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All the news that doesn't fit in print
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    Photos by Evan Brandt

    A graph on the wall of the township meeting room shows where most of your tax dollars go.

    At this time of year, I am obligated to reported first on the township's proposed $4 million budget, which calls for no tax increase over the current millage.

    Adding to that good news, is the fact that the township is creating an "operational reserve" to the tune of $600,000 funded entirely with contributions from developers from projects dating all the way back to 2003.

    The biggest is $390,000 that is available thanks to an agreement that ended a challenge to the township's zoning ordinance and ultimately involved the school board for a project once called "Crossroads."

    The townhomes along Route 100 were first proposed by developer Richard Mingey but ultimately passed into ownership a non-profit building housing for working class incomes.

    Part of that agreement requirement "contributions" to the township when permits were finally pulled for the long-delayed project.

    Retiring Public Works employee Larry Kuser, left,. receives
    a plaque recognizing 27 years of service from Elwood Taylor.
    Add to that another $160,000 due to the township as a result of the completion of Coddington View, the townhouse development off Farmington Avenue that for years was tangled up with the bankruptcy of THP Properties.

    Also of note at the meeting was the recognition of Larry Kuser, a public works employee who is retiring after 27 years with Upper Pottsgrove. He received a plaque from Commissioners Chairman Elwood Taylor, but declined to make a fuss. "I don't do speeches," he said.

    Which brings us to the jewel that got polished Monday night.

    As part of its charter, Althouse Arboretum director Ken Hamilton must deliver an annual report to the commissioners on the open space property Commissioner Herb Miller is fond of calling "a jewel in Upper Pottsgrove."

    Hamilton delivered some starting and encouraging statistics about the use the 17-acre parcel.

    He said the arboretum is run in partnership with an organization called Green Allies and has benefited from the services of nearly 400 volunteers.

    Taking an informal census of users brings Hamilton to the conclusion that the property is used by an average of 23 people per day, or 6,343 people who simply walk the trails.

    Upper Pottsgrove Commissioner Herb Miller, left,
    introduces Ken Hamilton, director of Althouse Arboretum.
    Add to that the 3,650 people who participated in the 58 programs sponsored by Green Allies and outside organizations and you're starting to talk real numbers.

    In three years, the arboretum has hosted 2,300 elementary students and about 20,000 visitors.

    New this year, and already the most-popular is a children's forest trail and a children's wildlife viewing platform is already under constructions.

    The arboretum also sports a low-ropes course, which has already been used by 350 people and a Christmas tree recycling program that collected 300 trees last year, all with the help of Pottsgrove High School's Spark the Wave Club volunteers.

    The arboretum hosted seven part- and full-day summer camps this year and they were sold out by March.

    Miller said Althouse hosted more than 4,000 visitors in 2017 and 2,552 miles logged on township trails. "I think that's significant."

    "This is not just open space, this is open space with a purpose," Hamilton said. In 2018, he plans to start a membership program at the site, which will be free at the basic level, to all Upper Pottsgrove residents whose voluntarily increased earned income taxes helped to buy the property.

    "Our goal is to get as many people outside, and have a more healthy lifestyle, as possible," Hamilton said.

    That all said, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the YWCA Tri-County Area.
    Two hundred Pottstown-area families will have a full Thanksgiving meal this year, thanks to YWCA Tri-County Area and Exelon Generating Station.

    Exelon donated funds to purchase a Thanksgiving meal for families whose children attend YWCA’s Early Education Center. 

    Each family receives a turkey, fresh green beans and potatoes, canned corn and cranberry sauce, a box of stuffing mix, and a pie.

    Exelon also contributed to Operation Warm, which provides warm winter coats to children at the Early Education Center. Children received their new coats earlier this week.

    YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YW3CA is a leader in advocacy for women and girls, works to eliminate racism, and empowers women through quality affordable childcare, adult literacy, and a host of programs to support the health and vitality of women, girls, and families.

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    Donna Cuthbert, center, with blog post author Susan Burke, right
    and physicist Ernest Sternglass.
    Blogger's Note: I was out of town on Sept. 14 when I learned that Donna Cuthbert, the lion behind the Alliance for a Clean Environment, had passed away. 

    I was able to attend her memorial service and had meant to write a column appreciating her drive and her passion for reducing environmental risks, but the clock got away from me. 

    Luckily, Susan Burke, a friend of ours, contacted me and asked if she could write one. 

    Here it is:

    When I first met Donna Cuthbert, it was at her house. We went downstairs into the Alliance for a Clean Environment office, filled with notebooks labelled and organized like a library.

    Donna and I sat and spoke at her desk. Her granddaughter came in briefly, and Donna took the time to talk with her too.

    Then we walked into the next room. I saw it. Hanging on the wall, actually encompassing the entire wall, was a map. A HUGE MAP! This map was of the Greater Pottstown area and was covered in colored dots. Each dot represented a person – a person (adult or child) who had cancer.

    This was Donna’s cancer map.

    I was in shock. The dots formed circles and lines and there were too many of them to fully comprehend the gravity of the disease’s impact on the community. Our friendship began there, and never stopped.

    We shared a passion for clothing, and we each appreciated the other’s style. We shared a love of children and family and hard work. We shared the determination to get to the truth. Truth was key. 

    Many go about their lives ignoring truth, because of the pain that may accompany understanding it.

    There was no stopping now. I sat back down with Donna, and I asked her what her dream was – what SHE hoped to accomplish most. Without skipping a breath, she said “closing the Landfill.”

    The Pottstown Landfill in West Pottsgrove represented a massive reservoir of contamination. The smell could be noticed traveling down Route 100. Facts from official documents showed dumping of waste from other countries, and even radioactive waste. Then Donna said “but this will never happen.”

