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Mechanicsburg Schools
Mechanicsburg Area School District to revise comprehensive plan

As if pending building projects and an elementary-grade reconfiguration haven’t been enough to keep Mechanicsburg Area School District officials busy lately, the district now is occupied with revamping its comprehensive plan.

Julie Huff, the district’s assistant superintendent for academics, presented the school board with an overview on Tuesday night of a comprehensive plan draft for 2019-22. A comprehensive plan is defined on the state Department of Education’s website as “a web-based framework for thoughtful data-driven and research-based district and school planning.”

In layman’s terms, this means putting such elements as a district’s direction, strategies and action plan into writing.

Although Mechanicsburg already has maintained a state-required comprehensive plan for a number of years, it’s mandated to periodically revise the document. The district next is required to submit a revision by June 2018. A committee of more than 70 students, school board members, administrators, teachers, parents and business people began laying groundwork for a new plan around a year ago, Huff said.

The revision coincides with several ongoing changes in district buildings and the elementary grade configuration. Elmwood Elementary School is being converted from its present status as a school for grades 1-5 to a district-wide center for grades four and five next year.

All other district elementary schools, with the exception of the Kindergarten Academy, will change from grades 1-5 to grades 1-3 for next year. The district also plans to renovate and expand the Kindergarten Academy at Filbert Street, as well as all other district buildings over the next five years.

“The timing of this (plan revision) was great,” Huff said.

Huff said one of the biggest changes to the revisions is the inclusion of a new district vision “that looks into the future of learning for all school systems.” As proposed, the new vision reads: “A Learning Community. Inspired to Explore — Empowered to Innovate.”

Previously, Mechanicsburg didn’t have a district vision. Administrators intend for the new element to complement the district’s existing mission, which remains unchanged as:

  • Resilient, self-directed learners able to achieve personal goals;
  • Critical and creative thinkers capable of transferring knowledge to new situations;
  • Collaborative team players with effective communications skills; and
  • Productive, responsible citizens in a diverse and ever-changing global society.

Another change included in the proposal is providing students with a “dimension of wellness” as a strategy goal, including mental health. “You have to look at the whole child,” Huff said.

School board members applauded the wellness inclusion. “Wellness and mental health are hard issues to tackle. I’m proud that we’re including this in our plan. It’s a partnership that we have with parents,” board member Joshua Rhodes said.

The draft comprehensive plan will soon be available for public review on the district’s website,, for 28 days. After that, the school board will vote to finalize the plan in May before it’s submitted to the state Department of Education in June. The state is expected to approve the plan by March 2019, with first-year implementation taking place on July 1, 2019.

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New streetscape planned for Carlisle's West Louther Street

The first two blocks of West Louther Street may be getting a makeover.

“We want to see what we can do to liven this area to make it look a little more user-friendly, walking friendly — make it look like its cared for,” said Glenn White, executive director of Downtown Carlisle Association.

Much of the downtown beautification work, such as hanging baskets and planters, happens along the main thoroughfares of Hanover and High streets. The association’s design committee, which handles a lot of the outdoor livability projects, started looking into the possibility of extending its work onto West Louther, White said.

He said it’s a tough street with long walls at the Sadler Health Center building and at the post office. Sight lines are interrupted by parking lots and chain link fences.

Some of the ideas to beautify the street can be done easily. That includes painting the parking meters, putting out planters and filling in empty street tree cut-outs with new trees.

Other projects would take more time.

Chris Chiampi, a landscape architect and urban designer at FSA, said the proposed streetscape revisions would also focus on the intersection of North Pitt and West Louther streets, a corner anchored by the United Church of Christ on one corner and the Minute Stop on the other. Plans include introducing different colors or designs into the crosswalks to capture the eye of people who pass through the intersection, even if they never turn onto Louther Street.

The last facet to the streetscape would be what Chiampi called the “wow factor” that would change the blank wall at the Sadler building into a mural. Concept art for the project showed the possibility of adding an abstract art mural or a painted streetscape that would incorporate a glow in the dark paint that would counter the darkness of the street at night.

The price for the mural could be anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000.

The DCA is working with Color Carlisle about having that organization involved in the project, and would secure an agreement to assure the mural would stay up for a period of time, even if Sadler were to move.

White said DCA is working on finalizing the plan and gathering input from the community. Once the final cost is determined, the association will have to look for funding through grants and potentially private funding.

“We are looking at trying to get some things out on the street probably in the springtime to fall through next year also. We are working in phases,” White said.

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Ask/Answered: Cumberland County Crime Forecaster

Ask/Answered is a weekly feature for reader-submitted questions. Follow the blog online at

What happened to the Cumberland County Crime Forecaster?

At the beginning of 2017, The Sentinel began running a weekly model estimating the number of criminal cases that would be filed by the end of the year. The project was titled the Cumberland County Crime Forecaster.

The project was created in response to a substantial increase in case filings between 2015 and 2016. Total cases filings increased by roughly 500 in 2016, a more than 10 percent year-to-year increase.

A simple model using case filing information entered in the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania for all cases entered between 2013 and 2016 was created and designed to track what percentage of the total number of cases are filed in any given week.

