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Social Studies Teachers Ask Board To Fill Half-Time Slot

By Staff | May 5, 2010

Magnolia High School Social Studies Department Chairman Lee Jackson makes his case for the Wetzel County Board of Education to fill a half-time teaching position being vacated by retirement.

The senior social studies faculty at Magnolia High School asked the board of education May 3 to retain a half-time teaching position that has not been filled for the retiring Bill Longwell at the end of this school year.

Department Chair Lee Jackson said students taking social studies have to be assigned to larger classes with a higher student-teacher ratio, resulting in less individual attention.

MHS, the largest of the county’s four high schools, has an enrollment of 460 students, with 2.5 social studies instructors and 18-19 different classes.

Jackson also noted that a number of social studies electives have been eliminated in the last few years, including American History, American Government, and Geography. He said if the position is not budgeted, other electives may need to be eliminated.

Jackson’s remarks were echoed by John Workman, who has taught in several school systems, and who called MHS “one of the best schools around.” However, he warned that larger class sizes also limit teaching techniques and resources, such as access to computers.

Benjamin McPherson, Valley High School’s next principal addresses the Board of Education Monday evening.

Also addressing the board was Brian Castilow, who said much of his time is taken up with duties as the school’s athletic director-the second most senior AD in the state, with 20 years experience.

MHS has 21 teams for which the AD must coordinate games, practices, transportation, ticket sales, and a myriad of other areas, keeping in touch with coaches in two and sometimes three states. Castilow noted that other teachers have similar added responsibilities, making it difficult to maintain student-teacher contact.

Castilow also told the board that the present strain on the social studies faculty is “putting college-bound students at a disadvantage by reducing course offerings” that will show up in SAT and other nationally-standardized testing.

The three faculty members have a combined 120 years teaching experience.

Board members agreed to revisit the issue, possibly working with the half-time social studies instructor at Paden City High School to create a full-time position.

Board member Amy Dieffenbauch and County Superintendent Bill Jones said more innovative ways should be found to deal with declining student enrollments, such as greater use of E-Pop classes.

Or, as board member Linda Ritz suggested, working more with West Virginia Northern Community College in awarding high school and college credits for more classes.

School System Treasurer Jeff Lancaster presented a preliminary budget for next year of $29 million. That figure may seem to be up this year from the current budget. However, Lancaster noted the apparent increase is actually because he is required to report projections in state and federal grants now, rather than report them as they happen throughout the school year.

Lancaster also noted that this year’s reduced legislative allotment was partially offset by an increase in local revenue generated from increased property values.

As in previous budgets, about 77 percent of funds will go toward salaries and related costs. Some 10 percent is for restricted projects and the remainder for utilities and clearing house accounts, excluding salaries.

About 60 percent of school system revenue comes from the legislature, while 30 percent comes from local taxes and the remaining 10 percent from special project funding and carryover balances from the previous school year.

The budget includes $463,879 for the STEP-7 Plan for next year, which the board also approved. STEP-7 is funded by the legislature and is used for such things as textbooks, strategic planning, professional development, and curriculum improvement. The monies are a part of the legislature’s allocation to the county, derived from a formula based on student enrollment.

MHS Parent Clare Blatt asked about the status of a uniform emergency school closing policy being developed for the county. Jones said a committee assigned to that task has not yet met because of work on the board’s 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan. However, he said a proposal will be developed in time for the 2010-11 school year.

Among other personnel changes, the board approved the employment of Benjamin McPherson as the new principal at Valley High School, effective July 13. A replacement for McPherson as Valley High School’s band director will begin immediately, according to Assistant Superintendent Jay Yeager, who introduced McPherson to the gathering.

The popular McPherson has been with the school system since 2003. Previously, he has been the object of a tug-of-war, having been re-assigned duties at VHS, then at Hundred High School and back to VHS again. Each time his transfer was away from VHS, it was met with protests from the school’s students and parents.

McPherson’s wife, Amanda, presently is band and choral director at MHS.

The board also approved Jacqueline D. Jenkins as assistant principal at Short Line School, a position that has been filled temporarily for about a year by retired teacher Candy Clark.

Jenkins is presently a teacher in Texas, where she went after teaching three years in Wetzel County schools. She is the daughter of Reader residents Jack and Connie Dakan, attended SLS, and is a graduate of VHS.

SLS Principal Jane Beckett has announced her retirement at the end of the present school year after 33 years of service. Shane Highley has been named to replace her.

The board also approved the June 30 retirement of Linda Kirk as VHS guidance counselor. She will take with her 39 years of experience. Of Kirk, Blair said, “We will miss you,” representing the sentiments of board members, school faculty, and administrators.

The board voted to sustain Jones’ two-day suspension without pay of a Hundred High School teacher for an alleged violation of the employee code of conduct. The alleged offense has no equivalent in law and will not be referred to the Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

In addition, the board approved the purchase of two 72-passenger International busses, which will be put in service in October 2010. The busses will replace two other 72-passenger vehicles that will be assigned to the spare bus fleet.

Their cost, $181,110 from Heritage Truck Centers of Charleston, will be paid from state funds.

The board’s next regularly-scheduled meeting is 7 p.m., May 17, at which time it will induct 13 new members into the 25 Year Club and approve the proposed budget.