    But Donna proved her own words wrong. It did happen, and I know that she is at the heart of the Landfill closure.

    Even Kathleen McGinty, Pennsylvania chief environmental officer, came to a Pottstown press conference at Donna’s request to better understand this danger, and enlighten the press and local people about the hazards of the Landfill. 

    Not long afterward, the word came: the Pottstown Landfill would be closing. Donna’s years of hard research had paid off. 

    One toxic site closed down, and many future cancers would be prevented.

    Donna also knew of the heavily toxic chemicals that were across town at the OxyChem plant. At times, people reported a yellow film that covered their cars, and they would call ACE for information about this toxic film. Donna’s research continued. 

    They asked Donna about various cancers they felt were attributable to the chemical plant. In time, OxyChem closed as well.

    Donna’s wish of a healthier Pottstown was progressing. However, these toxins linger and remain in food, water, and people for decades. No one knows the true impact of these polluters.

    I recall Donna collecting children’s teeth for the baby tooth study. The teeth were tested for Strontium-90, a chemical produced only in atomic bomb tests and nuclear reactors. Teeth from the tri-county area had the highest average Strontium-90 concentration of any of the six nuclear plant areas studied, a precursor of cancer later in life.

    I remember when renowned physicist Dr. Ernest Sternglass came to Pottstown to help with the tooth project. He stayed with the Cuthberts, and Donna and he became good friends. They spent long hours discussing the implications of radiation, and their hope for a better future.

    Donna had calls flooding in from people near the Limerick nuclear plant. Not only were there multiple cancers reported around the plant, but other strange events, which Donna documented in Letters of the Editor, and on ACE’s show. 

    People reported trains traveling through the power plant property – a red flag considering the enormous security risk posed by nuclear plants. It was documented (and still exists) that the cooling tower lights remain out, still unlit even though the Limerick airport is just a mile away. 

    This raises the risk of a plane crashing into one of the towers. People wanted to know more, and Donna was the one who would open up her library to all in need.

    She lived a healthy life, using essential oils and natural remedies in her own home. Just this past summer, for my birthday, Donna made me my own essential oil kit. Every time I smell my oils, I think of Donna. 

    We always enjoyed breakfast at Arlene’s on Asbury Avenue, when she and her husband Buzz were here at the shore.

    Many may remember her from her family clothing shop, Madaras, in Stowe, and many may remember her from school board meetings in Pottsgrove. Words do not describe fully what Donna contributed to her family and the Pottstown area, but here are just a few: dedicated, honest, courageous, relentless, energetic, passionate, and humanitarian.

    Even when Donna herself was not well, she never turned away a phone call from a person with questions about health or environment. She was always thinking about other people and their well-being. I miss her, and will never forget the enormous impact she made on the lives of many, including me.

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    The Coventry Singers

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by The Coventry Singers

    The Coventry Singers are performing their Christmas Concert “Songs of the Season” Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 in Pottstown and Birdsboro. 

    The concert is a musical program of sacred and secular works to welcome the holiday and features traditional carols and contemporary Christmas songs. Selections include arrangements of Silent Night, Carol of the Bells, Breath of Heaven and White Christmas.

    This concert welcomes a new director to the stand. Dan Kershetsky assumed the role of director in September of this year. Dan, a 1981 graduate of the Pennsylvania State University, with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education, and a 1993 graduate of West Chester University, with a Master of Music Degree in Music Education, has spent 33 years in public education, most recently teaching in the Boyertown Area School District for 26 years. 

    Choral groups under his direction were involved in competitive situations and consistently achieved highest ratings at various adjudicated festivals. His ensembles have also traveled internationally with performances in England, France, Italy, Austria, Prague, and the Czech Republic. He retired from Boyertown in 2014. 

    Nadine Lydic returns as piano accompanist. Nadine holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her master’s degree in music is from West Chester University. She also is a retired teacher from the Boyertown School District.

    The Coventry Singers, a choir of about 40 voices, have been performing in the Pottstown area since 1972. They have performed with the Pottstown Symphony, the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, and at Longwood Gardens Christmas Concert Series. 

    More recently they have performed Handel’s Messiah with the Reading Choral Society, the National Anthem at the Reading Royals hockey games and participated in the Pottstown Relay for Life luminaria lighting ceremony.

    Performances take place Saturday Dec. 2 at 3 p.m at Cedarville United Methodist Church, 1092 Laurelwood Road, Pottstown, and Sunday Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 5 Brooke Manor, Birdsboro. 

     The concerts are free and open to the public. A freewill offering will be accepted. 

    For more information about the Coventry Singers, visit their website or find them on Facebook at Coventry Singers-Pottstown, Pa.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Hopewell furnace National Historic Site.

    The National Park Service (NPS) invites the public to celebrate an “Iron Plantation Christmas” and stroll through 100 years of American Christmas at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. This free event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature Christmas as celebrated during the 18th and 19th centuries at Hopewell Furnace.

    Hopewell Furnace Site Manager David Blackburn encourages visitors to experience the simple elegance of Christmas through the years during the event. “This is an opportunity for today’s public to travel back in time and witness Christmas at different periods of the furnace’s history” he said. “The company store will be open for business and the park’s buildings will be staffed with employees and volunteers bringing the village once again to life” he added.

    Visitors will find nearly a century of Christmas illustrated through a series of recreated holiday scenes, dating from 1795 to 1880, inside the park’s historic buildings. Visitors will be able to discover the variety of customs, foods, and traditions of the holiday season from different times during the furnace community’s history. Staff and volunteers will present three different iterations of Santa. Der Belsnickel, a mischievous version of Santa Claus with a commitment to justice, will be in the Cast House. Belsnickel rewards good children with candy and naughty children with switches. Additionally, St. Nicholas, as Hopewell Furnace residents knew him in the 19th C, will be in the Ironmaster’s House and Mr. and Mrs. Claus in the Visitor Center.

