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Five Seek Three Board Of Education Seats

By Staff | May 5, 2010

Five candidates are seeking the three available seats on the Wetzel County Board of Education: Incumbent Willie Baker, incumbent Michael D. “Mike” Blair, Barbara Amos King, incumbent Robert Patterson, and Paula J. Ruckman.

Baker is a summa cum laude graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University, a retired chemist after more than 31 years from Bayer Corporation, presently the owner of Willie Baker, CPA, A.C., and co-owner of Baker and Baker Financial Services, Inc. He and his wife Roberta are the parents of Chris and Tamela Baker and the grandparents of Abigail Grace and Audrey Faith Baker. His children and daughter-in-law Diana are the products of the Wetzel County schools and Abby and Audrey are now attending New Martinsville School. He says they are receiving an excellent education.

Because of the trust Wetzel County citizens have placed in Baker during these last two terms, he, along with other board members, have been able to provide schools with the necessary technical components and the training of teachers to compete well in the 21st Century environment. This has been accomplished while maintaining excellent and safe facilities with a stable deficit-free budget.

As his only agenda, provide the best possible education for the children in Wetzel County while maintaining a deficit-free financial environment. This will enable students to go forth into whatever higher learning endeavors they desire.

Blair is a lifelong resident of Wetzel County. He is a 1977 graduate of Magnolia High School and attended West Virginia Northern Community College studying business administration. He is married to Charlene (Yoho) Blair and they have three children: David, Michael, and Rebecca, all whom have graduated from or attending Wetzel County schools. He is a member of the New Martinsville United Methodist Church. He is employed as Director of Facilities and Safety at Belmont Community Hospital, a division of Wheeling Hospital.

King, a resident of Pine Grove, retired from the Wetzel County Commission in 2008. She said, “I felt this was the perfect time to fulfill another dream to again serve children and their families. I started my career servicing families working with Northern Panhandle Head Start for 13 years before serving the entire county public through the commission.”

King, a lifetime resident of Wetzel County, was raised in the Shortline area of Reader and Hastings by her parents, Les and Helen Amos. She graduated from Pine Grove High School with the class of 1959, attended Fairmont State College working toward a degree in Special Education, and was employed by James S. Campbell O.D. She married Robert L. King and is the mother of five children. Only two of her children live in Wetzel County. She has 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren but is sorry to say only four of her grandchildren are being educated here in Wetzel County.

As a board member, incumbent Patterson has attended more than 190 regular meetings and more than 60 hours of specialized training by the independent West Virginia School Board Association. In addition, he said he has developed an excellent rapport with legislators and built a knowledgeable working relationship with the West Virginia Department of Education.

He and his wife are the parents of two Wetzel County students. “I have a strong passion for educational excellence and the necessary tools to serve the Wetzel County System for the next four years,” said Patterson.

Ruckman graduated from Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va., in 1980 with a BS in Elementary Education. She earned her Master of Arts in Counseling from West Virginia University in 1992. In 2006 she retired from teaching after 19 years in education, 13 of which were teaching in Wetzel County schools at Short Line School, Paden City Elementary, and WCCCF Early Start.

Her husband, Sheldon R. Ruckman, is a science teacher at Paden City/Magnolia High School. They have two children, Ryann S. Ruckman and Morgann L. Ruckman-Wells whose husband, Private William M. Wells, is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Paula Paula and her family are members of the Messiah Lutheran Church in Moundsville.

It is Paula’s privilege to serve as Secretary for the YWCA Board of Directors in Wheeling. The YWCA programs are vital to this community as well with Judy’s Place on Clark Street, a Transitional House for Domestic Violence victims. Paula volunteers as a sworn Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). As a CASA she advocates directly to the judge for a child removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. Paula will strive to restore trust and honor as an elected member of the Wetzel County Board of Education.

Give us your opinion on the possible closure of Paden City High School.

Baker: If the Board of Education should vote to keep the closure of Paden City High School in the CEFP Plan, I believe it will cause multiple problems:

A. The closure of Paden City High School would be devastating to the town of Paden City (the people of Paden City have great pride in their high school and they show it.)

B. The parents of Paden City will probably send about 140 of the seven-12 grade students now attending PCHS to Tyler County, costing the Wetzel County BOE approximately $700,000 a year from the state aid formula.

C. Why close a school that has the highest test scores in the county and some of the highest scores in the state?

D. The closure of PCHS and the migration of students to Tyler County will probably result in the loss of approximately 30 teachers and service employees to the unemployment rolls, this results in the loss of $1.5 million to the county. At the present time Wetzel County has 12 percent unemployment. Also, PCHS employees have a lot of seniority which will result in them being able to bump the least seniority employees throughout the county.

