Armstrong School District Newsletter 2Q23

June 2023

District Uses

Summer Months For Major Renovations

And Upgrades

As students and teachers enjoy the start of summer vacation, there’s plenty happening at several school buildings around the district. Work helmets and heavy equipment have replaced backpacks and school buses.

The biggest project is at West Hills Primary, where a $10.6 million renovation represents the first major capital upgrade at the school since the 1980s. Students, teachers, and staff will see fresh new flooring throughout the building – but they’re more likely to feel a less visible part of the school renovation in the form of better heating and air conditioning.

“The HVAC system at West Hills Primary was starting to fail,” says Sam Kirk Jr., Director of Finance and Operations for the district. He notes that $2.5 million in state ESSER funds, which were distributed during the Covid pandemic, will be used to pay for a portion of the HVAC upgrades. Supply chain challenges will delay the arrival of some large units until fall, but the new school year will begin on schedule.

“We’ll utilize the old system until the new one can be completed and connected,” Mr. Kirk says.

The school’s open-concept classrooms are undergoing big changes, as well. Classrooms will be enclosed, improving both the learning environment and security.

“One class can hear the other,” Kirk says of the existing classroom design. “It’s not good for education and not secure.”

The large-group instruction room, where the district could potentially have board meetings, is another area getting attention. Kirk says four large steps will be removed, making it easier for people to enter and exit the small auditorium. Other improvements at West Hills Primary include the installation of a sprinkler system, which was not required when the school was built in 1972, and energy-efficient lighting.

“Between the HVAC and lighting upgrades, we’ll save money on both gas and electric,” Kirk says.

District-Wide Security Enhancements

The district is also investing in security upgrades for its eight buildings, starting with four this summer: Armstrong Junior-Senior High School, West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School, Lenape Elementary, and West Hills Intermediate. The $592,317 project will standardize security measures across the district, creating a single access-control system for all exterior doors.

“We have always made security a priority. We have armed guards at all buildings and metal detectors at the entrances. This is just improving upon what we have,” Kirk says, adding that the system will provide notifications if a door is propped open or otherwise not secured.

“We currently do have secure entrances throughout the district, but not all buildings have magnetic locking systems. This will bring magnetic locking systems to all eight buildings,” Kirk says.

West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School Auditorium

At West Shamokin, the 23-year-old auditorium is getting a modern makeover. A $543,408 project includes a new lighting system, sound system, stage curtain, and rigging system.

“Right now, it’s all the original equipment, and it’s time to invest in improving it,” Kirk says. “We have a state-of-the-art facility at Armstrong Junior-Senior High School, and the students and community of West Shamokin deserve the same.”

Unanimous School Board Support

Kirk says the infrastructure upgrades reflect a shared vision between the administration and school board – to provide a safe, comfortable environment for students and teachers while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“We’re proud of the fact we are able to achieve all these projects without raising taxes. We had money set aside for capital improvements and took a small $4 million loan,” Kirk says. “Our board was instrumental in making these projects possible. They wanted the administration to pursue them and unanimously supported them.”

How An Armstrong Teacher Helps Young Minds Grow In a Garden

When Josiah Grubbs wants to help young minds grow, he turns to a school garden he started four years ago as a way to help students understand math and science.

"I am an avid supporter of hands-on learning experiences," said Mr. Grubbs, a fourth-grade teacher at West Hills Intermediate. "I believe that incorporating the garden into the curriculum is an excellent way to engage young minds and foster a deeper understanding of math and science concepts."

Grubbs has used this unique approach to teach measurement, geometry, plant life cycles, nutrition, and health. It started first with a small garden of a few crops. Now his teaching garden covers two large plots with a variety of crops, including corn, sunflowers, strawberries, pumpkins, peppers, and many others.

"Gardens, in particular, offer a great way for students to explore and make learning come to life," Grubbs said. "By immersing themselves in the natural world, children develop a stronger connection with nature and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills."

Take measurement and geometry, for example. Grubbs gives students the chance to design two gardens. The students create a plot for each plant with a specific length and width on paper through these designs. The students then have to take the design from the paper and create the actual garden using tape measures.

Once the plots are created, this can be used as an exercise with a group of students to allow them to demonstrate a full understanding of the concepts of area and perimeter. Students can also measure the height and growth of plants as they mature and analyze the shape and symmetry of the sunflowers.

Gardens also provide an ideal setting for observing and studying the life cycles of plants, from seed germination to maturity, Grubbs said. This fosters an understanding of how a plant actually grows. Each student gets to select three different plants with a soil packet and container to take home and grow. Once the seeds have sprouted, the students bring it back to school to be planted.

But there's more to this teaching garden than just teaching science and math. Grubbs said he'd been impressed with how much it sparks curiosity in students. They ask more questions, investigate things, and discover answers independently. Gardens encourage curiosity, Grubbs discovered.  

"Many kids do not realize where their food comes from, so when a student digs up a potato, it is always a great moment of shock for them," he said.

He also has used the garden in discussions about healthy eating habits, balanced diets, and the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.