    Along with the regular program of historical Christmas activities, a special program will be presented at the park’s Bethesda Church. This is one of only a few days of the year when the historic church is open to the public. It is located one mile east of the main iron furnace community, on Bethesda Road. Christine Emmert will be presenting the one woman play “Out of the Fiery Furnace.” This will be the final performance of this work. After years of playing Ruth and sharing stories of the women of Hopewell, the play is being retired. Come join Emmert for the free performance will be at 3:00. Directions to reach Bethesda Church will be available at the park’s visitor center or by contacting the park at (610) 582-8773.

    There is no admission fee for visitors to the park or to this special event.

    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site preserves and interprets an 18th and 19th Century iron furnace and its associated landscape. The park’s facilities are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday including Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. It is closed other federal holidays. Hopewell Furnace is located five miles south of Birdsboro, PA on Route 345. No entrance fee is charged. For more information stop by the park’s visitor center, call 610-582-8773, visit the park’s web site at:, or contact us by e-mail at:

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    From left, Carter Lester, Kerry Pidcock-Lester, David Allebach and Joe Rusiewicz

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

    The Foundation for Pottstown Education’s Early College Program was a recipient of $5,610 from The
    First Presbyterian Church in Pottstown Mary N. Porter Designated Fund of the Community Foundation of Broward County. 

    Co-Pastors Karen Pidcock-Lester and W. Carter Lester along with parishioner, David Allebach were on hand recently to award the Foundation’s Executive Director, Joe Rusiewicz the funding.

    This funding was approved by the Church’s Porter-Broward Task Force and enables the Foundation to support two Pottstown High School students participation in the Early College Program. 

    Currently, the Foundation supports 28 Pottstown Juniors and Seniors the ability to take college level courses at Montgomery County Community College, the majority of which receive full tuition reimbursement while the others receive 50% reimbursement.

    These students are selected by the Foundation in conjunction with the Pottstown High School based on academic and co-curricular activity. Students who have earned a 90% or higher grade point average after the first half of their sophomore year are invited to apply for this program. 

    Those selected can earn up to 30 credits, completing their college freshman year at the time of their high school graduation.

    The Foundation for Pottstown Education is one of the local non-profits that are invited and ultimately receive funding from the First Presbyterian Church Porter-Broward Task Force.

    About FPE: The Foundation for Pottstown Education’s (FPE) mission is to support, promote, sponsor and carry out educational, scientific or charitable activities and objectives within or related to the
    Pottstown School District. Visit for more information about the
    Foundation for Pottstown Education. You can also follow FPE on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County.

    The Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County has announced a new holiday event in Morlatton Village. 

    On Dec. 16, from 1 to 5 p.m., the trust will celebrate Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the eighteenth century with music, caroling, dancing, and refreshment in the festive atmosphere of the White Horse Inn.

    Families can enjoy crafts for children and a visit from the Belsnickel.

    Visitors will delight in the festive, holiday ambiance of the White Horse Inn. 

    The rooms will be decorated with fresh greenery and visitors can partake in a variety of activities. 
    The White Horse Inn

    The Amity Colonial Dancers will demonstrate several colonial and early American dances and visitors will even have the chance to join in on the fun with some audience participation. We will be joined by a harp and cello duo who will lead us in singing some traditional Christmas carols.

    In the Tavern Room, visitors can relax with some complimentary mulled cider and play some fun tavern games like cards and dice. 

    Families and children will want to make sure to visit the Belsnickel as well in his “workshop” where kids can enjoy a variety of Christmas crafts. 

    The Belsnickel, part of eighteenth century rural Pennsylvania German Christmas lore, is much different from today’s jolly, old Santa Claus. Bring the whole family and learn more about how Christmas was celebrated in eastern Pennsylvania almost 300 years ago.

    Admission for A Tavern Christmas is a $5 per person suggested donation. Trust members and children 12 and under are free. 

    Complimentary light refreshments will be available and fresh baked goods can be purchased. 

    Visit the website for additional event information. Cash or check only for payments. Event
    is rain or shine.

    The Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County is a non-profit organization that acquires, preserves, and maintains historically and architecturally significant properties in Berks County, Pennsylvania and educates Berks County and its’ visitors about the role these sites played in Pennsylvania and American history. 

    The Trust seeks to foster community involvement and support in promoting awareness and appreciation of historic structures and encouraging their adaptive reuse. 

    The Trust currently owns and maintains eight historically significant buildings in the greater Reading/Berks County area. 

    The office is located in the White Horse Inn on Old Philadelphia Pike in Douglassville. 

    Anyone interested in donating to the Trust should call 610-385- 4762 or visit

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    Given that it has been 13 years since there was any kind of tax hike in New Hanover Township and 20 years since the millage for the general fund was raised, it probably comes as no surprise to long-time residents that 2018 won't be much different.

    What is different, is the simplicity and clarity of its presentation.

    Township Manager Jamie Gwynn got his first run at doing the budget his way and the result was applause by the supervisors and staff -- literally, they clapped last night after the budget was outlined.

    (You can find it on the township web siteor by clicking here)

    If $12 million sounds a lot bigger than last year, that's because Gwynn has put all of the budgets for the different funds into one easy-to-read document.

    So the general fund, which pays for police, parks and recreation, some public works accounts for about half in terms of expenditures, $5.8 million.

    The capital fund calls for spending $1.2 million. The sewer fund will spend $4.7 million and the pension funds $192,000 -- all adding up to $11,993,403.

