Suzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nThe board of education held a special meeting June 16 at Marlinton Middle School to discuss ongoing issues and concerns. \r\n\r\nTeachers, parents and students shared their views on the education provided at MMS and how the students are striving.\r\n\r\nThe discussion about MMS began at the May 26 meeting when the board discussed issues at the school which may have led to two students transferring to Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. \r\n\r\nTeachers and parents were upset with the way the discussion was handled \u2013\u00a0in open session\u00a0\u2013 and wanted to give their side of the story to the board.\r\n\r\nAt the beginning of the special meeting, board president Emery Grimes apologized on behalf of the board for the way the issues were handled at the May meeting.\r\n\r\n\u201cBoard members get frustrated, too, and I think you were hearing frustration,\u201d Grimes said. \u201cWe get a lot of calls and we, as board members, we didn\u2019t handle that situation very well. We didn\u2019t handle that as professionally as we should and for that I will apologize to the teachers and the staff at Marlinton Middle School.\u201d\r\n\r\nPrincipal Joe Riley began the conversation by saying it is important for all parts of the school system to work together to offer the best education to the students.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat actually comes out of this meeting sets the standards and the tone for next school year because we\u2019re down to the end of the year now,\u201d he said. \u201cWe want to make a move forward positively so that next year, we can say that we made progress. For us to work properly, all parts must work and function together for an end result. I feel like sometimes we\u2019re not working together, but against each other. We need a system that works because the ultimate sacrifice is the kids if the system doesn\u2019t work.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile the school isn\u2019t perfect, Riley said the staff and faculty put their best efforts into the students.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe really need your support in order for us to be successful,\u201d he said. \u201cWe know as a school we\u2019re not perfect. We know we\u2019ve got things that we need to work on, but there are a lot of things you don\u2019t know about Marlinton Middle School and we want to present that to you tonight.\u201d\r\n\r\nHealth and physical education teacher Cathy Mitchell shared information on the characteristics and mentality of middle school aged students to give the board an idea of what the teachers deal with on a daily basis.\r\n\r\n\u201cI know that every one of you has raised a middle school child, but I don\u2019t think every one of you has been in the same room with twenty of them at the same time,\u201d Mitchell said. \u201cHere\u2019s three characteristics I found doing research \u2013\u00a0characterized by mood changes, begin to struggle between their reliance on adults and their desire for independence and undergoing major intellectual and social and emotional changes.\r\n\r\n\u201cI thought \u2018wow.\u2019 However, those three characteristics are from an article about the terrible twos,\u201d she continued. \u201cIn further research, one of the things you find out is the time period from that eighteen month to twenty-four month to three year old group and the time period that we have, that is the most drastic changes that any kid goes through and really a vulnerable stage for a lot of them.\u201d\r\n\r\nMitchell further explained that sixth graders usually still act like children because they are fresh out of elementary school, seventh graders are more rebellious and bicker more, and eighth graders have matured and are more mellow.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve often said that seventh graders are taken over by alien beings from outer space for part of their year because they just, they go wacky,\u201d she said. \u201cSeventh grade is hard. It\u2019s a hard, hard year. It\u2019s hard for their teachers. It\u2019s hard for their parents. It\u2019s hard for them and then, as they enter eighth grade, the aliens give them back to us.\u201d\r\n\r\nMitchell said she shared the information in hopes it would help the board understand the struggles seen at Marlinton Middle School. She added that MMS should not be compared to Green Bank Elementary-Middle School because the middle school students in Green Bank are not isolated like the ones at Marlinton.\r\n\r\nGBEMS science teacher Anne Smith said she fully agrees with Mitchell. She notices a difference in the middle school students at Green Bank because they are still near the elementary school and see their elementary school teachers in the halls and the office.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat Mrs. Mitchell said about middle school students is spot on,\u201d Smith said. \u201cI see all of that. I also see eighth grade students going into the office because they\u2019ve been in trouble \u2013\u00a0they\u2019re mad, they\u2019re fuming, they\u2019re so angry they could just spit \u2013\u00a0and then their second grade teacher walks in. They melt because they see that second grade teacher and they know that second grade teacher as a second grader who they loved. They have that diffusion that this school doesn\u2019t.\u201d\r\n\r\nSeveral teachers shared their opinions and concurred that the biggest issue they face is a lack of communication between them and the board of education.\r\n\r\nMath teacher Theresa Rhea said she is very disappointed in the way the board discussed issues at the May meeting and asked that if the board members have issues with teachers, to visit the teacher or call them directly.\r\n\r\n\u201cNobody is coming to me,\u201d she said. \u201cNot one single parent contacted me for the first two nine weeks when supposedly all the problems were going on and like I said, I know it\u2019s not perfect. I put my email address out there. I put my phone number on every contact that I\u2019ve given to parents. I have been begging parents, board office people, board members to visit my classroom.