Two Armstrong School District Teachers Honored at Teacher Appreciation Awards

Two Armstrong School District teachers were among those honored in The 4th Annual Teacher Appreciation Awards announced in June.

Jocelyn Shoop, a physical education and health teacher at Dayton Elementary School, won the Elementary School Teacher of the Year 2023 award. Alexis Adams, a learning support teacher at Elderton Elementary School, won the Rookie Teacher of the Year 2023 award.

"I have fun every day at school, and I try to bring that to the students as well," said Shoop, who described her teaching philosophy as "if you have fun, you won."

"I feel extremely blessed to have been chosen for this award," Adams said. "I feel that it doesn’t only represent me but also the staff at Elderton because we collaborate and support each other."

Shoop recently returned to teach at Dayton, where she did her student teaching with Tom Burkett. She said she was humbled that a colleague would nominate her for the award. 

"There are a lot of great teachers out there, and, unfortunately, they don’t always get praise for what they do," she said. "I know that the faculty and staff at Dayton are very supportive, eager to help, and hard-working. We are like one big family, making my days much easier."

Shoop taught for six years in Indiana before returning to Pennsylvania several years ago. After substitute teaching for a year, she got hired at Ford City High School. A year later, she took the position at Dayton.

"I’m not sure this award is going to change much," Shoop said. "Every year, I come back from summer vacation ready to develop new ideas and ways to teach our students how to be successful in life."

For Adams, she credits her honor to her efforts in creating a positive culture with high expectations for her students. 

"Although I have not been teaching for many years, I do my best to keep up to date with different teaching methods and continue to master my craft,." she said.

Adams worked first as a student teacher at Lenape Elementary School and then accepted a long term in the Butler School District. She came to Elderton as a learning support teacher. 

Adams said she believes the best teachers collaborate, project positivity and support all students. "I come in every single day with my attitude set to get my students excited to learn. Lastly, I support all students by differentiating my instruction and finding what is best for each individual," she said. 

"I consider the success of my students my success," Adams said. "Having the opportunity to help students grow, close gaps, and overcome barriers has been foundational and how I measure my success."

Armstrong School District Foundation Raises Money to Support Local Education

Armstrong School District leaders join with community members each year to award grants and scholarships designed to help local educators and students.

Over a dozen district employees and community leaders comprise the Armstrong School District Foundation. Created in 2001, the foundation has given tens of thousands of dollars to students and learning programs.

"The Armstrong School District Foundation works to enhance and enrich the learning experience of our students by encouraging and supporting the development of educational programs," explains Jon P. McCullough, the foundation's treasurer who also is the school district's Director of Accounting and Transportation.  

The foundation board's 13 directors, led by ASD Director of Finance and Operations Sam Kirk Jr., consisting of community members and Armstrong employees passionate about helping students succeed in life and their education. Each director plays an important role and has the same goal in mind: ensuring that students have the opportunity to excel.

The foundation accomplishes this by awarding yearly grants and scholarships to help advance a student's education or a teacher's learning program. In the 2023 fiscal year, the foundation awarded 41 grants totaling more than $67,000. The grants fund innovative project ideas incorporated into creative and enriching instruction. They go directly back into the schools so that the teachers and students can benefit from them and give them a hands-on learning approach.

The foundation also oversees scholarships given annually to students in the district. The Wolsonovich Scholarship, for example, is funded by the Wolsonvich family and is awarded each year to two graduating Armstrong High School students who previously attended Lenape Elementary. The ASDF scholarship committee reviews applicants and approves those with the highest collective scores before giving each winner a $1,000 scholarship. 

The board also awarded ten $500 scholarships this year, five to Armstrong High School seniors and five to West Shamokin High School who plan to continue post-secondary education. Senior students from Armstrong and West Shamokin High Schools submit an application to the ASDF scholarship committee each year. The committee then evaluates and grades each application. Those students with the highest grade are awarded the scholarships. 

The foundation's efforts are supported by cash donations from community members and businesses and fundraising events each year, like the annual ASDF Golf Outing. The primary funding source is the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which offers donors a 90% tax credit against state tax liability.

The ASDF is an approved Educational Improvement Organization. Local businesses contributing to EITC organizations are eligible for tax credits through the program. The ASDF has received $44,000 in EITC donations during this fiscal year. 

Check out the foundation's website for more information about donating or applying for grants. Information also is available on the foundation's Facebook page.



West Hills Intermediate

Health and Physical Education Teacher

Thomas McClaine

West Shamokin Jr/Sr High School

Social Studies Teacher 

Louis Beers

Lenape Elementary


Cynthia Bracken

Armstrong Jr/Sr. High School


Samuel Crytzer

Armstrong Jr/Sr. High School


Cynthia Cunningham

West Hills Primary School

Food and Nutrition Services

Carol Fontaine

West Hills Intermediate School

Food and Nutrition Services

Elizabeth Frederick

West Hills Intermediate School

Administrative Assistant

David Fulton

West Hills Intermediate School

Software Technician

Julie Hiller

Armstrong Jr/Sr. High School


William Keener

Shannock Valley Elementary School


Timothy Kiser

West Hills Intermediate School


Thomas Maffei

West Hills Intermediate School


Kenneth Mangioni

Armstrong Jr/Sr. High School


David Palenczny

West Hills Intermediate School


Charleen Polka

Lenape Elementary School


Debra Smith

Armstrong Jr/Sr. High School


Dina Troup

West Hills Intermediate School

Food and Nutrition Services

Best Wishes in Your Retirement!!

