PLAINS TWP. — Among a dozen speeches — alternating between teary testimony to life-changing teachers and stinging rebuke of the committee that runs the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center nursing program — Detra Singletary’s saga stood out.
“They gave me hope. I never had hope,” the 31-year-old single mother said after telling her story of growing up in poverty, always moving and being told college was out of her reach. “I learned that if life started out rough, it didn’t have to end that way. That broken, shattered person didn’t exist anymore.”
Singletary and nine other graduates of the Licensed Practical Nursing Program spoke out after outgoing Director Mary Beth Pacuska read a statement championing the program she ran for 19 years and rebuking several board members for showing “open animus” toward her, prompting the letter of retirement she submitted at the May JOC meeting. She is set to step down Aug. 1
“Certain members of this board have treated me with open hostility,” Pacuska said. “I have been called a liar, had papers thrown across the table at me, and, in short, have been demeaned and treated with disrespect.
Pacuska began by expressing gratitude for the opportunities she had during her 35 years with the program, beginning as a permanent substitute teacher. She touted her success in erasing a deficit upon becoming director, in reversing enrollment decline and in overseeing $1.1 million in expansion and renovations of the facility.
After noting the departure of several other administrators she said felt equally frustrated, Pecuska urged the board to hire replacements from the remaining staff: Catherine Luksic as director, Patricia Simyan as assistant director (replacing Laura Zdancewicz, who submitted her retirement at the March JOC meeting, effective Aug. 3) and Briane Flaherty as Clinical Coordinator, filling a position vacant since last June.
Flaherty is Pecuska’s daughter, something Pecuska confirmed after the meeting, adding that she had informed the board of the relationship.
The 10 program graduates who spoke all encouraged the board to promote existing staff, while Carol Mirin also urged the board to refuse the retirements. Insisting the CTC offered “the best nursing program in the valley,” Mirin chastised the JOC. “Shame on all of you who disrespected these people.”
Several graduates sharply criticized the JOC’s past refusal to buy a new computer server for the program. In recent months, the JOC has tabled most requests from Pecuska, including for a new servers. The graduates spoke of computer programs locking up, not launching, or otherwise delaying lessons and even the taking of tests.
“With computers, things are out of control,” Cassandra Webb said, then criticized the board for losing Pacuska and Zdancewicz. “These woman did not deserve to be pushed out before they were ready to walk out.”
Lisa Hall told a story similar to Singletary’s, noting she graduated high school at 16 because she was pregnant, and that she saw no future until she signed up for the nursing program. Now, she said, she is a nurse heading to Wilkes University to further her education.
Program Graduate Lennie Romero gave the JOC a petition with 832 signatures urging the quick promotion from existing staff to preserve a program begun in 1959 that has a “100 percent placement rate as nursing staff for those looking for nursing positions.”
Pecuska also criticized the board for failing to take any steps so far to replace her or the other positions, and for refusing her help in the job search process.
After the meeting, JOC Chairman Bill Thomas agreed that the committee has been slow in taking action and promised the applications of the three current staff members would be reviewed, the positions will be posted internally and advertised externally, and that there is a need to fill the posts “as quickly as possible.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish