A pilot program that allows local students to attend college in Marlinton has shown the potential to become a permanent fixture in the community. With the support of City National Bank and the Pocahontas County Commission, One Room University (ORU) has experienced steady growth in enrollment, an important factor in the sponsoring college’s decision to establish a permanent branch campus.
The commission approved continuing support for ORU during its meeting on November 19. As part of an agreement with City National Bank and New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC), the bank will provide free space for ORU on the second floor of its building in Marlinton. The commission will pay for utilities, one full-time assistant, and half the pay of the ORU administrator. The agreement will expire at the end of June 2014.
Prior to the commission’s vote, members of the public, including ORU students, spoke in support of the remote-learning facility.
“It’s convenient for me because I work full-time,” said ORU student Jodi Dye. “I have three children. I’m a pre-nursing student, so it’s very convenient for me to be able to be at home with my children in the evening time.”
“I’d just like to thank you for letting the One Room University be where it is, so that I can further my education, and not have to drive all the way to Lewisburg,” said Cheyenne Lambert.
“I’m very thankful for it,” said Beth Aldridge. “It’s helped me to be able to do my job better. I go there and learn, so I can do better at the Senior Center.”
“It helps me because I have time to work and get my education,” said ORU student Cody Sharp.
ORU Administrator Elaine Diller told the commission that 34 students are enrolled this semester in a total of 47 classes.
“That’s more than double last year,” she said. “We’re growing and we’re getting more interest from people in the community,” she said.
ORU offers both remote classes, conducted via live videoconference, and traditional classes with on-site instructors.
Commissioner Jamie Walker asked Diller when NRCTC plans to take over full ownership of the program.
“My understanding was, it was going to be two years and it was going to be a go or a no-go project,” he said. “Then we decided it was a go, but it still needed help. So, I just wonder if they’ve come to a baseline of where they could say, ‘yeah, this is where we got to be to take it,’ or ‘this is where we ought to be to keep asking for more support.’”
Diller said the college probably won’t be ready to make that decision until after it completes a federal accreditation process in 2014.
City National Bank Manager Brett Withers said support of ORU was a good investment for the county.
“I don’t know what you give money to every year, but the education of our kids – if I was going to give to something – that’s something I probably think is important to give to. If they are educated, they are more likely to try and make a better life for themselves.”
Commissioner David Fleming, participating via teleconference due to a recent illness, and Commissioner William Beard spoke in favor of continuing support for ORU. The commission voted 3-0 to approve the agreement.
Moving to further agenda items, the commission considered an appointment to the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital board. Amon Tracey, of Mace, and Terry White, of Snowshoe, submitted letters of interest for the position.
White’s letter of interest stated in part, “Since 2001, I have been an active member of the board of directors of Davis Health Care Systems and have recently been appointed to Valley Health Board of Directors. I would bring my experience of rural health care challenges to the table.”
Tracey, a member of the Pocahontas Public Service District board, described his qualifications for the hospital board.
“I did spend 31 days up there in the hospital,” he said. “I talked with every nurse that worked there. Of course, I was there all three shifts and I talked with all three shifts. I talked with Mrs. Lay [Chief Executive Officer Barbara Lay] approximately three hours the day I left. Office people I talked to told me to put my name in the hat, and I expressed interest in it at that time.”
Tracey cited his work experience as a mine superintendent, a job in which he managed large budgets and as many as 1,000 employees. The former mine superintendent said many of his acquaintances, including Ralph Beckwith, Ike Morris, Mike Ross, State Senator Clark Barnes, and local businesses, such as Snowshoe Mountain, Cramer Lumber and Interstate Hardwoods, should be approached for monetary donations to the hospital.
“I plan on contacting them and getting whatever we can get for that hospital,” he said. “With that being said, I’ll help them all I can and any way I can.”
Commissioner David Fleming, participating via teleconference, stated a preference for White.
“My feeling is, being on the board myself, that we could benefit largely from board members who have experience in health care,” he said. “Seeing as Ms. White serves on the Davis Health Systems Board of Trustees and we do have a situation, where we communicate with Davis Memorial Hospital and try to work out partnerships, I personally feel that she would be the better choice, given that decision.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker stated his preference for Tracey.
“I’ve known Mr. Tracey, probably, for the last 10 years and I think your background in leadership, in general, from what I do know about you, is outstanding, from the people I have talked to, and what you’ve told me,” he said. “I feel that would be a great asset to the hospital. As far as finances go, you don’t always have to know all about what you’re doing, you just have to know how to spend and how to deal with it.”
“As far as Mrs. White goes, I don’t have anything against her and I think she’s got a lot of background experience in health care,” Walker added. “But I think at this point, the hospital’s in more dire need for financial assistance than it is health care assistance – I think they got that part down.”
Commissioner William Beard agreed with Walker.
“Your comments are similar to what I kind of feel like,” Beard told Walker. “I wish there were two positions because I feel they are both well-qualified to serve on there.”
Walker moved to appoint Tracey to the position.
“I think that’s fine,” said Fleming. “Like Mr. Beard said, if we had two positions, it’d be a lot easier.”
The commission appointed Tracey to the hospital board by a 3-0 vote. Tracey will complete the unexpired term of the late Walt Weiford, a term which expires in June 2018.
In other business, the county commission:
– took no action on a donation to the Linwood Farmer’s Market.
– took no action on a donation to Pocahontas County High School for restrooms at the baseball field.
– took no action on re-naming Schoolcraft Road.
– took no action on the purchase of two vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department.
See the separate news article on the county commission’s petition to remove a Pocahontas Public Service District board member.