    And if you want to know what the plans are for that money, check out Gwinn's "letter of transmittal," a 15-page letter that outlines major spending plans and other matters of financial interest.

    Also of broader interest, the supervisors agreed to waive the land development process for the New Hanover Fire Company, which is constructing a station in the northern part of town to improve fire coverage.

    They had been using the bays at the Sassamansville Fire Company, now only a social hall, but legal disputes between the two companies pushed New Hanover to build a new fire station.

    There were also some back-and-forths with developers which you can read about in the Tweets below:

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center.

    Just a reminder that tonight, the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center will be hosting its annual Open House from 5 to 8 p.m.

    From 5 to 6 p.m., the center is open for prospective students and parents only, providing them with an opportunity to come learn about all of the opportunities available to them at the center.

    From 6 to 8 p.m., the center is open to all for a Community Open House. 

    Meet all of the program instructors and learn about everything the center has to offer.

    The recently constructed Tiny House will even be on display.

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    Submitted Photo

    From left, Owen Morton, Cole Miller, Jon Oister, Jamal Adams, Ezra Figueroa

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Players and coaches of the Pottstown High School Trojan Football Team give more than their all on the gridiron.

    This Thanksgiving, they also gave 11 local families reason to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day. 

    Team members all donated money to buy the supplies with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving Day meal to help feed less fortunate members of the community. 

    After huddling up at the Giant supermarket they called a play with each player knowing his assignment in gathering all of the food items.

    Their next play was to sort and make meal packages for each family. 

    They scored a touchdown when they personally delivered the meals to each family. 

    (Sports analogies courtesy of John J. Armato)

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    It can be hard to teach young ones that giving gifts is as important as getting them during the holiday season.

    But the folks over at Art Fusion 19464 have a great, proven way to help.

    It's called VanGogh's Secret Studio.

    The idea is you can drop your child off and volunteers will help them choose gifts for the people on their list from a special selection of hand-crafted gifts under $10.

    Most items are priced between $1 and $5.

    The Secret Studio is held on specific days and this year it will be on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and again on Saturday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

    Click here to download a shopping list you and your child can fill out before they visit the Studio.

    Don't forget that ArtFusion is now located in the Beech Street Factory building, at 341 Beech St., at the corner with North Evans Street.

    Please note: A parent or guardian must remain in the building while a child shops in VanGogh's Secret Studio.

    This event is also a fundraiser for the non-profit community art center.

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    Any collection of books which has this many Captain Underpants titles has my endorsement! They're hilarious and great fun to read out loud.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Books-A-Million in the Coventry Mall is supporting education in Pottstown School District with a book donation. They collected 215 books from their customers over the summer of 2017, which store manager, Heather Sarik reported is a $1,306.66 value.

    “Books-A-Million is very focused on giving back,” said Sarik.

    Laurie Kolka from Pottstown Schools, left, thanks Pottstown

    Heather Sarik, manager of Books-A-Million.
    “Hosting a book drive twice a year for our local schools, libraries, and non-profit organizations is our way of helping where needed. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you may have played a role in fostering the love of books in someone.”

    Sarik is a Pottstown School District alumni and she was pleased to give back to her community.

    Elementary students will enjoy these entertaining and educational books. Literacy is an important initiative for Pottstown School District, with regular Family Literacy Nights for Pre-K and elementary students.

    “Great books get kids excited about reading, which helps to foster life-long habits,” said Laurie Kolka, Pottstown School District’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development. “We greatly appreciate the generosity of Books-A-Million and its customers in supporting access to quality literature for our students.”

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    Studies show outdoor education has many benefits.

    Blogger's Note: Some of the following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Pottstown Middle School students received some first hand (and foot) education about the environment recently.

    Thirty-five members of the Environmental Science Club, along with their sponsor, Ginger Angelo, explored various ecosystems on a 5-mile hike through Green Lane Park.

    Students stopped along the trail to make notes about their observations and will use them during classroom discussions.
    Pottstown students explore Green Lane Park.

    Angelo said Taking the classroom to the outdoors brings life to our lessons and helps grow an appreciation for the environment.

    According to findings published by the University of Wisconsin, "Research has documented increased standardized test scores, enhanced attitude about school, improved in-school behavior, improved attendance and overall enhanced student achievement when students learn in and about nature. In addition, outdoor education effectively employs a greater range of children’s intelligences."

    "Access to nature has also been shown to decrease the symptoms of ADHD. Outdoor learning and access to nature also decrease stress levels of students and teachers," according to the research.

    "Studies have shown that students who learn outdoors develop: a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline and initiative," the Wisconsin research found.

    "Outdoor experiences help students increase their understanding of their natural and human communities which leads to a sense of place. Through connection to place, students develop stronger environmental attitudes and civic behaviors. Outdoors learning experiences are the foundation of raising the next generation of active citizens who take care of their natural and human communities," the research concluded.

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Supporters of building a new middle school in the Upper Perkiomen School District hold up signs in support of their position during the Monday meeting of the school board when the newly elected majority provided the votes needed to kill the project.

    In a stunning development that will mean Upper Perkiomen School District taxpayers spent $8 million for a hole in the ground, the newly elected majority of the school board Monday night voted 5-4 to kill the project on which construction has already begun.

    It took place at a marathon four-hour meeting, moved to the high school auditorium due to the expected crowd, which showed up in force -- on both sides of the issue.

    Newly sworn in board members Melanie Cunningham, Stephen Cunningham, James Glackin and newly elected School Board President Kerry Drake, joined board member Raeann Hofkin in providing the five votes.

    Before the voting took place, however, 24 speakers had their say and by the end of the night, 31 had spoken, some more than once. A total of four of them spoke in favor of the board's course of action.

