Surveying the failed levy

Jay Miller, Michelle Jeffers and Sue Groves brought their professional backgrounds in education and statistics to the task of analyzing why last November’s school levy failed. L. D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

As everyone knows, despite the fact that our schools are greatly in need of funding, the school levy proposal which was on the ballot last November, was resoundingly defeated – by a margin of two-to-one.
Three Pocahontas County residents, with backgrounds in education, statistics and survey design, took it upon themselves to find out why. 
Jay Miller, Sue Groves and Michelle Jeffers decided to do a thorough and professional survey. 
None have children in our schools and none have any affiliation with the Board of Education or the Central Office, but all three love our community and care about the future of our students.
They donated their time – several hundred “person hours” over the span of several months – and their money – nearly $700 – to this labor of love.
They undertook this effort in the hopes that the information gleaned from the survey will serve to inform citizens, teachers, school administrators and BOE members.
Knowing a little bit about them can give you a better idea of why these folks would take on a project like this. 
Michelle Jeffers is a career educator, having 29 years’ experience in education – 18 of those as an elementary school teacher. She was one of the first nationally certified teachers in West Virginia.
She and her husband moved here in 2004, when Jeffers took the post of principal at Hillsboro Elementary School. She then moved into administration as Director of Curriculum and Special Education. She has substituted as the principal at both Hillsboro and Green Bank Elementary schools.
Jeffers is active in the community. 
She sits on the boards of both the Opera House and the librararies and is a member of Hillsboro Elementary School’s parent/teacher/ community organization.
“I don’t have any children in the Pocahontas County school system, but I have grandchildren who live ‘away’ and I would hope that were they in a school system that needed help, someone there would reach out to help, too,” Jeffers said.
Sue Groves and husband, Jay Miller, bought property in Hillsboro in 2005, built a house and settled into the community right away. 
Both are retired from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where they met. They have grown daughters with whom they spent many vacations in West Virginia over the years.

“My grandparents lived in Preston County, and we’d visit there often,” Groves said. “We kind of fell in love with Pocahontas County, though, so when we retired, we moved here.”

Her professional education and experience is in statistics – designing and analyzing surveys and organizing focus groups. 

Groves serves on the board of the Opera House and is a past executive director of the Pearl Buck Foundation. 

Jay Miller’s education in statistics and background in computer software development to address statistical problems lent itself perfectly to the problem at hand. 

“When the levy failed, my first thought was to ask, ‘why,’ Miller said. “I felt that to get to the bottom of ‘why,’ we’d need a thorough, unbiased survey.”

Miller has always had an interest in education and civic involvement. 

He volunteered as County Coordinator, during which time he worked to establish the One Room University here in Marlinton, to assist local students in getting a college education. 

He started volunteering in the Read Aloud program in the elementary and middle schools and when teachers expressed a need for tutoring, he started tutoring math. 

These days, Miller devotes much of his time to tutoring – although it’s done on a volunteer basis, you could say it’s a part-time job. He works three days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m, in Marlinton Elementary and Hillsboro Elementary and middle school, with a focus on math and remedial reading.

“Our kids here in Pocahontas County are smart, funny and curious,” Miller said. “When I compare the work that they are doing with what I was doing at their age, I’d say that they are working on a curriculum that is far more advanced than mine was.”

“I know that the citizens of this county care about our schools and our students. Getting to the bottom of why the voters said no to the levy was going to take more than just asking around and doing interviews. We really needed focus groups and a professional survey,” he adds.

The survey results and analysis will be published in the next two issues of The Pocahontas Times. 

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