WILKES-BARRE — Shawn Walker became Wilkes-Barre Area School Board’s first minority officer ever when his fellow board members unanimously appointed him as vice president during the annual reorganization meeting Monday. The board also swore in newcomer Melissa Etzle Patla, a persistent, usually soft-spoken critic of the board’s high school consolidation plan.
Walker said he is “looking forward to taking a leadership position,” and that he is hoping to help refocus the board a bit away from the problems of aging buildings and back to academics and student service. One idea he’d like to expand, the Instructional Support Team.
ISTs are designed to work with families and other staff to help struggling students improve, avoiding entry into special education when possible. The notion faced extinction five years ago when the board was looking to cut spending, but has been revived in a limited capacity with staunch support from board member Ned Evans, who was absent Monday.
Walker made history when he was the first minority person appointed to the board in 2013 to finish the term of Robert Corcoran. The board removed Corcoran after he accepted a job in Germany and moved there. Walker resigned that seat in November 2013 shortly before it would have been filled via election, and was appointed to fill the remaining term of Maryanne Toole, who resigned and moved out of state.
That term expired in 2015, when Walker ran for and was elected to the board.
Patla said only that she “plans to serve” constituents. “I hope to make the voters proud.” She had been among a cadre of people regularly speaking out against ongoing plans to merge grades nine through 10 at Meyers and Coughlin high schools into a new, larger high school, tentatively being considered for construction at a Plains Township site.
When Patla won the primary against an opponent who had voiced support for consolidation, she conceded that getting a seat on the board wouldn’t really change the balance because she is replacing Christine Katsock, a regular no vote against many aspects of the project. Katsock chose not to run for re-election.
The board named Joe Caffrey as president, a seat he held in the past as the board conducted studies and ultimately voted for consolidation.
Caffrey replaces Denise Thomas in the spot. Both won re-election this year for another four-year term. But when it came time to nominate candidates for board president, only Caffrey’s name was offered — by Thomas.