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A Wetzel Chronicle Interview With The Candidates

By Staff | May 6, 2020

Bill Jones

The Wetzel Chronicle reached out to the candidates for Wetzel County Board of Education Recently with a list of questions. Below are their responses.

1. What is your ultimate goal for the education system in Wetzel County?

Warren Grace: The ultimate goal of ANY school system is to give our students as many options possible upon graduation. Students choosing to go to college should be adequately/more than adequately prepared for success in their chosen field of study. Students choosing to enter the workforce MUST have the skill/skills to enter the workforce. Fully certified welders, electricians, and nurses are currently in high demand and will be employed immediately upon graduation from any of our high schools in Wetzel County. While these goals may appear simplistic, reaching these goals requires teamwork at all levels of the school system, setting and achieving personal goals by the individual student (and support by their family) AND high academic expectations by all school personnel. School counseling services are an absolute critical component to the achievement of the aforementioned goals.

Bill Jones: My ultimate goal for Wetzel County Schools is to ensure that we have done our very best to meet the needs of ALL of our students. As educators, we must realize that each child is unique as are his/her needs. All teachers and administrators must dedicate their efforts to this end, and as a board, we must enable them with the tools necessary to achieve this end.

Linda Fonner: My ultimate goal is for students to reach their potentials in a safe, effective learning environment.

Brain Castilow

Brian Castilow: My ultimate goal is to have Wetzel County Schools be one of the top performing school systems in the state of WV.

Jeff Fox: To prepare students for their future after high school and help them with whatever path they choose.

2. Why do you want to be a Wetzel County BOE Member?

Warren Grace: The Wetzel County School system has significantly improved over the past four years. Working in a very positive manner with the other four school board members, we have reopened the Wetzel County Technology Education Center. Students now can become certified in Welding, Electrical, and Nursing. The STEM curriculum has been a terrific addition to our middle school and secondary school offerings. There are immediate plans to expand our Vocational offerings that will lead to immediate employment. Working together with all of our employees, we have made measurable and meaningful progress. I very much want that progress to continue.

Bill Jones: I came to Wetzel County in 1964, and have witnessed so much growth and improvement in our system. I’ve served as teacher, principal, and superintendent and feel within my heart that I can be a positive force on the board. Through the years, I’ve witnessed different boards and administrations struggle with meager means, to do their very best to see that students in our schools were given the tools for success. Over this span of years, I’ve seen the voters of our county step to the plate and pass bonds for buildings and levies for operational expense, again insuring the best possible for our students. Therefore, it is with this rich history of support for students that I wish to continue my journey as a board member to see that this heritage is not forsaken.

Jeff Fox

Linda Fonner: The current board does not include a recent classroom teacher, and I believe there needs to be one because classroom learning has changed a lot over the past few years. My 36 years of experience in Wetzel County classrooms as well as my education, certifications, and involvement in state and national level education activities qualify me to be that person.

I hope that as a board member I can help the students of today and the future receive an excellent education. Wetzel County Schools have been great to me and my teaching and learning. I want to continue to do that for students.

Brian Castilow: I would like to be a member of the Wetzel County BOE so that I could be instrumental in seeing improvements made so our county would be among the top school systems in West Virginia.

Jeff Fox: To help improve our school system.

3. What are the leadership responsibilities of school board members?

Linda Fonner

Warren Grace: Board members have a wide variety of responsibilities, individually, locally, and statewide. Individual responsibilities include communicating with and responding to inquiries from parents, students, and members of our different communities in Wetzel County. Working with all school board members is extremely important as well. Statewide, as the current President of the

Wetzel County Board of Education, I have attended many meetings as the representative of our school system. Multiple conference calls with the West Virginia School Boards Association in recent months have become a routine part of my board service. Needless to say, county board of education service has been more challenging than ever before. Teamwork has become a mandatory part of any successful board of education service.

Bill Jones: The leadership responsibilities for board members are many and varied, but most important is the responsibility to our stakeholders. One must remember that he is elected to serve the entire county, and not just the area that is home to him. Additionally, not just good, but great listening skills must be a part of being a good board member since all issues, no matter how trivial, are very important to the affected. Individual board members are in no position to solve problems individually. However, they are responsible to see that the issue is addressed. Additionally, a good board member must stay involved on the state level. He must be involved with the WVSBA and the state legislature when issues that will affect his county are being discussed.

Linda Fonner: I believe school board members must be planners and reviewers. Board members must stay up-to-date with state and local policies. They must collaborate with other board members and the superintendent. They must be willing to praise accomplishments and deal with concerns. Another responsibility is to make sure the taxpayers’ money is being used in the best way to help our students.

Brian Castilow: It is the responsibility of board members to ensure that state policies are followed and to implement local policies that will best serve the student population.

Warren Grace

Jeff Fox: To help make the correct decisions for all students, schools, teachers, service personnel, administrators . There should be one goal and that is to educate and help our students in Wetzel County.

