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BOE continues to find ways to educate during pandemic

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The February 16 agenda for the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting was filled with information about continuing efforts to provide education during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as praise for employees who continue to go above and beyond for the welfare of the students.

Superintendent Terrence Beam yielded his time during the special recognitions portion of the meeting to director of transportation Ruth Bland, who reported on the swift actions of employees who helped avert a crisis at Hillsboro Elementary School during a recent power outage.

While the entire town was without power, Bland said the staff went into action to make sure the students were fed before they left the school.

“Lori Doolittle and her crew of cooks took the lunch [ingredients] all the way to Marlinton Elementary School, made the lunches, and took them back [to HES],” she said. Justin Taylor brought his personal generator to the school and hooked it to the base station.”

The parents were notified and the children were sent home early.

“When those things happen, you just kind of move into action and even though it’s not a written action thing, it was a very well implemented action plan,” Bland said. “I was very, very proud of the staff and everybody that participated and helped with that. A number one staff.”

Pocahontas County High School principal Joe Riley, Option Pathway teacher Kathy Mason, guidance counselor Linda Beverage and graduation coach Michelle Wilfong reported on the efforts to ensure that all members of the Class of 2021 will receive a diploma at the end of the school year.

Whether on virtual school or attending when the county is not red on the state’s COVID-19 map, all students have struggled to stay afloat during a most difficult school year.

Included, of course, are the seniors at PCHS who are trying to graduate and enter the next chapter of their lives.

“Across the state, kids have struggled, and they have struggled bad,” Riley said. “Kathy did an excellent job of finding the kids we need to talk to – trying to figure out grades – even before they had their final grades in the second nine weeks. I think we’re getting a handle on it.”

Mason explained that when first semester grades came out, there were 18 seniors who were failing at least one of the core subject classes. To help those students regain their footing, Mason said she is working with them through the Option Pathway program.

“I pinpointed those kids and made phone calls and set up talks with parents and students,” she said. “I have several that will be testing at the end of this month in the class that they failed. When they’re finished, that credit will be earned.

“Some kids opted to stay within the course, and I figured an average they need to make the third and fourth nine weeks,” Mason continued. “Some kids felt that back in school, they would be fine – they could make that average – which I commend them for trying to do.”

The Option Pathway program has several ways students can earn a high school diploma. It is similar to the GED program in which students may take five tests and if they pass, they receive a high school equivalency diploma.

Riley explained the four ways students may use the program to earn their diplomas:

• If a student is a CTE [Career and Technical Education] completer, they can enter the program and take the core class tests, earning their diploma if they pass all five.

• If a student is failing only one core class – English/language arts, science, math and history – they may take the test just for that class and if they pass, that will count as a passing grade for the class.

• If a student is not a CTE completer but is struggling in their core classes, they can enter the program and take the five tests, as well, and if they pass, they will receive a GED.

• The final option is credit recovery. If a student fails one of the core class tests but wants to continue, they are given a half credit for taking the test and are enrolled in that core class as well as credit recovery. Once both are completed, the student will pass that class.

Mason said she has four students that will finish their testing and 13 more who are entering the testing phase.

Wilfong said she has also reached out to all of the seniors to get their after-graduation plans and said she is proud to report that the students are thinking of their futures.

“We have roughly forty-three kids planning to pursue a tech school, two-year or four-year school,” she said. “We have twenty-one planning to enter the workforce and five that are joining the military. So, those are just rough numbers, and I’m sure that will change prior to graduation.

“I know that some of the kids have mentioned that they aren’t going to be attending college this coming year just because they don’t do well in virtual and that’s perfectly okay,” she continued. “Other kids who are planning to enter the workforce – I think that’s a good number for this particular class. There are a lot of kids who are planning to go on the road and work. There are kids who are planning to farm and log, which is perfectly fine, as well.”

For those students who are planning to attend college, Beverage reported that they have done a good job of filing for FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid]. She said the 29.3 percent of the state’s seniors completed their FAFSA, while PCHS is at 41.4 percent.

The board thanked the group for the report and efforts in helping the seniors finish their last year at PCHS.

In updates:

• Beam reported that the WVSSAC [West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission] released new information concerning eligibility for extra curricular activities. Currently, students have to have a 2.0 average in order to participate, but the WVSSAC is providing waivers to allow eligibility for students who are struggling due to the pandemic.

Beam added that he is working with principals and staff to create a plan for the summer school program to help students with credit recovery.

• Director of curriculum, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic reported that she is working with staff to create a virtual school program for the county. At this time, Pocahontas County Schools is using the West Virginia Learns virtual school and has spent more than $100,000 to enroll approximately 100 students this school year.

Bostic said she and the staff feel it would be beneficial to create a local virtual school program which will be taught by county employees.

“We all feel it’s best to start at the high school level, which is what most counties do,” she said. “It takes a lot of time, and it’s going to be a lengthy process, and we know that time is ticking. This would be something that we would create and hopefully would have next fall to roll out because we know virtual school is not going to go away.

“We also feel that if we’re able to offer virtual school, maybe we could get some of our students back that have gone to home school because we have not had the option for them,” she continued. “That’s something we’re going to look at.”

In personnel management, the board approved the following:

• Unpaid medical leave of Alison C. Safrit as half-time teacher of art at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective March 3 or upon exhaustion of personal leave, for a period of up to 12 weeks, as needed.

• Resignation of Frank L. Barrett, Jr., due to retirement, as custodian III at Marlinton Elementary School, effective June 30.

• Employment of Charlie M. Hughes, Jennifer L. McCarty, Rachel E. McComb and Cynthia E. Shreve as after-school tutors at Marlinton Middle School – shared position – at $22 per hour, two hours per day, three days per week, effective for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year, contingent upon COVID-19 restrictions. They will join Louisa Kiner, Teresa Rhea and Jeanette Wagner who are also tutors.

• Resignation of Linda H. VanReenen as academic interventionist at Hillsboro Elementary School, effective at the end of the day February 26.

• Requested transfer of Ryan C. Alderman as school bus operator for Pocahontas County Schools, from his current route to a new route, effective February 22, for the remainder of the 2020–2021 school year, at state basic pay. Term of employment is 74 days. Term of employment shall be 200 days each year thereafter.

• Employment of Scott L. Kelley as athletic and extracurricular school bus operator for Pocahontas County Schools, at salary based on daily rate of pay for actual days worked prior to the school calendar plus $50 per day based on 180 days of operation for days that activity runs are required, commencing on or after February 22, as needed, for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. Beginning date is dependent upon the WVSSAC calendar.

• Employment of James D. Chestnut – Green Bank Elementary-Middle School; Ollie C. Barkley – Marlinton Middle School; Roger D. Irvine – Marlinton Elementary School; and Diane L. Arbogast – Hillsboro Elementary School, as custodians III extracurricular, retroactive to February 10, as needed, for only the 2020-2021 instructional school year, at $14 per hour, one day a week, two hours per day.

• Employment of Joseph P. Rose as substitute aide for Pocahontas County Schools, at state basic pay, for the 2020-2021 school year, as needed.

• Employment of George J. Jaharias as substitute custodian for Pocahontas County Schools, at state basic pay, for the 2020-2021 school year, as needed.

• Unpaid medical leave of Peggy M. Owens as itinerant teacher of art/gifted at Marlinton Middle School, retroactive to February 3 or upon exhaustion of personal leave, for a period of up to 12 weeks, as needed.

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