    The actual cost of the decision remains unknown. When board member John Farris asked for what it would cost to stop construction, Superintendent Alexis McGloin said "I don't know the answer to that question."

    Board member Melanie Cunningham, who at the end of the night said many of the supporters of the middle school project were making assumptions about what the new majority intended, said every day construction continues, the number changes.

    A motion by Farris to delay the vote was defeated, and pleas by board members Judith Maginnis and Mike W. Elliott failed to change the minds of the board. majority.

    Some speakers said those opposed to the middle school project had made similar pleas for delays before voting to start construction, both before and after the election, and had been similarly ignored.

    Here are the Tweets from the meeting. Look for more coverage in upcoming editions of The Mercury.

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    A view of the Pottsgrove Middle School roof, now 20 years old, which must be replaced.

    The Pottsgrove School Board re-organized Tuesday night, returning Matt Alexander to the presidency and installing Robert Lindgren in the vice-presidency.

    Two new members, Charles Nippert and Scott Hutt, were sworn in, and then the board proceeded to make some decisions.

    One sad one was to accept the resignation of the now-legendary Rick Pennypacker as football coach, due to his pending retirement.

    Another was a long time in coming, the spend no more than $2.5 million to replace the roof at Pottsgrove Middle School, now 20 years old.

    (I must point out the construction of this school is one of the first things I covered for The Mercury, meaning I am in the midst of my 20-year anniversary at the paper. Wow. I still think of this building as "new.")

    The board also approved across-the-board 2 percent raises for building principals and mid-level administrators.

    Board member Bill Parker questioned whether he could support such increases given the poor performance of so many Pottsgrove school buildings on recent School Performance Profile scores.

    But Superintendent William Shirk noted that there is a rubrik used to determine goal meeting, of which SPP is just one part, and assured Parker that the raises were warranted under that rubrik.

    Changing it would mean re-negotiating the agreement, which has one more year before it expires.

    That said, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Pottstown Fire Chief Michael Lessar congratulates Michael Sedlock of t he North End Fire Company who is retiring after 48 years of volunteer service and was named the first-ever Pottstown Firefighter of the Year.

    The Firefighter of the Year Award
    Wednesday night was a very long meeting, with a very long agenda and lots of information which, at midnight, my head is a little too thick to convey coherently.

    Instead, I will offer some highlights, the most important of which is related to the budget and its 18 percent tax hike.

    No decisions were made about the budget and in a weird kind of kabuki budget theater, Vice President Sheryl Miller outlined some specific cuts, only to be told that council can only suggest areas to cut and its up to the borough manager to make it happen.

    So despite Miller suggesting several specific administrative cuts, such as not hiring an assistant public works director, getting rid of one of two human resources director assistants and cutting down on open window hours, Borough Manager Mark Flanders and Council President Dan Weand kept asking her "what services to you want to cut?"

    It was frustrating to watch and, likely, more frustrating to live through.

    Also important is the return of the folks from Department of Community and Economic Development's Governor's Center for Local Government Services were back.

    Their Early Intervention Program, started back in 2007 and completed in 2009, is what created a report with 122 suggestions on ways Pottstown could economize. They would like to do the same thing again, which council seemed amendable to, but which would not be soon enough to affect the proposed 2018 budget.

    Also significant is a plan for the construction of the new station in Memorial Park for the Colebrookdale Railroad, which will require a land swap to happen.

    Nathaniel Guest, who runs the railroad, said so far most of the nearly $2 million in economic impact is in Boyertown, because there is a station there, and he wants some of that benefit to come to Pottstown, "my home town."

    Anyway, lots of other things in the works, such as a proposal to establish a group home at 306 N. Charlotte St., which is on the northeast corner of the intersection with Lincoln Avenue, but for now, you will have to be satisfied with the Tweets from the meeting ...

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    Pottsgrove Middle School teacher Deb MacIlvain and the members of her 7th grade class who excelled in the Lego Robotics competition on Dec. 2.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottsgrove School District.

    The PGMS Computer / Robotics’ Technology - Lego Team won First Place on Dec. 2, at the school's first-ever Lego Robotic Competition, for their innovative project. 

    There were six 7th grade students from Deb MacIlvain’s class who were on the team, Sydney Coxe, Dylan Batche, Madison Kern, Cecilia Burg, Lily Guerrette and Mailei Schechterly.

    At the competition, there are four judged events. There is the Robot Design, Core Values, Project (Invention) and Robot Game. Each event is judged separately and out of 22 teams at the competition Pottsgrove came in first for our Project (Invention)!

    The award is “Innovation Solution” and the award was described as: "Recognizing a team’s solution that is exceptionally well considered and creative, with good potential to solve the problem researched."

    This team looked at their daily life experience and found an opportunity to improve our drinking water.

    The students identified a problem, researched the problem and developed a solution. They also contacted experts in the water professional field to learn about the public water system and shared their solution with the school's maintenance department. 

    The students developed a spray bottle with antiseptic solution that would be connected to a water fountain to sanitize the spigot before someone takes a drink. They also developed an iBook to share with the judges which there is a link on teacher Deb MacIlvain’s web page to the iBook. 

    The students worked really hard, not only during class but also after school and on days off.

    "We are very proud of their efforts and for making Pottsgrove proud! A special thank-you goes out to their great instructor and teacher – Mrs. Deb MacIlvain!" Principal Matt Boyer wrote in an email to the school.

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    If the wheels of the Gods grind slow, the wheels of government grind just a bit slower.

    A regional traffic study under discussion for more than a year, took a tiny step forward Thursday night when Karen Whittaker, a transportation planner for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, outlined what the study will look like -- again.

    This will not be the first time the members of the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee have heard about what the study will do. But it may be the last time.