E. Lastly, this school has very few discipline or drug-related problems.

Blair: The closure of any of our schools is a serious event. Every effort should be made in cost reduction before you make the decision to close a facility. In reference to the recent vote on Paden City, the current board has worked diligently on maintaining a balanced budget while accommodating the system as it stands with four community schools. I do not believe it is in the best interest of our students or our communities to close schools that we presently can afford to operate. Wetzel County voters have always supported the educational request by passing the operating levy for many years. With that and controlled spending practices, the school system today is financially sound. As a board we need to continue our path of financial management. The board of education must work with our legislators and business community, local and state, to do whatever we possibly can do to draw business and revenue to our local economy.

King: I have attended the Board of Education meetings since I announced my candidacy for the office. I attended the public meeting on March 25. I feel the entire community of Paden City is to be commended for the work they do for their children. I feel other communities need to show as much interest in their schools. After the public meeting I felt very strongly Paden City would remain open, this being an election year.

I do not know what the future will bring, but I hope this is not a case of Paden City winning the battle and war continuing in the years to come.

Patterson: The Board of Education has accumulated a massive amount of information and documentation regarding the possible closure of Paden City High School. On March 25 a public hearing was conducted at Paden City High School. During this meeting the Paden City Foundation presented a very strong case supporting the continued operation of Paden City High School. In addition I am receiving several letters each week regarding the same subject. As of today, April 13, I have not made a decision regarding the Paden City issue.

However, since my first term in 2002 I have always strongly supported community high schools. I feel they offer a very personal approach to a quality education. Community high schools such as Paden City frequently have the highest test scores, lowest absenteeism, and fewest discipline problems. These consistent attributes are most likely due to the favorable student-teacher ratio and the hometown pride of a community high school. The teachers know the students well. In addition they often know the parents and the home situation. Therefore, they can identify potential problems and correct them before they become life-changing events.

While using all of the information available my decision will be based on doing what is best for all Wetzel County students.

Ruckman: It has been the premise of my campaign to keep the Paden City schools open. I believe the CEFP devised by the current Board of Education to include the closure of Paden City High School by 2012 was an irresponsible and unfair act to Paden City High School and the entire Paden City community. My major concern lies in the individual responsibility and accountability this present Board of Education has for all four high schools and the communities. I believe the Wetzel County Board of Education has an enormous responsibility to keep education of children as the primary focus in Wetzel County. I would like to commend the entire Paden City High School student body and staff as well as the entire Paden City community for the spirit of camaraderie and an unparalleled bonding together exhibited over the past year for a single purpose: saving PCHS and the entire Paden City community. I am proud of Paden City for the caliber of respect and dignity they exhibited in their quest to save their school. However, I still question as to the reasoning behind the proposed closure of Paden City High School targeted in the CEFP, devised by the current Board of Education.

What do you think the school system could do to bolster the fight against drugs in our communities?

Baker: At the present time the board has taken a very proactive stance on any student violating our Code of Conduct rules as they pertain to substance abuse at our schools. The board and administration have developed an alternative plan in dealing with less severe cases of prescription drug abuse rather than complete expulsion.

Mayor Lucille Blum of New Martinsville and myself started a committee to make suggestions and recommendations to solve some of these community drug problems. Many concerned citizens have joined this group and we are making some progress.

Parents must become involved with all facets of their students lives and don’t ever be the drug pusher with your prescription drugs to your students.

Blair: The current board has recognized the need to proactively address drugs in our community and schools. The board and staff have introduced a campaign against the use of prescription drugs. This program implements substance abuse education for all students. The schools have communicated this program through school newsletters, billboards, and community posters, to assure parents and communities are educated as well on the subject. We are working with city and county governments to acquire funds through the state for Police Resource Officers in our schools. We continue the “officer in schools program” where city, county, and state law enforcement officers enter our schools unannounced. At times K-9 units are used as well to tour the facilities and search for illegal substances. The current board of education has taken a consistent “zero tolerance” to drugs in our schools. Substance abuse education is provided through the Intervention Program For Substance Abuse (IPSA) and is available to students. We will continue to work with the Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney on all cases in our schools.

King: All types of drugs are rampant in Wetzel County. Focusing on education about drugs in the schools isn’t working as well as I had wished it would. We will need to focus more on parent and grandparent drug education for prescription drugs. I would like to get a committee together and petition our legislators to allow random drug testing in our schools, our athletic events, community programs, etc. I am sure it would not be popular with some of our citizens, but I feel it could save lives. We also have to continue to educate our young population to the dangers of drugs, because they do not seem to understand the effects of the drugs they are trying.

