BOE discusses concerns about virtual school

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At the December 15 Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, hosted virtually on Zoom, director of curriculum, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic – filling in for superintendent Terrence Beam – reported that teachers, facilitators and principals have come forward with concerns for several students attending virtual school.

Bostic explained that students were given an option to attend West Virginia Virtual School, which is a curriculum provided by the West Virginia Department of Education. Elementary school students are taught by a Pocahontas County employed teacher and the middle and high school students are taught by a virtual teacher from another location in the state.

“We do have facilitators hired in the county for middle and high school students that are virtual school students and those facilitators really keep track of the amount of work that the students are completing and their grades,” Bostic explained. “Each one of our principals and staff met with the families – a lot of that was done by telephone, some were face-to-face – but they met and had a Student Assistance Team [SAT] meeting with each of our virtual school students.

“In the agreement we had, if your child does not successfully learn these skills, does not keep pace with the virtual class expectations, receives failing grades two weeks or more consecutively or technology access becomes unavailable, Pocahontas County Schools reserves the right to call a SAT meeting and discuss appropriateness of continued participation in West Virginia Virtual School,” she continued.

There is also a concern with attendance in virtual school, Bostic said. Due to these concerns, attendance director Ron Hall sent a letter to the families of students who are struggling in virtual school to schedule a meeting to discuss future plans for the student’s education.

“It’s apparent that it is not working for some of our students,” she said. “They are not getting their work done. We realized we had some students that we just need to get back into the schools, if we could, and many of the principals have been able to do that, but there are some students that are still saying they want to stay in virtual school, but we do not want to leave them out there floundering at this point.”

The board discussed the issue and agreed with Bostic that changes must be made if students continue to struggle.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility to see that these kids get an education and there are some of them that are under the impression they are still on summer vacation,” board president Sue Hollandsworth said. “Those are the kids that have had a chance. They’re going to have one more bit of a chance to do what they can to get passing grades and if they can’t do it, then virtual school is no longer an option for them.

“I don’t think we have another choice and whether we fight with parents or not – it won’t be the first time,” she continued. “The parents knew when they signed their student up for this that there were requirements and if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, then the bargain’s done.”

In updates:

• Student representative, Pocahontas County High School senior Jacob Kinnison gave his last report for his service on the board and said he will be passing the reins to fellow senior Alan Gibson for the second semester.
Kinnison said he did not have much to report since the students have been attending school through remote access due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He did relay the sad news that PCHS was mourning the loss of a Warrior who passed away in a car accident last week.

“Pocahontas Warrior Pride was hurt over the weekend, of course, you all probably know,” he said. “We lost a Warrior. I guess we are doing as okay as we can in a situation like that.”

Kinnison reported that the students hosted a benefit cakewalk December 20 at the Community Wellness Center in Marlinton, followed by a candlelight vigil to honor their schoolmate and to raise funds for her family.

The board observed a moment of silence to honor the student.

On behalf of the board, Hollandsworth thanked Kinnison for his service on the board during one of the most difficult times in the school system’s history.

“You probably came on this board at the most difficult time possible and you have handled yourself extremely well, and we have been very pleased with your reports and your information,” she said. “So, we give you our thanks.”

In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:

• Teacher-In-Residence Partnership Agreement (TIR) with Davis & Elkins College and the Pocahontas County Board of Education.
In personnel management, the board approved the following:

• Requested transfer of Caleb J. Barkley as custodian IV at Marlinton Elementary School to custodian IV at Hillsboro Elementary School, at statement minimum salary, effective January 4, 2021, for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment is 128 days in addition to the days already worked. Term of employment shall be 261 days each year thereafter.

• Employment of Caleb J. Barkley as evening custodian III, extracurricular, at Hillsboro Elementary School, at $14 per hour, one day per week, 3.5 hours per day, effective January 8, 2021. This is an as needed, extracurricular position and contingent upon continued COVID-19 restrictions. Should all virtual or remote learning be enforced, this position will be delayed until students are present inside the school environment with face-to-face instruction.

• Resignation of Aaron L. Pugh as girls and boys track coach at Pocahontas County High School, retroactive to December 2, 2020.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at 6 p.m. at the board of education conference room.

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