    That's because at the Jan. 24 meeting, at least according to Montgomery County Community Planning Chief John Cover, the members had better show up "prepared to work."

    That's when the DVRPC folks will actually get down to brass tacks and start collecting data about what roads and intersections in the eight towns which comprise the regional planning area, are problem areas.

    Cover said the best result of the study will be identifying fixes that "can have a big impact in more than one town for not a lot of money."

    The planners also learned the state has provided more money for the parks "mini-grant" program which is also funded by the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.

    And, they also endorsed a letter urging more funding to fight the invasive species "spotted lantern fly."

    Here are the Tweets

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    With each new day, it seems our nation becomes more and more adverse to learning, knowledge and education.

    Many years ago, when Jack Wolf was president of Pottstown Borough Council, he dropped some knowledge on me. "If you want to see what a government's priorities are, just look at their budget."

    A variation on "follow the money," I look back with chagrin that someone actually had to tell me something I should have figured out for myself.

    If we apply that the nation, or, more specifically the various aspects of the GOP tax bill, it clearly says education for all is not a high priority.

    Polls show that Conservatives increasingly see college as "bad for the country," and yes, I am not making that up.

    Consider how the First Son, Donald Trump Jr., views college: “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange, we’ll train your children to hate our country.”

    Attacking the "politically-correct" speech on campus that Conservatives love to lambast, Trump Jr. said “Hate speech is anything that says America is a good country. That our founders were great people. That we need borders. Hate speech is anything faithful to the moral teachings of the Bible.”

    He is right, our founders were great people, in part, because they championed public education. They were born of a movement that venerated the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of the truth, no matter where it led, and detested the idea that education should be left to clerics.

    Wrote John Adams: "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

    Maybe, as with so many things involving our president, it's all about him.

    As the Washington Post reported in a Nov. 25 look at how conservatives view college education, "Hillary Clinton trounced Trump in the nation’s most educated counties, but Trump won white voters without a college degree by 37 points."

    One might argue that rather than elevate the educated, the president wants more people who will vote for him, and this tax bill fits that bill.

    I suppose the fact that he settled lawsuits claiming Trump University is a scam may have something to do with his thoughts on what is taught in college. Few, apparently, have as many courses as Trump University in why Donald Trump is great.

    But he is not alone in his antipathy toward higher learning.

    Research by the Pew Center shows "Core conservatives are overwhelmingly anti-college, by 80 to 16 percent — a worse rating than they gave to labor unions or Islam. The other slice of Trump’s base, “Country First Conservatives,” are anti-college by 60 to 32 percent,"wrote Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

    So the Republicans in congress are doing something about this hatred of college knowledge in their unpopular but seemingly inevitable tax-cut-for-millionaires plan. They're making it harder to survive, because we need more people who believe the world is flat and who can't find North Korea on a map.

    As Westneat wrote, "the Republican plan passed by the House would raise taxes on graduate students, of all people, by taxing what are called 'tuition waivers.' This is akin to taxing college scholarships, as universities often waive all or part of the tuition for grad students who serve as research or teaching assistants while getting their master’s degrees or Ph.Ds."

    The House tax plan also removes the deduction for interest on college loans, so look for more debt in your college student's future. 

    You can thank House Members Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.; Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist. and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8th Dist. who all voted for the bill that includes those provisions.

    Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.
    "The average student loan debt of a 2016 college graduate was $37,000. At $1.4 trillion, U.S. student loan debt is now larger than credit card debt," according to The Washington Post. 

    The fact that Betsy DeVos picked the CEO of a for-profit student debt serving company to run the nation's student loan program and, has financial connections to such companies, is surely pure coincidence.

    Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist.
    The Senate version preserves the student loan and tuition waiver tax benefits to students. The Senate plan also excludes a House proposal to roll three higher-education tax credits into one benefit, according to The Washington Post.

    On top of all this, tuitions are increasing, but part of that is due to the fact that since the financial crisis in 2008, only three states have increased funding to their public colleges.

    Most, Pennsylvania included, have cut funding, according to a Washington Post analysis.

    And "both the House and Senate also would raise taxes on private university endowments, which haven’t been taxed because the universities are nonprofits," Westneat wrote.

    Both the House and Senate GOP tax bills have included a 1.4 percent tax on private college endowments worth more than $250,000 per student. Schools with fewer than 500 students would be exempt, The Morning Call reported

    Except of course, for the ones they like.

    Our own Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who will be on the conference committee that reconciles the House and Senate bills and once headed the Conservative Club for Growth, made headlines when he introduced a provision in the Senate bill that would seemingly benefit one single private school.

    "An addition from Sen. Pat Toomey to exempt certain colleges from a new levy on private schools with particularly lucrative endowments. The problem, according to Democrats who grilled the Pennsylvania Republican over his proposal, is that it would benefit only one school: Hillsdale College, a small Michigan institution described by the New York Times as playing 'an active role in conservative thought and policy,'” The Allentown Morning Call reported.

    One of Hillsdale's benefactors is .... wait for it .... Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. What a shock!

    So while Donald Trump Jr. thinks colleges teach students to "hate their country," other Republicans are OK with, and would provide tax breaks to, those that teach students to think the right way -- their way.

    And how about education on the primary and secondary level? Well, the Republican war on education undermines that too, in several ways.

    The first is that the House bill would remove the tax write-off for teachers who pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, although the Senate bill actually increases the deduction from $250 to $500.

