Cisar Voted in as Board Member
New Martinsville resident Aaron Cisar was voted in as the newest member of the Wetzel County Board of Education at the board’s regular meeting held Monday, Jan. 4.
Cisar was voted in with a vote of three to one; Board Member Linda Kirk had voted against Cisar taking the seat left vacated after the resignation of former board member, Bob Patterson.
Kirk had been the first to make a motion to select an applicant – Warren Grace. Kirk’s motion was seconded by Board Member Carolyn Gatian, yet the vote failed after Kirk and Gatian voted in favor of Grace and Board Members Mike Blair and Joshua Balcerek voted against Grace.
Balcerek then made a motion to select Cisar; Blair seconded the motion and both Balcerek and Blair voted in favor of Cisar. Gatian and Kirk voted “no.”
Gatian’s motion to appoint Cindy Culley failed after not being seconded.
Finally, Cisar was appointed to the vacated board seat after Balcerek made the motion, again, to appoint him.
Each applicant had the opportunity to make opening and closing statements. Between the statements, each applicant was asked two questions from each of the four board members. Each applicant was interviewed individually while the other two applicants were out of the room.
Blair asked each candidate how they would hold the school district accountable for meeting its expectations.
Cisar, a graduate of Magnolia High School and current shift supervisor at Axiall, stressed the importance of working together. He stated that the board members would need to work together to understand what the board’s goals and objectives are, and furthermore, the board members would have to work together to meet those expectations. “We can’t be divided. Togetherness is the key,” Cisar stated.
Culley, a registered nurse, stressed the importance of reading the board’s policies. She said if she did not understand a part of a policy, she would ask to have it explained to her, whether it be by a parent , teacher, board member, or going to Charleston herself.
“I want to say there is always room for improvement,” Culley added. “Just because a policy exists, it does not mean it is set in stone. It may be something we have to improve upon.”
Grace, gathering from his time as a high school principal, noted he had experience with accountability, due to Office of Education Performance Audits.
Grace said he went through five of the audits and “learned a great deal from each one of them.”
Grace said the audits were pretty unpleasant at times but “you learn from those things. It is how you grow.”
“By doing annual evaluations and being honest . . . you look at all th data that the OEPA looks at.”
Grace also stressed the necessity of having the community take ownership in its youth and their education. Grace noted that the area’s current drug abuse situation is something none of the community members have gone through before. Grace advised the board members to talk to law enforcement and research why kids are resorting to abusing drugs. “If you came from some of the families and some of the situations these kids come from, you would surely not be where you are now,” he stated to the board members.
Gatian’s first question to the applicants dealt with the county’s new strategic plan, the public’s seemingly unfavorable opinion of the plan, and what each applicant would change about the plan.
Cisar responded that he was not sure what Gatian meant by strategic plan but he was well aware of some of the disapproval from the public toward the board.
Cisar referenced testing, noting he felt testing “is good to a certain extent,” but adding that additional testing might not be necessary.
Culley said that since she did not have the plan in front of her, she could not say what she could or couldn’t do. She explained if she had not yet read something, she could not make an educated statement. “I don’t mean to sound unprepared, but I don’t have this strategic plan in front of me.”
Culley stressed the need to have a plan that would reach each student in the county, as each student learns differently.
Grace noted that it would be hard to say what he would like to change about the plan without seeing the plan. However, he noted, “any strategic plan that didn’t involve parent and community involvement isn’t worth a lot, because it isn’t very strategical.”
Grace said it isimportant to involve everyone – teachers, service personnel, parents and community. “If they weren’t involved, that could very well be the issue,” he answered.
Kirk asked what each applicant’s main goal was for each of the students of Wetzel County.
Cisar said he wanted each student to graduate from high school and become a successful, productive member of society.
“I know we focus a lot on test scores, but test scores do not necessarily make an individual,” he said, noting that he himself was not a good test taker in school.
Culley said her goal was “success,” explaining the measure for success would be different for each student. Culley further explained that one student might want to move on to technical school, whereas another student may want to move on to college.
Grace said he wanted to give students as many choices as possible. “There are indicators along the way in terms of where students are. You can look at test scores, attendance, disciplinary referrals, those kind of things. The goal of any kind is to be giving kids choices. That’s why we are paid, and that’s what we do. The more choices they have, the happier I am,” he explained.
Balcerek inquired as to how each candidate would improve Wetzel County Schools’ performance in regards to state guidelines and standards.
“We need to get out in the schools and find out what is working,” Cisar answered, explaining some schools are performing better than others. “If there is a gap between schools, we need to find out what is working and what isn’t.”
Culley answered that she did not have the state’s guidelines and standards before her, so she could not answer specifically. She stated that on a personal basis, she would strive to get more support to teachers.
Grace said he would begin with a review of OEPA reports, as they are formulated through fellow educators “who are paid to give their opinion.”
Grace said those who administer the reports “look at all the data, not certain portions.”
