School year back on track

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

With an unprecedented school employee work stop- page, West Virginia’s school systems didn’t know how or when to recover the nine days schools were closed.

Without a plan in place, it was up to the State superintendent and Governor Jim Justice to lead the counties in the right direction. During the time since the work stoppage, different plans have been created, leading to miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Last week, Pocahontas County Schools Superintendent Terrence Beam retracted some information and explained how the missed days will be made up by employees and students.

Beam held two teleconferences with faculty senate presidents, principals, and representatives for AFT [American Federation of Teachers], WVEA [West Virginia Education Association] and West Virginia Service Employees Association to determine how many days employees must make up outside of instructional days.

“See, they’re given credit for things like holidays, CE days, all those,” Beam explained. “So even though students will have 180 days of school, employees have to earn 200 days, but a lot of those are earned – there are seven holidays, there’s election day, there are CE days at the beginning of school, there are CE days in the middle of the year, there are preparation days at the beginning of school, there’s preparation days at the end of school. All of those add up to twenty days.”

At the board of education meeting March 19, Beam reported that both employees and students will get all of the planned spring break – a statement he now has to take back.

“One of the mistakes I made in this whole thing or at least the biggest mistake I made was saying that probably teachers would not be working during spring break, and the reason I said that was that I was led to believe, along with a lot of other superintendents, that there was a possibility that Governor Justice was going to forgive some days,” Beam said.

If the governor did forgive [give exemptions for] missed days and Beam had teachers work spring break, then they would end the school year with more than 200 work days.

“We’ve been told, very clearly, that they’re not going to forgive any of those days, so the teachers are going to have to work them either now or later [in the summer],” Beam said. “We’ve got activities planned the whole week with our teachers – trainings for our teachers.

“So, spring break will be a hundred percent off for students and employees are expected to work that week just as they work any other week,” he continued. “The last day for students is June 14, assuming we don’t have any more snow days.”
Beam said graduation will remain Saturday, May 26, and the last day of final exams at Pocahontas County High School is June 5.

While it seems the 2017-2018 school year is finally settled as far as make up days, one question remains – will this happen again next year?

The work stoppage began because school employees were united in the fight against the rising cost of PEIA [Public Employee Insurance Agency].

At the end of the work stoppage, school employees were given a five percent raise and Governor Justice formed a task force to fix PEIA.

If the task force is unable to find an acceptable solution, Beam said, in his opinion, there is a possibility teachers will strike again next year.

“I think if there is not a solution – they have a year to fix this – and I think in a year, if, and I”m just speaking from my personal perspective, I have no inside information, I think it is very possible that teachers would walk out again,” he said. “I think they could.”

As a way to prepare for possible missed days – whether they be snow days, other weather-related days or even a work stoppage – Beam said he is working with the schools to create snow packets or reimagined education time.

There is a waiver the county can apply for through the State Department of Education which will count snow packets as instructional days, allowing schools to have fewer make up days at the end of the year.

Beam said the only issue is still some debate in the county over whether snow packets should be counted the same as a day in the classroom and how students’ grades will be affected.

“The school faculties are having a hard time deciding how they want to present their reimagined time packets and how are they going to be graded and what they are going to be worth, and until we come to a consensus here as a county, we can’t apply for that,” Beam said.

Because the teachers are the ones who will be creating and grading the packets, Beam said he wanted them to have ownership of the program and wanted to make sure the packets are what the teachers want them to be.

“I’ve put this on them,” he said. “I’ve said, ‘guys, I can’t design this for you. You have to tell me how your teachers are going to deliver this instruction on snow days.’ I’ll put it in an application and put it in with our school calendar.”

Beam said that most of the teachers have reached a consensus about the snow packet program, but there are a few who still prefer making up the days instead of creating packets, stating they are afraid that some students won’t take the packets seriously.

In the meantime, Beam said they are focused on getting through the school year and ensuring the students and employees end the year on a high note.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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