Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Last week, while Pocahontas County students were counting down to June 14 – the last day of school and, more importantly, the first day of their summer vacation – Superintendent Terrence Beam sat in his stripped down office at the soon-to-be former board of education central office in Marlinton.

As laughter from the Marlinton Elementary School playground wafted through the open office windows, Beam reflected on the 2017-2018 school year and looked forward to the new year ahead.

This school year was one for the books – 15 snow days, nine days of work stoppage, the board office moving to a new building in Buckeye and an election which ended with three new board members who will take office July 1.

It’s been difficult. It’s been fun. It’s been unforgettable, and Beam said he has come out of the year with lessons learned and plans for the future.

With all the days off, students are going to school later than usual, but thanks to a Reimagined Time Waiver, that will change in the next school year.

“We did apply for a Reimagining Time Waiver which allows us to provide snow packets or some type of online school work for the students or reports they can do,” Beam said. “It’s going to be up to each individual school to determine what the assignments are going to be, but it also allows us five additional days that we do not have to make up due to inclement weather.”

Along with the five days from the waiver, Pocahontas County Schools also has five more days which are covered by accrued time. Each school has accrued time – time spent in the classroom more than the amount required each day by the West Virginia Department of Education.

With those 10 days built in, schools would not have to make up snow days or missed days until there are 11 or more.

“Right now, if you look at our calendar [for next year], the last day of school scheduled is May 21 and that would be with ten snow days,” Beam said. “that would be with spring break and Thanksgiving break. This year, we had fifteen snow days, so if you have fifteen snow days next year, you still are going to get out before the end of May.”

The only change that could come to the calendar is if there is another work stoppage next year. This year, school employees participated in a nine-day work stoppage to protest PEIA and the lack of raises for state employees. At the end of the nine days, the Legislature approved a raise for state employees and formed a PEIA task force to address issues with the insurance premium costs.

Since the struggle with PEIA is ongoing, Beam said there could possibly be another work stoppage next year.

“Although I think it was for the right reasons, and I think it got its goal accomplished, the PEIA is still raising its ugly head, and I don’t think our employees have forgotten about that,” he said. “There’s always that possibility, so one of the things that I want to get out to the public is that at this point, we’re not willing to guarantee we’re going to protect spring break.”

While the full week of spring break is not guaranteed, Beam said Good Friday and the Monday after Easter will be protected in the calendar.

“We will protect Good Friday for the students, and we will protect the Monday after Easter,” he said. “After that, I can’t make any promises at this point. That’s kind of where we are with our calendar.”

As mentioned earlier, Beam’s office is stripped down – as of last week it had a table, chair, computer and couch. All the offices in the building were in the same state as the central office employees have been working hard to relocate to the new board office in Buckeye.

Moving the office out of Marlinton town limits has caused some controversy in the community, and Beam has felt the brunt of the decision made by the board of education nearly a year ago.

Despite the negative comments, Beam said he, the employees and the board members still believe it was the right decision, and he feels certain the savings will make the fight worthwhile.

“It is going to show savings for our county,” he said. “I’m estimating in five or six years, the savings from the insurances and utilities will more than pay for the building we bought.”

The first board meeting was held at the new office Monday. Beam said an open house is planned for sometime in July to allow the public to see the office and get acclimated to the change.

More changes are coming with the three new board members – Justin Dilley, Sue Hollandsworth and John Burns – who will take their seats July 1.

Beam said he has met with each member individually.

“I’ve spent some time with all three of them,” he said. “We’ve had some very good conversations. I think it’s going to be a fairly smooth transition. There’s going to be learning curves for them getting to know what their job actually is and getting to know me a little bit and what my goals are, and me getting to know them as to what they are trying to accomplish as a board member.”

The new members will join Joe Walker and Becky Campbell as leaders of the school system.

“I’m going to challenge all of our board members to try to determine a direction they want to see our school system go,” he said. “They need to be the leaders. They need to set the direction and say, ‘this is what we want to try to accomplish.’ There are five people. They are elected by the public and people expect them to make these decisions, but, be that as it may, we’re still going to be asking for – continue to ask for – public input.”

Beam said it is important for the board and the community to have a close and open relationship, and he continues to encourage board members to reach out to the community to get input on plans for the school system.

As he looks forward to working with the new members, Beam reflects on the time spent with the board members who are leaving.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the board members that are leaving at the end of this next board meeting,” he said. “Steve Tritapoe, Emery Grimes and Jessica Hefner have all been very supportive of me. We haven’t always agreed on everything, but they’ve been supportive of me, and they worked together. They bantered back and forth on topics, but in the end, we tried to make the best decisions we could.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com