4. What specific strengths would you bring to the board table?

Warren Grace: I have an ABSOLUTE commitment to school improvement in ALL of our eight schools and the WCTEC. The past four years have proven that we can expect more from everybody in our school system IF we are willing to work together as a team. I have been fully committed to Wetzel County Schools, as a secondary school principal for 23 years and I am a United States Navy veteran. Additionally, I have been honored to serve as the current President of the Wetzel County Board of Education. Simply stated, our school system has made significant progress in the past four years. My professional strength, as I assess it, is school improvement. I am asking for re-election to continue our school improvement process for the next four years.

Bill Jones: I feel my experience is my strength as a board member. I understand that there are eight schools (plus the new Tech Center) that have unique needs and issues. In the past four years, I believe that the re-opening of the Wetzel County Technical Center is the single most important things we have accomplished for our students. Now, we must enhance the offerings there to meet the needs of our students as well as the needs of the community and area businesses. To that end, a strong board member will be the one who tackles those needs and issues for ALL and ensure that we are on the path of success for all stakeholders.

Linda Fonner: I have a vast knowledge of curriculum development, review, and instructional materials adoption. My experience as a teacher gives me a real understanding of issues. I will praise accomplishments. I will respectfully bring up concerns and work as a team to try and address them. I stay respectful when addressing issues. I will do the right thing, even when it is hard.

Brian Castilow: Strengths that I would bring to the board would be: 1. Willingness to consider changes; 2. Desire to improve our school system; 3. Recognition of staff and student achievements; 4. Desire to fully analyze situations.

Jeff Fox: Having an open door policy for all students, parents, teachers, the whole county and its tax payers.

5. What do you see as the role of technology in education?

Warren Grace: The regular and systematic use of up-to-date computer technology has become a hallmark of Wetzel County Schools. I am extremely proud of our collective efforts in this area and give great credit to our past school board for seeing the importance of school technology and training. Clearly, we are ahead of the curve in this area, but, again, there is much more we need to accomplish. Recent events have shown the importance of online learning and access to our students via the Internet. I am personally and professionally VERY proud of the way ALL Wetzel County Schools personnel have responded to the COVID-19 emergency via available Internet access and by putting their personal health on line by delivering food to our kids by school bus transportation to their bus stops. Wetzel County Proud!

Bill Jones: Technology is vastly important to the success of our school system. Just contrast what has happened in the past few weeks. Basically, all of our instructional offerings to students are technology based. Our county staff, principals, and teachers have had to switch to technology as the platform for delivery of our programs. Wetzel County has been on the forefront of technology driven instruction. We were fortunate that we have invested in our One to One initiative which secures a tablet for every Wetzel County student. With the current COVID-19 affliction, our administrators and teachers were able to lean into the issue and quickly change our delivery system for all of our students. This could not have been accomplished without the shared vision of the importance of technology on the part of board members, both past and present.

Linda Fonner: Technology should be a tool to help students learn. Technology is great for research, practice, and various projects; however, it should not replace face-to-face teaching. A teacher can look into the eyes of students and see if they truly understand a concept. A computer does not do that. I feel we need to be careful not to overwhelm educators with too many new programs they have to learn, as it may cut back on their actual time to develop curriculum ideas for their classes. We are a technological society, and our students need to be prepared. Wetzel County is providing the experiences to help them succeed.

Brian Castilow: Technology is one of the driving forces in education today. There has been a continuing shift in educational utilization of technology from information sources to use of technology to demonstrate level of learning. We can not escape technology in education today.

Jeff Fox: Very important as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have students using laptops provided by the county and it has been successful along with the box’s that were set up at each school for those who did not have internet at home. This was a great system put into place by Wetzel County’s technical department.

6. What should our school district be doing to ensure the safety of students and staff?

Warren Grace: On-going and continuous school safety efforts are a top priority for Wetzel County Schools. Numerous facility improvements have been made at all eight schools and the WCTEC to enhance school safety. Additional security measures have been made, and additional personnel have been hired with school security in mind. Training of school personnel has been held. Substantial and additional training is a regular part of our annual training plan. School security is our highest priority.

Bill Jones: Wetzel County Schools have been for the past several years, on the forefront of school safety for all students and staff. Buildings have been upgraded with modem door locks and enclosures. Cameras have been installed to give those in charge extra eyes with which to keep safety as the important issue that it is. Each year, attention is given to any and all upgrades that are deemed necessary by the administration and board. Also, all schools now have the additional security of PRO’s This was not an easy issue to master. Starting almost ten years ago, Wetzel County Schools have come a long way in addressing the school safety issue.

Linda Fonner: We need to have behavior specialists, social workers, counselors, and Prevention Resource Officers in the schools. There needs to be a cooling down place for disruptive students to go so that they may calm down, and also so the rest of the class can continue to learn and not be scared.

Brian Castilow: Wetzel County Schools should continue the use of Prevention Resource Officers in all schools. Additionally, continuing drills and simulations need utilized to the greatest extent possible. Any technologies that contribute to student safety should be seriously considered.

Jeff Fox: I believe the staff and the PRO officer need to meet with the board of education on a monthly or quarterly schedule to see what problems that arise at each school and how we can better the system to work for each school in Wetzel County.