    As The Reading Eagle reported in August, many teachers, particularly in Pottstown, spend their own money to buy classroom supplies for their students that the district budget cannot afford to provide. The Eagle's story identified Lincoln Elementary School teacher Jennifer Groff, who said she spends about $1,200 a year on supplies to make sure her students have what they need to succeed.
    When you consider that the average Pottstown teacher salary is the lowest in Montgomery County, and that Pottstown is underfunded by $13 million a year using Pennsylvania's minimally applied Fair Funding formula, it's obvious this cost, and the tax offset, are significant.

    With Pottstown Borough facing an 18 percent property tax hike, driven in part by the loss of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls, school district officials are looking fearfully at the next round of budget talks for the 2018-2019 school year. (And many are privately bemoaning the election loss of board member Thomas Hylton, whose willingness to dive deep into the district's finances was increasingly respected).

    Last month, the school board voted to self-limit any tax hike to 3.5 percent. It has not raised taxes for the last three years.

    Keeping within that limit will be difficult, but pressure to not raise taxes will increase if a provision in the Senate bill, which no longer allows us to deduct state and local taxes on our tax return, survives to the final version.

    "Eliminating the state and local tax deduction was met with strong opposition from House lawmakers in high-tax states and cities. So a concession was made in the House Republicans bill to restore an itemized deduction for property taxes up to $10,000," but it is still in the Senate bill, according to CNN.

    Whether it survives may well determine how high Pottstown and other local districts can raise local taxes to make up for shortfalls due to state under-funding, lost property assessments and yes, higher spending -- further undermining an already underfunded school district where all students now qualify for free and reduced lunch.

    And, because no tale of GOP mendacity would be complete without him, "hours before the bill was
    passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced an amendment that would allow parents to use a special tax-free college savings account to pay tuition for private K-12 schools, a provision that would largely benefit wealthier families who can already afford private schools,"according to The Washington Post.

    As if this wasn't insulting enough, "separately, the (Senate) bill would bar school districts from using cost-effective, tax-free 'advance refund bonds' to refinance school bond debt, a prohibition that could prove costly for districts looking to refinance to save money, according to John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International.

    "Advance refund bonds 'are a cost-effective way for districts to refinance high-interest debt at lower-interest rates, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars in lower debt payments,” Musso wrote in a blog post on the website of the American Association of School Administrators," the Post reported.

    Let's sum up. The Republican effort on education has, in one house of the other, endorsed: 
    • Less money for public schools
    • Less money for teachers buying supplies
    • Less ways for public schools to refinance their debt and save money
    • More money for people who want to send their kids to private school
    • Removing the deduction for student debt
    • Removing deductions for college endowments that fund scholarships
    • Keeping those deductions for schools that teach Conservative principles
    • Taxing tuition wavers for graduate students producing advanced degrees
    And why is all this necessary?

    To cut taxes on corporations and billionaires so wealth "trickles down" to the rest of us -- an economic theory that remains just that, a theory, given that it has never worked once.

    We have had seven straight years of job growth. As The New York Times reported Friday, "Companies are posting jobs faster than they can find workers to fill them. Incomes are rising. The stock market sets records seemingly every month.

    "The latest evidence of the revival came Friday, when the Labor Department reported that American employers added 228,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2000. Job growth has slowed since its peak in 2014 but remains remarkably steady: For the first time on record, employers have added jobs every month for more than seven years — 86 months, to be precise."

    Wall Street hits an all-time high, it seems, every few weeks. 

    How much better do you expect the economy to get? Is all this really needed with things going this well?

    In the meantime, we are undermining our already inadequate efforts to invest in the one thing everyone -- Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Christian, Alabaman, New Englander, CEO, factory worker and Pottstownian -- will absolutely, unquestionably rely upon in the years to come -- the next generation.

    Not only will this tax bill make it likely harder for today's children of limited means to get a good education, the bill will also increase the national debt that they will have to shoulder.

    It beggars all understanding, but then, maybe I went to the wrong college.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District

    It was not just the Pottstown High School Football Trojans who helped ensure less-fortunate families had a meal for Thanksgiving.

    The Pottstown High School Service Club sponsored by Jordan Thomas helped 30 families enjoy a holiday meal. 

    The Service Club lived up to it's name by organizing a canned food drive in student homerooms during the month of November. 

    Hundreds of items were collected. Club members along with teachers sorted and packaged the goods,which were then delivered to families in need. 

    The importance of community service is taught, emphasized and practiced by the students and staff of the Pottstown School District.

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    Despite two-and-a-half hours of talking, the only new thing we can tell you about the proposed $54.7 million 2018 budget at this point is that there will be more talking.

    An additional budget workshop has been scheduled for Monday, Dec. 18 at 5:30 p.m. to keep this rip-roaring conversation going seeing as no decisions were made last night.

    Several cost-cutting suggestions brought to the table by Council Vice President Sheryl Miller were reviewed during the course of the meeting and a particular combination of them could bring the tax hike down to 13.39 percent.

    But none of them were voted on and Councilman Joe Kirkland had a few more, particularly cutting some positions to part-time.

    Kirkland also pushed for a "task force" to look for other ways to cut the budget in the coming year, which could arguably duplicate some of the work the finance committee has ostensibly been doing, but hey, the more the merrier.

    Also, Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. provided a little more breathing room when he pointed out that the law gives the new borough council until Feb. 15, 2018 to open up the budget passed by this council and make changes to lower the tax rate.

    However, the only new voting member of council replaces Miller, who has taken the lead in pushing for cuts, so it remains to be seen what other changes might be made after the final budget is passed.

    It is not clear when that may be.

    Council President Dan Weand -- who pretended that no one could see all the assessment challenges that came this year, along with the sale of the hospital, despite warnings going back to 2007 -- said if he has to, he will have council meet on New Year's Eve to pass a budget.