“I’m a strong believer in board of educations looking at those pieces of information and then taking actions based on the OEPA reports. That is what I would do,” he added.
When asked by Gatian what his understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a board member are, Cisar said he felt a board member is an individual who is held in high regard, “an ethical person who is respected and looked up to.”
Culley said the board is “responsible for making really, really tough decisions sometimes,” yet is also responisble for “making some really exciting decisions that are going to make a lot of people happy.”
She added that “what it comes down to is being able to read what is going on and following the set policies.”
Grace said the board of education “speaks for the people” and are “the eyes and ears of the community relative to public education.”
Grace said the better boards of education “communicate with the community,” adding that the more knowledge given to the community, the less misunderstandings.
Balcerek also asked each applicant who he or she represents and why.
Cisar said he represents the students and kids, noting that he has four children of his own. He said he doesn’t have any personal agenda but was present because he “is a stakeholder.”
“I have four kids in this battle, and I’m here to represent them.”
Culley said she was going to take a literal approach to answering the question, explaining that she represents herself.
“I have to make sure I’m strong in myself and my belief systems and stance on issues before I can go and represent a teacher, student, or community. I have to represent me first and know what I am doing,” she responded.
Grace said he represents the kids.
“That’s why we got into this business.That’s why I became a teacher and a principal . . . I want to give kids choices when they graduate, and I want to give them lots of really wonderful activities,” he added.
“I want to hire the very best classroom teachers to teach the kids,” he said. “I want them fully certified and I want them to grow professionally year to year to year. I think that’s what they want too.”
Kirk referenced her first question to the applicants, concerning each one’s main goal. She asked each applicant what traits or characteristics do they possess to achieve their main goal and what one change or improvement would each applicant make to help achieve that goal.
“One thing you have to do is have open ears, and you have to listen to what the voters and folks in the community want,” Cisar answered.
“We need to hear what the stakeholders want, what the voters want, what the teachers want, what the employees want,” he responded, adding that the board needs to take into consideration what teachers, cooks, busdrivers and janitors want.
Culley remarked that she possesses “consistency.”
“I’m not afraid to make hard decisions,” she answered. “I’ve educated myself first before I’ve spoken. I can back up the work I do now, and the programs I run. I don’t agree with everything. I’m not the one that wrote the policies, but I’m the one that took the oath . . . I have a human heart that when I know something is crossing the line . . .”
Culley added that she would like to stop Facebook. “If you have a question, go to that person.”
Grace said that as a principal he recalled being out of his building more than he should have. “I’m never more effective than when I am at my school. It irritates me greatly when I’m pulled out for marginal things that you can e-mail me, call me, or even send me a letter for. Let me be in my building. Let teachers be in their buildings.”
He added: “I’d like to talk about being a little more sensitive to the needs of classroom teachers. I think sometimes when you say things that hurt, it hurts for a long time . . . period.”
Blair’s final question to each applicant dealt with how the applicant would help establish expectations in Wetzel county Schools.
Cisar responded that he is a substitute teacher as well as a supervisor at Axiall. “I substituted a couple of weeks ago, a first grade class,” he noted.
“I think we have a lot of barriers keeping us from meeting goals,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things we don’t see that keep us from meeting goals . . . I had a little girl in class and her concern was that it was snack time. she wanted extra snacks so she could take them home, as she wouldn’t have a meal that night,” he explained.
“I think there are a lot of things out there that we need to address so we can make for a better atmosphere,” Cisar said.
Culley stressed the need for communication: “If you can’t communicate what your expectations are, then you throw them out. You have to have the ‘why.’ You have to bring part of the solution in order to get the outcome of what you are trying to achieve.”
“When we talk about ‘all children can learn,’ we need to really believe that all children can learn,” Grace stated in his response.
“I know that we say it. I know it has been the mantra of a wide variety of different programs, but we have to believe that deep down inside. I sometimes think that we don’t,” Grace added, explaining that kids who are capable of taking a tougher class should be encouraged to do such. Likewise, Grace noted, special needs students need to be encouraged and shown that the education system believes in them.
In closing, Cisar said he wanted to bring back “some of the respect and integrity that the board so deserves.”
Cisar said he wanted to mend the wound between the community and the board, as well as “heal wounds from the teachers and this administration.”
“I want to focus on building a team that can give students that the best possible education. I want to right this ship and get it headed in the right direction,” Cisar concluded.
Culley added that all three applicants are passionate about Wetzel County Schools. “Take that to heart,” she urged the board.
Grace noted that Wetzel County School system is a good school system.
“I would ask you to do what you can to to improve it,” he stated.
“I recall when I was first hired for Wetzel County Schools, and I was very happy. I retired that way. Board members play a very key role,” Grace said.
Grace recollected board members visiting his school when he was principal. “There was an open line of communication. Board members trusted me, and I trusted them. I think that’s awfully important. I really do.”