At the special board of education meeting at Marlinton Middle School June 16, reading/language arts teacher Stephanie Burns and math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman reported on the successes and setbacks students face in both subjects.
On the positive side in reading/language arts, Burns said students are participating in several competitions and contests, showing off their abilities as readers and writers.
“We had at least eleven participants compete for the School Battle of the Books,” Burns said. “A team of four of those participants continued on to the county level and received first place. We had fourteen students in sixth grade alone competing at the school level for the Young Writer’s Contest and our sixth grade county winner came from Marlinton Middle School – our seventh/eighth grade winner also came from [MMS] and moved on to the state.”
Burns said four students won in the county Liar’s Writing Contest and another student went to the regional spelling bee.
While a lot of students are succeeding in reading/language arts, Burns said there are still some students who are having difficulties.
“This year, out of forty-eight students, I had twenty-three students that did not master their previous content,” she said. “Seventeen of them were reading on a second and third grade level – three grades below reading level. Six of the twenty-three students scored at partial mastery which is a third/fourth grade level, so forty-nine percent of my sixth grade students were not on grade level. This didn’t happen overnight.”
To help the students improve their skills and test scores, Burns said it is important to have more support from the board office for after-school assistance or Title I specialists.
“Marlinton Middle School does not have any Title I support,” Burns said. “We do not have that support for reading or for math. I guess my push is we need to provide them more support in the lower levels because by the time they get to sixth grade and they’re already three levels below, they’re already saying ‘I hate school.’”
Burns added that the school and teachers need to have better communication with parents.
“We’ve had a couple meetings with parents this year and we’ve had a couple parents say, ‘I didn’t know my child was having a problem reading,’” she said. “We need some more support in the lower levels to identify what’s going on or we need more support here. We can’t catch those ones up that are already here, but we’re going to need more support for those children who are so below – three reading levels below.”
Burt-Kinderman reported that the math program is also experiencing success and struggle.
“The first thing I want to be sure that you know is what I know about Marlinton Middle School math is that kids are being stretched,” she said. “Stretching sometimes hurts and stretching is also where learning happens. No pain, no gain. I don’t want that to be constant. I think our ideal is to flex in and out of it. I don’t think we have hit our target yet, but I know that our aim is right.”
While the students have had issues and outrightly complained about the new style of math, Burt-Kinderman said the students are now showing gratitude for the rigor they were put through.
“Our seventh grade curriculum in particular has the deepest rigor, the most complaints and the greatest gains by every measure that you want to look at how kids are growing,” she said. “Our current eighth graders – they were not so happy about math in seventh grade but at the end of the eighth grade year, they’re sharing with us how grateful they were for that experience. I feel like it really set them up well for what they needed to do in eighth grade.”
When she visits classrooms, Burt-Kinderman said she sees engaged students having conversations about math instead of students working alone to solve the problem. She also sees the teachers evolving their teaching style to work with the new program.
“This big initiative has changed teachers’ minds about what is possible for every kid and we’re seeing that with numbers,” she said. “I see engaged and connected analytical teachers who are working at full capacity every single day before and after school for hours upon hours.”
Even with all the preparation and classroom work put into the math program, there are still kinks that need worked out.
“I have had complaints,” she said. “I feel the complaints. There’s room to grow to figure out how kids feel, and we need to know what those trends look like. I believe we should listen to what kids have to say about their experiences in our classrooms without any filters to say what they think you want to hear.”
To give the students an anonymous platform to air their grievances or praise, the math department gave out surveys at the end of the year. The results were overwhelmingly positive.
“The majority of our students agree that they are learning a lot,” Burt-Kinderman said. “They are respected by their teachers. Their teachers don’t waste any class time. They’re able to teach and learn from their peers in group work, and they have ample time to practice individually.”
The math department is continuing to work with the new program and, with the help of Burt-Kinderman, finding ways to make it their own.
“We want you to know that we aren’t satisfied,” she said. “We aren’t stagnant and we’re not accepting any bit of this program as it was packaged. We’re learning, we’re meeting, and even folks who aren’t math teachers who support our program hear us analyzing how we can be better constantly.
“We know we need to engage kids better so we are already working on some of those things brought up by parents here,” she continued. “We’re also using our response intervention to specifically pull data about what skills kids can’t do and work on those.”
At the end of the June 16 meeting, the board of education said it would provide support to Marlinton Middle School to help the students improve their education.
At the June 22 board of education meeting, the following was approved.
• Contract between Pocahontas County board of education and Joanna Burt- Kinderman at $350 per day, for 55 days, during the 2015-2016 school year for services described in contract.
• Employment of Allen Taylor as basketball coach at GBEMS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $750.
• Employment of Ella M. Taylor as athletic director at GBEMS, effective for the 2015-2016 school year, at a supplement of $750.
• Employment of Timothy Joshua Corder as teacher of music at MES and MMS, at state basic salary based on degree and experience and $500 supplement, effective July 1 for the 2015-2016 school year. Term of employment is 205 days.
• Employment of Shannon Arbogast as girls basketball coach at MMS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $750.
• Employment of Ann M. Puckett as health science education therapeutics instructor at PCHS, at state basic salary based on degree and experience, effective August 11, for the 2015-2016 school year. Term of employment is 200 days.
• Resignation of Kay E. Wiley as athletic director at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 school year.
• Employment of Douglas Burns as head football coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $2,000.
• Employment of Law-rence Workman as assistant football coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
• Employment of Aaron Pugh as assistant football coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
• Employment of Shannon Arbogast as head girls soccer coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $1,500.
• Employment of Timothy L. McClung as head boys basketball coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $1,650.
• Employment of Michael Murphy as assistant girls basketball coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
• Employment of Matthew A. Buzzard as seventh and eighth grade football coach at PCHS, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $750.
• Employment of Lucy M. Rittenhouse as parent involvement coordinator at GBEMS, at $20 per hour, 250 hours, not to exceed $5,000. Schedule to be determined by the director of federal programs but cannot be extended beyond May 12. Effective July 1, 2015 through May 13, 2016.
• Employment of M. Susan Arbogast as parent involvement coordinator at MES, at $20 per hour, 250 hours, not to exceed $5,000. Schedule to be determined by the director of federal programs but cannot be extended beyond May 13. Effective July 1, 2015 through May 13, 2016.
• Employment of Angela G. Irvine as itinerant general maintenance/custodian III/ truck driver/groundsman at HES, at state basic pay, effective July 1, for the 2015-2016 school year. Term of employment is 249 days.
• Employment of Jamie C. Walker as school bus operator for Pocahontas County Schools, with a new route, at state basic pay, effective August 11 for the 2015-2016 school year. Term of employment is 200 days.
• Creation of positions, two cooks for band camp at 4-H camp located in Thornwood, at a daily rate of pay, shift as follows: Sunday, July 26, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday, July 27-29, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, July 30, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.