    Also of significance to the budget was the announcement by Borough Manager Mark Flanders that he was contacted by Zach Lehman, headmaster at The Hill School, who told him the school will donate $100,000 in 2018 toward the purchase of new police cars.

    And now, without further ado, THE TWEETS!

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    Photo by Laura Catalano

    A mural promoting the vitality of Hispanic and Native American heritage was dedicated amid snow flurries on Saturday.

    The project was created by volunteer artists organized by Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, or CCLU.
    Photo by Laura Catalano
    Pottstown Borough Councilwo0man Rita Paez

    Borough Councilwoman Rita Paez is also the president of CCLU and she served as the master of ceremonies for the unveiling.

    Although it has been up for some time, the mural was covered with a tarp and unveiled in dramatic fashion for the ceremony to the ohs and ahs of the crowd.

    Hot coffee and hot chocolate were served, and welcomed by the obviously chilly gathered there.

    A dedication was offered by the Rev. William Rex, interim rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Pottstown.

    “We are each individual gifted through our past heritage, present realities and future potential. We should never consider any cultural background as a challenge to future expectations and potential,” said Rex.

    “Their future lies ahead of them, grounded upon heritage,” Rex said of the children present.
    Photo by Audra Hammer Ross

    “Let us celebrate their cultural, rich in color and beauty and creativity, all of things are represented by this mural,” he said. “Let’s lift up these Latino youth of today and give them the support they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

    The project was approved by council at a time when there was controversy over a new ordinance governing murals.

    However, this project met the new guidelines and was approved.

    It is affixed to the wall of the former public works garage on Beech Street, across from the Olivet Boys & Girls Club.

    However, it can be removed and erected somewhere else of the need arises.

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    Among Wilson's activities is playing in the Pottstown High School Marching Band.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Pottstown High School senior, Nick Wilson was named the first ever Co-Curricular Student of the Quarter at Pottstown High School.

    You can learn all about his achievements in a video interview between him and Mr. Steven Anspach, Director of Co-Curricular Activities.

    Wilson has earned a 104.8 GPA.

    He is involved in many athletic and non-athletic activities, including cross country, track and field, jazz, concert, and marching band, pit orchestra for the Pottstown School District musical, National Honors Society, and Student Government.
    Wilson in the high school's engineering lab.

    Several PHS teachers nominated Wilson for this honor.

    In his nomination, engineering teacher Andy Bachman described Wilson as a “dedicated student-athlete and talented young man. While he may not be the fastest runner, Nick is a leader in the classroom and hallways.”

    Wilson describes the importance of “performing on the field and on the test” and believes that his teachers see him as hard-working.

    He wants to attend college for civil engineering and has already been accepted by three schools.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Volunteers inside The Mercury celebrate the packing of the last box Thursday morning. About 300 boxes of food were distributed to needy families Thursday.

    I have struggled to find the holiday spirit this year.

    What with what my sister calls "the world on fire blues," having to scrap one of my family's two vehicles and an invasion of squirrels who gained entry to my attic by chewing through the wood of my house and making their home in our Christmas decorations, is all making it hard to be merry.

    I tried "How the Grinch Stole Christmas,""Charlie Brown Christmas" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." ( Usually save "It's a Wonderful Life" for Christmas Eve.)

    I was prepared to cue up Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales" after listening to some of my Christmas CDs, which my son, the Welsh poet's namesake, insists are too numerous to be normal, failed to snap me out of my funk.

    Since he was small, Dylan and I have always volunteered together for pack-up day at The Mercury's Operation Holiday. It's one of our family traditions.

    But college and a calculus final kept us apart this year, so I was prepared to be moping around yesterday morning.

    But instead, a coffee and doughnut later, I caught myself unconsciously whistling carols as I packed up a stream of about 300 boxes with cans of chicken soup and loaves of bread.

    It is also an annual tradition that I take a photo of
    former Mercury Editor Nancy March with a cup of coffee
    after we have finished box 1 and box is being set up,
    "so you can make it seem like I'm not working,"
    she complains each year.
    I looked up and saw a dozen or so Pottstown High School students who could have been hanging out with friends, or going to class.

    But who instead, they chose to stand in a cold distribution area and pack boxes coming down an assembly line so their neighbors would have a holiday meal on Christmas.

    I guess it's true what they say about traditions of giving.

    It's a tradition that the Pottstown area has sustained for nearly 40 years.

    So far, Mercury readers have donated $18,000 to Operation Holiday, chasing last year's total of about $30,000

    Those boxes we packed yesterday will help ensure 147 households, with 412 children, struggling have something to eat on Christmas.

    And the $100 Boscov's gift cards for each of those children under 17 will ensure there is something under the tree for them on Christmas morning.

    But former editor Nancy March, who was here for the very first Operation Holiday, puts it best in her well-practiced pep talk before the packing starts:

    "There's a lot of need in this community and this program really helps the children in need to have at least a bright moment or two on the holidays," she said.

    How could that not put you in the holiday spirit?

    Here are some Tweets from a fun morning.

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    From left, David Charles, Chris Golden, Codilia Arcay, Joe Rusiewicz, Howard Brown.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

    The Pottstown Pride Society, a subcommittee of the Foundation for Pottstown Education held an Alumni Mixer recently. The mixer was held at @107. 

    More than 60 people turned out for this first-ever event and had a great time sharing stories of their school days, hearing about the Foundation for Pottstown Education activities and having fun.

    Thanks to the Advantage Insurance Group for their support of this event and the donation of $1,000 to the Pottstown Pride Society.

    Anyone interested in joining the Pottstown Pride Society or hearing of our upcoming events, please contact the Foundation’s Executive Director, Joe Rusiewicz 610-970-6616. 

    This society is not only for alumni of the Pottstown School District but anyone who has an interest and pride in Pottstown.