Patterson: The present Board of Education has been very active in the fight against drugs in our schools. We are participating in a committee with the City of New Martinsville in developing methods to combat the drug problem. In addition, we have obtained a grant in cooperation with the county commission to fund a full-time resource officer for Magnolia High School. Valley High School has had a full-time resource officer for two years and the data indicates that the program is generating positive dividends. The presence of a police officer in the school serves two purposes. One is to educate the students regarding the dangers of illegal and prescription drugs. The other is to influence a change in behavior due to the visible presence of an officer. This concept is similar to speeding on the interstate and seeing a trooper parked beside the road. Your behavior changes immediately.

Another method we are involved in is educating the public about the availability and misuse of prescription drugs. The source of these drugs is no longer the dealer in an alley. These drugs are frequently obtained from home or from relative’s homes. Therefore we must be vigilant regarding the storage and use of prescription drugs.

Ruckman: I believe the fight against drugs begins at home. Parents are the first line of defense in the war on drugs in our schools. Parents, set the example for their children.

I believe the school system has the responsibility to inform and empower parents as defenders of their children.

I believe the school system is responsible for building and maintaining an inviting and welcoming place for parents and students.

I believe encouraging parental involvement in every aspect of the educational process makes a strong school system.

I believe when our school system supports a partnership with parents, students, and the community, they will provide quality education to ensure the future of our children.

I believe parents have a responsibility to empower the school system to maintain a “no tolerance” policy pertaining to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use in our schools.

I believe every parent must hold their child accountable and responsible for accepting the consequences of their choices and actions, good and bad.

I believe the responsibility of our school system lies in providing the highest quality of education for our children, empowering them to meet the challenges of the future.

What is your top priority to affect change and how will you go about prompting it?

Baker: My top priority is to provide our students safe, drug-free and capable classrooms conducive to being engaged in 21st Century learning. This we have been doing by having a budget surplus for the last several years to provide our classrooms with the best technical components (computers and smart boards in almost every classroom) and providing our teachers with funds for training to teach in this environment and they are taking advantage of it.

Blair: Our society has entered into the 21st Century and change is evident. In education, it is our responsibility as board members to ensure that we are preparing all students for the future. We must assure that our system stays on the cutting edge of technology by providing the most current instructional tools to our schools for student learning. It is imperative that teachers be provided the opportunity to attend professional staff development and training to ensure that students receive the highest level of instruction. Today’s students are learning much differently than the students of the past. They require a different approach to learning due to the fact that they are technologically advanced and high level multi-taskers. Our challenge is to create and implement the changes needed to provide our students successful futures.

King: I will ask questions and I am collecting lots of questions. I will have an open line of communication with all staff and parents. I feel it is time to upgrade classes so the students will have what they need for their future in their education, life skills, and keeping up to date with the technology of the future.

I would like to see the elimination of “Administrative perks” to put more money into the classrooms. I am concerned that the tax payers are not getting the best for the money being spent on construction costs, contracts, and other expenditures.

I will focus on making sure all of our schools are up to code, technology purchases are being used, the entire system becomes more responsible of the actions taken, and “safety and education” of our children and staff become the number one priority throughout Wetzel County.

Patterson: One of the problems we need to address is the student who struggles to learn and eventually gives up on education. We frequently address the needs of the good students and the special education students while letting the difficult learners fall through the cracks. I would like to develop a program where these students are identified at an early age and assigned a mentor. Then with intervention we could offer tutoring, specialized instruction, and counseling to emphasize the importance of education to all students. This may require broader course offerings using our resources such as WVNCC, online courses, and MOVTI. Perhaps vocational and technical courses would generate the motivation required for a good education.

Another untapped resource is the large pool of industrial experts we have in the mid-Ohio Valley. Though it would be challenging, perhaps we could offer short courses taught by these experts who would generate interest and enthusiasm for education. Along with these instructors we could also use upper classmen as role models/mentors for the struggling student.

I realize that a program of this magnitude would require a great deal of planning and work. However, the rewards easily justify the effort.

Ruckman: My top priority in affecting change in Wetzel County is requiring a high level of individual responsibility and accountability for those seeking to hold public office. I believe in term limits. No elected official should hold an office for longer than two terms. Serving in an office for longer than two terms tends to leave the elected official vulnerable to wielding power and influence, corrupting the very office they took an oath to protect and serve. I consider it a privilege to be a candidate for the Board of Education of Wetzel County. I promote individual responsibility and accountability in all policies and decisions made in educating our children.

I believe our school system has wavered from providing quality education for our children to policing and parenting. I believe educators have a responsibility to empower parents and vise a versa as we strive for a common goal: to educate our children. As a former Wetzel County educator for 13 years, I strongly believe the parents of Wetzel County are the true and best educators of their children. I believe parents have given us permission to assist them in the task of educating their children. As an educator and candidate, I am humbled by the magnitude of this responsibility and encouraged by the privilege to serve as a partner with parents in educating our children for the challenges of the future.