7. What particular skills or experiences qualify you to serve as a school board member?

Warren Grace: As previously stated, I have been a secondary school principal at Magnolia High School and Paden City High School (total 23 years of service to Wetzel County Schools) and am a United States Naval Reserve veteran, serving two years active duty at Navcommsta Londonderry, Northern Ireland (NATO) and six additional years in the Naval Reserve. Both experiences required communication skills and a willingness to be a part of of great team. I have learned that, with TEAMWORK, ALL is possible. I have learned that, without teamwork, genuine progress is greatly hindered. I have also learned that regular, open, and honest communication is the cornerstone to ANY endeavor.

Bill Jones: As for particular skills, I must say that my ability to be a good listener has paid rich dividends for me. As for experiences that quality me to serve, my record of achievements in Wetzel County speaks for itself. I started as an elementary teacher at Hundred. Through the years, I was a teaching principal, a traveling principal, a full-time principal, an energy manager for the entire county, and finally, the Wetzel County Superintendent for four years. I’ve done it all with varying degrees of success, but in all instances, I was “student driven”!

Linda Fonner: I am a national board-certified teacher with more than 36 years of teaching. I have taken more than 60 hours past my master’s degree in order to better serve the students of Wetzel County. I have worked with teachers around the state and country, sharing ideas and learning from each other. I have trained teachers throughout the state and country in topics such as classroom management, differentiated instruction, energy education, and science investigations for the elementary grades. I have a strong background in curriculum and instruction and have served as the chair of the WV Instructional and Materials Adoption Committee. All of these will help me to work as a board member to do what is best for students. I have also read the approximately 265 policies of the Wetzel County Schools so that I will have a background when making decisions on the board and will continue to refer to them as needed.

Brian Castilow: One of the biggest experiences that qualifies me as a potential board member is having spent 50 years in the classroom as well as serving as an athletic director and faculty senate president.

Jeff Fox: I am a Wetzel County born and raised student and parent. I know the schools and county well and have been in management/leadership positions.

8. What do you see as the current challenges facing public education in our state? In our country?

Warren Grace: The West Virginia State Legislature has become the sole voice of public education in our state. Earlier in my career in public education, the state superintendent of schools and the state school board were in charge of school policies and procedures.

Much of the day to day policies and procedures are now originating in our state legislature. Their intentions may be noble but their knowledge of the needs of teachers and administrators on the front lines is questionable at best. Additionally, poor communication with all educator groups is a problem. In my view, those on the front lines of public education MUST make their voices heard in Charleston. Nationally, in my opinion, the Department of Education has no proven constructive role in public education, and as such, should be abolished.

Bill Jones: This question would have had a different answer prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be challenging to see what education will look like on the other side of this. We may have issues that we’ve never had before, and must be up to the task to see that our students are properly served. I have issues with many of the initiatives emanating from our state legislature. It seems that control has been taken away from the state board and local boards must just fall in line. As for the country, I have little time or use for the Department of Education. Our country was built on local public schools and not charter schools or ESA’s.

Linda Fonner: Many students are in rough home situations. Opioid addiction is affecting the communities. It’s tough for students to try and learn when they are worried about their own existence. Student behavior issues are increasing, making classroom management harder. It not only affects the misbehaving student but affects the behaving student. There is an exodus of teachers from the state of WV, and new graduates are not entering the teaching profession. These contribute to the growing teacher shortage.

Brian Castilow: One of the largest challenges to public education in our state is declining population. Coupled with a decline in population is a possible drop in revenue for support of public schools. Also, education systems must change to adapt to a rapidly changing society.

Jeff Fox: The drug overdoses is critical not only in Wetzel county but throughout our country .

9. If elected, what would you hope would be key accomplishments of the board during your years of service?

Warren Grace: 1. Continue to add to the Vocational/Technical offerings at the WCTEC as determined by conversation and Partnerships with local Plants and Employers, for the benefit of our students.

2. Review school safety plans/procedures/measures and take action accordingly for the safety of faculty, staff and students.

3. School improvement efforts continued at all schools; measurable and sustainable for the benefit of our students.

Bill Jones: 1. A continuation of the current configuration for eight community schools.

2. A continuous upgrade to the offerings at our Tech Center.

3. Expand STEM/STEAM opportunities for our high school students, and to the extent possible offer these opportunities to our middle school students

4. Ensure that all stakeholders are committed to the basic tenant to “Do what’s best for kids”. Accountability to this task must be attained by all school employees, and that SUCCESSFUL STUDENT FUTURES (What’s’ Best for Kids) drives all school and county level decisions.

Linda Fonner: I would like to see increased counselors, social workers, and behavior specialists available in the schools. I would like to see less standardized student testing which will allow for more teaching and learning. I would like to see the career/technology center expand its offerings.

Brian Castilow: If elected to the Wetzel County Board of Education, I would like to see: 1. Continued change to academic and vocational instruction; 2. Encouragement and retention of staff members; 3. Responsible use of financial resources and 4. Use of community and regional resources to the extent possible.

Jeff Fox: Providing integrity and open communication with all stake holders.