its six grades. To accommodate, PE classes at PAHS now meet every day for half the year instead of every other day for all year like they used to. 

District superintendent Thomas Lesniewski said he asked high school principal Jeff Long this summer whether he could run a schedule with one fewer PE teacher. Long determined he could, so the school board kept Good’s former position closed. Lesniewski said the district always runs these verifications after a teacher retires and then allocates its resources accordingly.

“If we have a retirement, we’ll evaluate,” he said. “If we need to spend the resources, because that’s going to offer the best services to our students, then we’ll fill that position. So it’s not necessarily about saving money, it’s about being fiscally responsible.”

Not hiring a new teacher gave the remaining PE teachers new schedules and shifted other teachers’ responsibilities. PE teacher Jason Jacobson said he always taught boys in the past. This year, though, he teaches girls. He said the school gave him his schedule during the summer and did not tell him why they made the change. 

Long said changing in the locker room was the only problem the district had with assigning a man to teach a girls’ PE class, so it assigned two female study hall monitors to supervise the girls. With this issue resolved, Long said, Jacobson teaching girls was perfectly feasible. 

Jacobson said he didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the year since he had never taught or coached girls before, and he added that he was enjoying it so far.

“The girls are working really hard,” Jacobson said. “They seem to have fun with the activities. It’s been a nice change for me.”

Several of the remaining PE teachers said the district should have hired a new teacher. Jacobson said “as a department,” he wished the school had looked into the possibilities. He added that he and his colleagues had had no say in the decision.

Eric Eddy, another PE teacher, said he disliked the changes because students could potentially go a full year without structured physical activity ⁠— they could have PE the first semester of one year and the second semester of the next. He said he supported having PE every day, “just all year long.” He added that the district’s rationale of saving money hurts students.

“What it’s done is that it’s made a schedule change and removed opportunities,” Eddy said. “The school board thinks they’re saving money, but they’re saving taxpayer money that’s supposed to be spent to benefit the kids.”

Lesniewski said the district made the changes for the good of the district’s students, the community and its resources. He added that he realized students and faculty had mixed feelings about the changes but that they would ultimately improve the school.

“I know there’s been changes,” Lesniewski said. “Change can sometimes be a bad thing, and change can be a good thing. Nowadays, the status quo doesn’t really exist in the field of education anymore. It’s always about how we can do it better.”