Everyone in the county knows Joe Riley.
Whether it’s as a classmate at Pocahontas County High School, a farmer at Stompin’ Creek Farm, ag teacher at PCHS or principal at Marlinton Middle School – at one time or another – you have met Joe Riley.
This year, he is returning to PCHS – this time as principal.
After nine years as principal at MMS, Riley felt it was time for a change.
“I’d gotten to a point where I didn’t feel like I could move them to the next level and needed someone else that could come in, and see things differently to move to the next level,” he said. “Plus, I was ready for something different. I always thought I’d like to be principal at the high school and it seemed also that Marlinton Middle School is solid enough that I could make that move.”
While he knows he will miss the middle school world, Riley missed being at the high school level. He began his education career at East Hardy High School as the agriculture education teacher and then moved to the same position at PCHS.
With 12 years as a high school teacher and one year as a high school assistant principal, Riley was more familiar and had spent more time in the high school setting – a place he feels he is meant to be once again.
“It’s nice to be back here just because I know high school kids because I spent so many years teaching high school,” he said. “I think the transition will be good. I think it will be a good year.”
PCHS has been through some trying times in the past several years. Riley is the fifth principal in five years and the staff and students alike are feeling the strain of a lack of stability.
For Riley, stability is one of the first things he can promise his principalship will give the school.
“Whenever I talked to [superintendent of schools Terrence Beam] and I took this job, he said, ‘first thing I want you to do is tell the freshmen class that they see you now as principal and they’ll see you as principal as seniors graduating,’” Riley said. “That’s one thing I’m offering up. Plus, I’m from the county. I’m here in the county, so I can offer that stability of staying ‘I’m going to be here.’”
Along with ensuring he is going to be around for awhile, Riley said he has the advantage of knowing most of the students at the high school because he was their principal at MMS.
“I know two-thirds of the kids here because I’ve had them,” he said. “They know my expectations. They know what I’ll deal with and what I won’t in that aspect. I’ve talked to a couple kids that, when I was at Marlinton Middle, were like, ‘I can’t wait to get away from you,’ and now I talk to them and they’re like, ‘I’m so excited you’re coming to the high school.’ Kids mature and they turn around.”
As he settles back into his old stomping grounds, Riley is ready to hit the ground running and ensure that students are getting a solid education and preparing themselves for the future.
“It seems like there are kids falling through the cracks,” he said. “I’d like to tighten up those cracks so we can catch those kids because we all know that our graduation rate has not been good. We’ve got a lot of kids going to home school because they’re not liking the school system and I would like to change that. I’d like to have it be more welcoming because Pocahontas County High School prepared us for what we are now.”
Riley said he wants students to understand the difference between the options they have after receiving a diploma, versus the options they have without a diploma.
One way he hopes to maintain student interest is to increase the CTE – Career and Technical Education – program.
“I think the CTE program is important because not all kids are going to go to school,” Riley said. “Even if kids do go on to school, you can give them something that they can use for the rest of their lives. In talking with people at the state level, they say they want to see this CTE program expanding. Now as to what that expansion looks like, I have not met with them to discuss what we can actually do.”
Riley is still uncertain what, if any, classes will be added to the CTE program, but he is looking at the needs of local businesses and seeing jobs for future graduates.
“One thing that I’m realizing from the education standpoint is that we’ve got to start growing our own people,” he said. “I don’t know what that is for the business world, but I know in talking to Burns Motor Freight – they can’t get drivers and they can’t get mechanics. Mitchell Chevrolet struggles to get mechanics, so I think it’s time we try to start growing our own.”
As Riley weighs his options for additions to PCHS, he is just pleased to be back at the school and is ready to get the school back in the limelight for the right reasons.
“I’m just looking forward to the year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being back to the high school level. I’ve talked to quite a few teachers and the teachers are excited about me being the principal – the ones I’ve talked to. I just really want to put Pocahontas County High School back as one of the top schools in the state of West Virginia.”