The broad patterns in filings, namely that the county would handle a significant increase in DUI and drug case filings and a significant decrease in property crime case filings by the end of 2017, held generally true throughout the year.

The overall numbers, however, missed the mark for much of the year.

So what happened?

The model used one major assumption: That 2017 would follow a similar pattern to every other year.

That assumption was wrong.

The average number of cases being filed in the county each week began to rise at the beginning of 2016, going from 88 cases a week in the first three months to 100 cases per week in the last three months, according to court data.

That trend continued in the first half of 2017, holding at 100 cases per week in the first three months and 104 cases in the second three months, court records show.

From there, case filings dropped substantially.

By the end of 2017, weekly case filings were back down to about 88 cases per week, according to court records.

The year ended with significant increases in DUI and drug case filings that were almost completely offset by a reduction in property crime cases, according to court records.

Overall case filings remained largely flat between 2016 and 2017.

In 2017, The Sentinel replaced the Crime Forecaster with a listing of five highest cash bails for cases filed in the county each week.

Look for a review of the major trends and stories in criminal justice in Cumberland County last year in the upcoming weekend, Monday and Tuesday editions of The Sentinel online and in print.

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Whether it’s politics, crime, history or just something you’ve always been curious about, if you have questions, The Sentinel will look for the answer and provide it in our online blog and as a weekly feature in the Sentinel print edition.

Shoot us an email at, call 240-7125 or stop by the office to submit your questions.

The best questions will be featured in weekly Ask/Answered columns online and in print.

Clark, Lawrence Strausser, Donna

Dick's cuts off sales of assault-style rifles in stores

Dick’s Sporting Goods will immediately stop selling assault-style rifles and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21, the company said Wednesday, as its CEO took on the National Rifle Association by demanding tougher gun laws after the massacre in Florida.

The strongly worded announcement from the nationwide store chain came as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class for the first time since a teenager killed 17 students and educators with an AR-15 rifle two weeks ago.

“When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something,” Chairman and CEO Ed Stack said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The change in sales practices, and the emphatic words from Stack, put Dick’s out front in the falling-out between corporate America and the gun lobby. Several major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, have cut ties with the NRA since the Florida tragedy, but until now, none were retailers that sold guns.

The announcement drew hundreds of thousands of responses for and against on the company’s Facebook page.

Dick Sporting Goods had cut off sales of assault-style weapons after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But sales had resumed at its smaller chain of Field & Stream stores, which consisted of 35 outlets in 16 states as of October.

On Wednesday, Stack said that would end, and he called on lawmakers to act now.

He urged them to ban assault-style firearms, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines and raise the minimum age to buy firearms to 21. He said universal background checks should be required, and there should be a complete database of those banned from buying firearms. He also called for the closing of the private sale and gun show loophole that enables purchasers to escape background checks.

“We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens,” Stack said in a letter. “But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.”

The NRA has pushed back aggressively against calls for raising age limits for guns or restricting the sale of assault-style weapons. Calls to the NRA were not immediately returned.

Stack also revealed that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old arrested in the Florida attack, had bought a shotgun at a Dick’s store within the past four months.

“It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting,” the CEO wrote. “But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens.”

The vast majority of Dick’s business is selling sporting goods like basketballs and sneakers. Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at the Telsey Advisory Group, estimates that the hunting category — which includes guns — accounts for 8 percent to 10 percent of the company’s sales.

Dick’s, which had net sales of $7.92 billion in the fiscal year that ended in January 2017, has a much bigger stake in youth sports.

“The longer-term positive perception that they create a more welcoming environment will offset any lost sales in the year,” Feldman said. He said other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit.

Walmart Inc., also a big gun seller, had stopped selling AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015, citing weak sales. Sporting goods chain Bass Pro Shops, which owns Cabela’s, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nor did the Outdoor Retail Association or Gander Outdoors.

While guns can be bought from sporting goods stores or department stores, they can also be purchased online, at gun shows and from small local gun stores.

Dick’s is based just outside of Pittsburgh in a state where the first day of deer hunting season is an unofficial holiday for many families. Stack said Dick’s is prepared for any backlash but will never allow the sale of such guns in its stores again.

“This is the moment when business leaders across the country get to decide if they want to stand on the right side of history,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Mothers make the majority of spending decisions for their families, and we want to shop with businesses that care about the safety of our families — making this a smart business move, too.”

Pam Platt of Louisville, Kentucky, said she was thrilled to hear about Dick’s move and called the store’s customer service line to offer her praise. She said she told the representative who answered that she wanted her to “hear something good from somebody.”

“She perked up,” Platt said.

Platt said she now plans to start buying more at her local Dick’s store, including a pair of sneakers this week.

“When I go to the store, I will let them know why I am here,” she said. “I care about this issue.”

But many others were unhappy with the company’s move, some posting on the Dick’s page that they would stop shopping at its stores.

“I was sad to hear they would pull them off and bow to these people that have no understanding of what a gun is,” said Gerald Jaeger, outside a Dick’s in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Dick’s stock price was little changed as of midafternoon Wednesday afternoon, up 1.7 percent.