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Snow Day Dilemma Brings Comments

By Staff | Mar 3, 2010

It was a packed house March 1 at the Wetzel County Board of Education meeting, as teachers and parents came to make their cases for several causes. Many remarks were about the consequences of the nine instructional days lost this year because of weather-related school closings.

Appearing as president of the Magnolia High School Faculty Senate, Brian Castilow said that body believes that this semester’s examinations should be waived in favor of instructional days.

He noted that most students already will have taken WesTest2 only weeks prior to the exam dates and that a similar test will have been administered to vocational students.

County Superintendent Bill Jones said that is an alternative he is evaluating.

Castilow also asked the board to consider allowing employees to report to the nearest facility during emergency school closings, which facility may not be where they are permanently assigned.

The veteran teacher, who also is MHS athletic director, said that the senate had voted unanimously to support the current emergency-closing policy and to support a permanent prevention resource officer at Magnolia.

Currently, there is no written policy on emergency school closings. Decisions are made on a day-by-day basis by the county superintendent.

MHS Principal Kathi Schmalz also spoke in favor of the PRO, noting that her school will work with New Martinsville School to help transition students from the grade school into the high school. She also said the PRO was critical in the effort to combat drug abuse at the school.

Later in the meeting, the board voted to support a partnership with the City of New Martinsville for the PRO program and to find grant money to fund the position.

The board was to have considered the first reading of a new, written policy on emergency school closings and MHS parent Jim Blatt thanked Jones for developing it in a timely manner.

However, consideration of it was tabled when Jones and Blatt agreed that a community and/or parent should be represented on the committee that formulated the policy.

To help compensate for the nine lost school days so far this year, the board later designated the following as instructional days: April 1, April 8, April 9, June 3, June 4, June 7, and June 8. April 1 and June 8 already were instruction days, but will be dismissed two hours early. With those changes, Wetzel County students will have had 169 instructional days this school year – far short of the state-mandated 180 days. In that, Wetzel County is not alone.

NMS sixth-grade teacher Sarah Yeater appeared before the board, asking that it reconsider a previous Reduction in Force vote that eliminated a sixth-grade teaching position at the school for next year.

She said she was representing the best interests of the school’s 109 fifth graders who will loose a continuity she and other instructors have established for them as they navigate through 21st Century Learning Skills, Differentiated Instruction, and other programs.

Yeater cited legislation that allows the state board of education to permit altering of the student-teacher ratio of 25 students per class during a school year for extraordinary circumstances.

The RIFfing, she said, would mean those 109 students would be distributed into three classes of 27 students each and one class of 28 students. Yeater said that configuration would create an insufficient number of classrooms that would be under-equipped to handle them.

“We have created our exceptions in class sizes prior to the school year, instead of an extraordinary circumstance evolving during a school year. We plan to funnel (the students) into classrooms not equipped for such numbers and still expect them to flourish.”

Several persons appeared at the meeting in support of Yeater’s plea, including Becky Winters and Julie Ledergerber of the NMS Parent Teacher Organization.

The school’s principal, Fay Shank, and assistant principal, Shawn Coen, also were present but did not speak. Also present was Paden City High School Principal Warren L. Grace Jr.

Elsewhere, the board okayed a very large number of personnel matters, including a change in assignment for Abram Shane Highley to principal at Short Line School for the next school year. Highley is now interim principal at Valley High School.

School System Treasurer Jeff Lancaster reported receiving more than $106,000 in new funding. Lancaster also was re-appointed for another one-year term.

The board approved participating in several summer programs, all paid by federal or state funds, and the second and final reading of a revised job description for the county director of school improvement and strategic planning.

Another policy revision was passed on first reading to redefine and differentiate that director’s position from that of director of curriculum and instruction. It moves to a final reading at the board’s next regularly-scheduled meeting.

The board set March 15 as its next statutory meeting to determine levy rates.