\u201d\r\n\r\nMath coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman said it is important to take this as an opportunity to grow and become better educators, instead of people who continually throw mud and fight one another.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re in a pickle here,\u201d she said. \u201cWe\u2019ve been pointing fingers towards problems and people rather than joining hands where struggles exist to lift ourselves up together. Unless and until all of us take an honest look at ourselves and claim our own responsibility; until we chart our own path forward to be growth minded, solution driven, respectful and open to the expertise and the questions and the feedback of others; until we turn our backs on gossip and start communicating with each other when we hear things, we\u2019ll never realize the true potential of our schools and we will \u2013\u00a0each one of us \u2013\u00a0fail our students.\r\n\r\n\u201cI can do better and I sincerely hope all of you can, as well,\u201d she concluded.\r\n\r\nBoard members expressed concerns regarding discipline, stating they have received complaints that the discipline practices at MMS are not fair.\r\n\r\nRiley said discipline is a very difficult part of the education system \u2013 a part he still struggles with.\r\n\u201cAny time I make the decision on a kid on what I\u2019m going to do with discipline, I\u2019ve got to go home that night and think \u2018did I do the right thing,\u2019\u201d he said. \u201cThere have been instances where I\u2019ve gone back and I rechecked myself, and I\u2019ve brought kids back because maybe I put them out too long, and after I thought about it, I made the wrong decision.\u201d\r\n\r\nRiley said it is difficult to compare the discipline of students because each student is different and sometimes, the same offense by more than one student does not call for the same punishment.\r\n\r\n\u201cEvery kid is different,\u201d he said. \u201cEvery situation is different. When I think about discipline, there are instances that no one else knows except me, sitting in that office and the kids that are in there, of what is actually going on. I make that decision based off what I know in that office. [Superintendent] Dr. Bechtel doesn\u2019t know it. You all don\u2019t know it. Sometimes, my staff doesn\u2019t know why the decisions are being made.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to discipline, Riley said what he needs most from the board is trust \u2013 trust that his decisions are the best ones for the students.\r\n\r\n\u201cI ask that you trust me that I\u2019m making the right decision,\u201d he said. \u201cThere\u2019s always going to be complaints whenever you make decisions about kids discipline. There always will be. You\u2019ve just got to trust that I\u2019m making the right decisions.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile several parents spoke up and showed their support for the teachers and the school by saying their children have excelled at the school and did not have issues at all, there were parents who also shared their disdain with the board for the conversation at the May meeting.\r\n\r\nParent Sam Gibson said he believed the reason the meeting was taking place was not to discuss the teachers and the students, but to discuss the actions of the board and its members.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is the reason we\u2019re here and I think that it\u2019s time to get some things out in the open,\u201d he said. \u201cWhat we cannot have anymore is our board \u2013 the people who work for us \u2013\u00a0punch us in the gut and drive a stake through the heart of parent and teacher and student relationships. That\u2019s not going to happen anymore. You cannot do that.\u201d\r\n\r\nGibson added that in the \u201creal world,\u201d he would have been fired for acting the way the board did at the May meeting. \r\n\r\nAlthough board members are elected officials and are not employees, Gibson lodged a complaint, asking for two board members to be fired from their positions.\r\n\r\n\u201cI want to read my complaint \u2013 Dear Pocahontas County Board of Education, please accept this as my official complaint and request for this board,\u201d Gibson read. \u201cDue to your most recent irresponsible and slandering comments and remarks about the students, parents and staff at Marlinton Middle School, I request that Emery Grimes and Jessica Hefner be fired immediately. I request that the remaining board members follow standard operating procedures to fill these positions and not disrupt business in our school system. Also please note and add this complaint to the next agenda of regular scheduled Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting for follow up, discussion and action.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn response, Grimes said the board of education is in place to work for the children of the county and to ensure they are provided the best education possible. While concerns about MMS were not initially discussed in a proper manner, Grimes said it is the focus of the board to ensure the school is successful.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf we\u2019ve got problems here, we need to correct them,\u201d he said. \u201cIf we need to send you resources to help you do that, we are willing to do that. We are all in this together. If Marlinton Middle School fails, we all fail. That\u2019s why we\u2019re asking the questions of the staff and Mr. Riley because we want to know these things.\u201d\r\n\r\nGrimes suggested holding a forum with the board at the welcome back to school picnic where a majority of the parents will be present.\r\n\r\nReading\/language arts teacher Stephanie Burns and Burt-Kinderman both gave presentations on the progress of the students in those two fields, which will be covered in a separate article in next week\u2019s edition of The Pocahontas Times.