By Stephen Smoot
After a homemade meal and a thorough briefing, both put on by North Fork Elementary School’s administration, faculty, and staff, Pendleton County Board of Education members conducted their official meeting.
The assemblage opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, then heard the invocation from school board president J. D. Wilkins, who said, “We ask You to bless us all.”
- P. Mowery, business manager and treasurer for the school system, informed the board that, after 25 years, it made its final monthly payment for use of the space at the old annex building. He also shared that the school system bought a school bus, with two more to be leased in the future. “This will bring us up to date for a while,” he noted.
He then discussed the impending end of the alternate education building saga. “We are making a lot of progress,” Mowery stated, adding that the transport of the finished structure from Huttonsville prison cost $3,000. L and W Transportation “worked with us very reasonably” he shared.
In going over the cost of the upgraded facility, Mowery stated that “a lot of the large expenditures were made in building it,” and it turned out to be “a very good product for us.” He reminded all in attendance that “at least 80 percent (of the nearly $100,000 cost) was covered by the grant.”
Mowery then turned to a difficult subject for many state schools, dropping attendance. He shared a chart dated for the years 1999 through 2024. It showed the drastic drop of the student population in approximately a quarter of a century. As the 20th century ended, Pendleton County Schools had 1,352 students. Current headcount is 846, a 37 percent drop.
He pointed out that two dramatic drops corresponded with the closing of Hanover Shoe and also the Sugar Grove Navy Base. Another took place in 2019 that had no obvious explanation.
The state counts 60 separate jurisdictions, including the 55 county systems and five charter schools. Mowery said, “The prep academies have grown the most.” Of the counties, Doddridge enjoyed the top growth rate, followed by Grant, Pocahontas, and Berkeley, which did slightly better than break even.
All other counties saw their student populations drop. Pendleton County ranked 24th in school population change at 2.2 percent, close to the state average of 2.0 percent.
The negative news in school population was balanced by the report that Pendleton County Schools’ preschool program had gained 12, the second highest increase in the state behind Taylor and ahead of Jackson.
“That’s a good one-year piece of information,” Mowery said.
In other positive news, Pendleton County continued to meet state mandates in percentage of staff serving as professional employees.
Carrie Nesselrodt, director of student services, discussed attendance. She provided a handout tracking from September to the end of November. Sonny O’Neil, board member, asked, “Is it typical for seniors to be the lowest grade level in attendance,” to which she answered in the affirmative.
Wilkins added that “considering all the colds going around, I’m pleasantly surprised by the attendance.” Nesselrodt cautioned that the report did not contain the most recent weeks, in which a number of absences occurred due to illness.
“My goal,” she explained “is to be good enough outside of cold season that this doesn’t bring us down.”
Charles Hedrick, Pendleton County Schools superintendent, thanked Nesselrodt for gathering the data, saying, “She’s really done a great job.” O’Neil added, “The CIS ladies do a great job getting them to school.”
He then reported that the old board office was successfully sold to the Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority and praised the support for the 12 Days of Christmas Food Drive. Hedrick explained, “It carries C. A. N. through most of the winter.
The next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 19. Franklin Elementary School will host.