At the October 12 Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, superintendent Terrence Beam shared his concerns about a critical shortage in school staff.
“Staffing is becoming a crisis situation,” he said.” We’ve been able to keep all of our employees hired if they wanted to work here, but as our employees get older and move toward retirement… I don’t know where we’re going to get people to replace them. At the superintendents’ conference, they talked about the colleges and the education programs, which are really dropping enrollment.
“There’s nobody graduating from college to be teachers.”
Beam said that during the winter term, the West Virginia Legislature plans to discuss school personnel issues and will hopefully provide new avenues to help school systems find certified employees.
“Right now, we have an alternative certification program,” Beam said. “If a person has a four-year degree, we can work toward getting them into an alternative certification program where they can become a certified teacher. There are some avenues, but the state is recognizing that it’s not enough.”
If the trend continues, Beam said some drastic changes may be made. With a student body totaling 944, he said there may be a need to consolidate grades such as was done at Hillsboro Elementary School and consider larger classroom sizes due to fewer teachers.
“Let’s say at Green Bank, you’ve got twenty-four second graders,” he said. “By law, twenty-four second graders go into one class. We don’t try to do that. We try to put twelve in each class [and have two classes and two teachers]. But if you’ve only got one teacher, you don’t have any other option.”
Beam added that there is also an issue with substitute teachers. Many subs have chosen not to return to the schools this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic because they do not feel safe in the schools. Other subs are certified for a certain grade level and prefer to only work at certain schools for that reason.
Using his wife as an example, Beam said she plans to retire this year and will more than likely apply to be a substitute teacher in Pocahontas County. She is an elementary teacher in Nicholas County now.
“I love my wife dearly, but I would not put her in front of a middle school class or a high school class,” he said. “That is not who she is. She is an elementary person. So, she wouldn’t be the best choice. Everybody’s got their strengths and weaknesses. It’s hard to find a sub out there who can teach Mr. Sutton’s calculus class. You can’t find them. I couldn’t teach it.”
Beam said he and the board office staff are continuing to look at options for finding qualified teachers and added that he hopes the Legislature will find new ways to help the school systems.
In special recognitions, Beam shared his gratitude for the service personnel at all the schools who go above and beyond when it comes to serving the students at their schools. He also gave a special shout out to Mike Sharp who works at the board office and HES. Beam said he has had nothing but positive reports about Sharp’s work ethic.
Beam also shared that Judge Jennifer Dent called to congratulate the school system on the Adventure Pocahontas – Nature’s Mountain Classroom program, founded by Tracey Valach.
“I thought I was in trouble with the judge because she called three times and she kept leaving messages saying, ‘you need to call me back,’” Beam said, laughing. “She just wanted to point out how positive that program is.”
Beam said he hopes to have Valach give a presentation on the program at a state superintendent’s association meeting in the future. He wants to share how successful it has been to take students out into the community and expose them to more opportunities provided in their home county.
Finally, Beam reported that the West Virginia School Building Authority provided $115,183.31 from the Emergency Fund to cover expenses accrued from the flood damage at Pocahontas County High School.
• Director of curriculum, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic gave a report on the virtual school progress. This year, the school system is using Proximity which is a live stream of instruction allowing students to feel as though they are in the classroom in real time.
Bostic said if there are students who cannot attend at regular hours, the live stream is recorded to allow them to have a flexible schedule.
Pocahontas County Schools joined the Southern Education Services Cooperative with 12 other counties and those counties are combined into one classroom on Proximity.
Bostic also reported that she worked on a grant with HES principal Becky Spencer and ELA coach Stephanie Burns to help kindergarten through second grade students improve their reading skills. Pocahontas County Schools was awarded a $50,000 grant to implement a new lesson study model to help the students become grade level readers.
Also at the meeting, student Noah Sharp, and parents Susan Lane, Nathaniel Sizemore and John Paul Burks shared concerns about the mask mandate and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Three of the four – Sizemore excluded – said they were still against making students and staff wear masks and thanked the board for its continued support in not passing a mandate.
Sizemore reiterated his concerns about not having a mask mandate and vaccination mandate and asked the board to reconsider its stance.
Later, during the updates portion of the meeting. Dr. Bob Must shared information about a study done in India in which it was discovered that masks do help in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Must said he believes the study is proof enough that masks do help and thanked the board for allowing him to share his perspective.
The board again discussed the pros and cons of a mask mandate and board member Morgan McComb made a motion that masks remain a choice by the individual and that the board not revisit the issue until its January 11, 2022, meeting. The motion passed, 4-1, with board member Sam Gibson opposing.
The board did agree, however, that if another outbreak occurs prior to January 2022, it will revisit the mask mandate issue at that time.
In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:
• Youth Reporting Services Memorandum of Understanding to provide an adequate and appropriate educational opportunity for school age juveniles within the West Virginia Bureau of Juvenile Services.
• Hillsboro Elementary School to participate in the West Virginia Department of Education Purple Star Award, designed to make a special commitment to support military children and their families.
• To start an ESports Team at Pocahontas County High School. Volunteer instructors for the grant funded, after school, STEM initiative video game competitions are Cammy Kesterson and David Moore for the 2021-2022 season.
• Daniel Scarbro and the Modded Squad Car Club to use the parking lot of the old board office on October 30, for a Truck-or-Treat activity from 4 to 8 p.m. Includes preparation and clean up time.
• The following changes to the reentry plan: Robo calls to parents will be weekly and emails will be daily concerning the COVID-19 numbers at each school; out of state field trips may resume in spring 2022 following policy guidelines; and there will be early dismissal every other Wednesday through December, starting October 20.
In personnel management, the board approved the following:
• Employment of Rebecca A. Evans as cafeteria manager, extracurricular, for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program at Marlinton Elementary School, at a daily rate of pay, retroactive to October 1, 2021, through May 30, 2022, or upon exhaustion of grant funds.
• Employment of Sabrina J. Jordan as cook III, extracurricular, for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program at Marlinton Elementary School, at daily rate of pay, retroactive to October 1, 2021, through May 30, 2022, or upon exhaustion of grant funds.
• Resignation of Nicole Rose-Taylor as teacher of multi-subjects at Hillsboro Elementary School, effective October 8, and employment as substitute teacher for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.