ASD’s Mental Health &

Community Resource Guide

Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are described as serious changes in how children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day. It is estimated that approximately 30% of school-aged children will experience a behavioral, mental, or developmental condition in any given year.

Our Mental Health & Community Resource Guide contains resources for parents, educators, and professionals serving children and youth in school and community settings. 

Source PA Department of Education

ASD Update

The music departments across our district have done an amazing job teaching our students to appreciate music and foster their talents.

Congratulations to ALL our music departments on being recognized for Outstanding Support of Music Education for the 7th consecutive year!

Thank you for all you do.

The Hawks’ View

2022-2023 Spring Edition

Below is an excerpt from our AHS school newspaper written by AHS students: Trinity Appleman, Aida Clinch, Max Salsgiver, Anthony Reitano, and Nathan Ferraro


of The Music Man

With over 24,000 views on YouTube and record attendance, it is no understatement that the AHS spring production of Mamma Mia! in 2022 was a huge success. Considering everything, this year's musical had much to prove. The Hawks' View sat down for an exclusive interview with the cast of The Music Man—AHS's spring 2023 musical—to deliver behind-the-scenes insight. The leads are senior Nolan Heilman (Harold Hill) and junior Hannah Sperl (Marian Paroo). Joining them at the interview was Landyn Johnson (Marcellus Washburn), Cecelia Bowser (Mrs. Paroo), Logan Badac (Ewart Dunlop), Natalie Claypoole (Mrs. Squires), and Tyler Venezie (ensemble). Giving a brief summary of the musical, Landyn and Tyler explained that "Nolan Heilman's character, Harold Hill, tries to make as much money as possible in a small town in Iowa, but he falls in love with the librarian and changes his motives." 

Participating in the musical is no small commitment. Logan explained that the cast would put in around 12 hours of rehearsal most weeks. Most practices occur on weekends and evenings; however, most cast members have jobs, clubs, sports, and other commitments. Hannah has performed in seven AHS musicals, Cecilia has performed in six, Nolan has performed in three, Tyler has performed in three, and Natalie has performed in two. The Music Man is Logan and Landyn's first musical, which may shock those who attended.  

The cast, commenting on their experiences bonding with one another, came to the same conclusion: food. Logan and Landyn regularly visited Sheetz, and Hannah and Natalie visited Dairy Queen. Nolan and Natalie also talked about seeing other high school musicals together. It should come as no surprise that this year's musical produced countless memories for the cast. Logan and Landyn's favorite memory from The Music Man was when Phoenix Petrosky threw a paint can. Nolan's favorite memories were Saturday practices, working and relaxing with the cast, and the performance itself. 

Most of the musicals put on by AHS in the past have been relatively contemporary, which is just one of the reasons that The Music Man stands out. Nolan, in particular, had much to say about this year's production. "It's been a long time since AHS has done an old production, and it [The Music Man] is a big part of pop culture." Nolan also elaborated on the difference between plays and musicals. "Musicals are more palatable for a larger audience and normally sell out or get very close to it. Conversely, plays require a larger time commitment and more motivation than musicals do." 

Next year, Logan, Landyn, and Natalie said they would like to perform in Grease next year. When asked if they would continue performing after high school, Cecelia noted, "It can be a risky path to follow, and that's just not for me." Hannah said she plans to pursue a music career, but not necessarily acting. 

The cast offered advice for any AHS students considering performing in the musical in future years. Natalie said that "It's for people from all cliques. If you're interested in it, then explore it." Tyler said you should "work hard and never let anyone put you down." Logan said, "Do it while you can. It's a great experience, and you can't go back once it's over." Cecelia said, "Just do it, but understand it is a big commitment." Landyn said that "Most people think that musicals are all about singing and dancing, but they are so much more than that. Musicals are all based on how they're performed and who performs in them." Nolan said, "If you're thinking about participating in the musical, then you should do it." Hannah said, "It's probably the most positive experience you'll have in high school." 

Although not interviewed, the following students also played essential roles: Liam Badac (Winthrop Paroo), Xander Daniel (Shinn), Gabrielle Pawk (Eulalie McKechnie Shinn), Ethan Barnhart (Oliver Hix), Zakk Boyer (Jacey Squires), Jack Valasek (Olin Britt), as well as Caroline Holm, Miley Cabiles, Hailey Sellers, and Xoie Shoup (student pit orchestra). 

The Hawks' View would like to congratulate the cast and crew of The Music Man on their stellar performance!


181 Heritage Park Drive, Suite 2

Kittanning, PA 16201

Phone: (724) 548-7200