By Ken Bustin
The highlight of the Pendleton County Board of Education’s February 15th meeting actually took place before the main session, as a series of presentations from, in turn, each of the Community In Schools (CIS) representatives: Manda Teter from Brandywine Elementary School (BES), Wendy Kisamore from Franklin Elementary School (FES), Liz Harper from North Fork Elementary School (NFES), Lesley Cook from Pendleton County High School (PCHS), and Liz Warner from Pendleton County Middle School (PCMS).
Though their presentations, three in person and two as recorded sessions, each included a lot of specifics and outlined individual approaches and methods, there was a common overriding theme to all of them – working to promote good attendance, and striving to make that attendance a rewarding experience for students. All emphasized developing strong communication and building a level of trust with students, especially those with chronic attendance issues.
Approaches ranged from incentives and rewards for good attendance, to increased contact with parents and attempts to involve them in the solutions, to just reaching out to individual students and making them feel that their presence at school was valued.
Teter said she was constantly making phone calls and sending letters to parents of students with chronic absences, attempting to identify any problems at home which might bear upon lack of attendance, and just generally trying to urge parents to encourage good attendance. There were incentives and rewards offered in some cases — $10 gift cards to the Family Dollar store, or tickets which could be redeemed for various goods at the school store. Coloring contests could provide a prize of an ice cream cone to winners from each grade level, with the overall winner claiming a slice of pizza as their reward. Pendleton Community Bank had provided water bottles to be given to students for various achievements. Law enforcement officers had been invited to come and speak to students about the importance of avoiding drugs. In some cases, students got to watch movies, and there had been trips to the bowling alley as a reward for good attendance. Dental Hygiene Month had reinforced good dental health habits. An “angel tree” had proven a popular activity, and at Thanksgiving the “Turkey Trot” had gotten acclaim. The efforts were constant and unrelenting, and progress was being made.
Next up was Harper. She reiterated that improving the attendance rate was the most important goal. It was now at 94%, she said, but the next goal on which they had set their sights was 96%, and to accomplish it, they had established an attendance award for each grade. She, too, emphasized that good communication with students was key. She said it was important, in cases of chronic absences, to have personal contact with the student, and to ask them directly what would help to improve their desire to come to school? The holiday food drive had worked well to get kids involved, she’d observed. They were sending backpacks of food home with students who might be from households which were struggling to have enough to eat. Grades four, five and six were going on a field trip. There was a dental clinic upcoming, along with a career week in March, with speakers who would outline some possible career choices to students. The sixth grade would have a graduation ceremony in May. And these efforts were working: the rate of chronic absence was currently at 18.27%, below the 26% rate that was projected in September.
Thanking Harper for her report, board member Sonny O’Neil added another goal of his own to the list. “I want you to get the [attendance] trophy away from Franklin Elementary,” he quipped, to a round of chuckles in the room. O’Neil lives in, and is the board member representing the portion of the county in which NFES is located.
Cook told the Board that the baseline for chronic absence was 30% — but the current rate was now 25% — a substantial improvement and an accomplishment well below their target of 29.3%. Like the others, they used incentives and rewards to encourage attendance. Students could get a Wildcats water bottle for 95% attendance. They had established a newsletter for parents, outlining their goals and efforts. Because attendance problems often caused – or were caused by — academic difficulties, they had established both virtual and in-person tutoring sessions for students experiencing problems. When other problems, not of an academic nature, were observed, they worked with guidance counsellors to provide assistance in their resolution. Students who needed case management were provided it, and of the 22 students who did, 18 had shown signs of progressing. There was a job fair planned for April, to highlight career possibilities for students.
A second important goal was to increase proficiency in English and Language Arts (ELA). The baseline proficiency, taken from the end-of-year standings for the 2020-21 school year, was 48%, and the target had been established as 52.8%. But currently 87% of students has at least a “C” or higher in ELA.
Warner was up next, in a virtual presentation. Along with attendance, her most important goal was to increase reading proficiency, she said. Like the others, she used a variety of incentives and rewards, adjusted appropriately for the students’ ages. An afternoon snack program had been instituted, as well as a CATS reward store. There currently were 14 students using a Team Tutor program. On Tuesdays, seven high school students were volunteering to tutor middle school students who needed the help. The CIS had established a book club, and 20 students had so far been invited to participate. Twenty-eight middle school students had active case management.
Kisamore said that, like the others, a primary goal was to reduce chronic absences – and it was working. At the end of the first nine weeks, the absentee rate was 26.9%, but it had fallen dramatically to only 20.51% by the end of the second nine-week period. This had been accomplished by calling parents and offering support, making sure to have personal contact with students returning to school after an absence, and making a strong effort to greet students as they arrived at school in the morning and let them know they were missed. They also made it a point to check in with students during the day, to ask how their day was going, as well as making contact with them at dismissal time and telling students they hoped to see them the next day. A “Book Buddy” program had been established, birthday certificates good for pizza at a local restaurant were given out, and all students had received gloves or mittens at the beginning of the winter.
Though they readily admitted there was still room for improvement, all agreed that these efforts were producing results – it was working.
All Board members were present – Teresa Heavner participating by virtual link – when President J. D. Wilkins turned attention to the main portion of the meeting, and called upon Superintendent of Schools Charles Hedrick for the student and staff recognition. Hedrick reported that the Academic Student of the Month at PCHS for February was Titus Nulph, the son of Daniel and Laura Nulph of Franklin. Hedrick said that Nulph is a member of the PCHS band and a winner of the West Virginia Golden Horseshoe. Titus likes farming and likes to read. After graduation, he plans to attend college and major in medical or engineering studies.
Aaron Conrad captured the James Huffman Responsible Student of the Month title for February. Aaron is the son of Melissa and David Conrad of Franklin. He is a member of the National Honor Society and the Franklin Presbyterian Church. Conrad enjoys watching TV, as well as helping his dad cut firewood. After graduation, he plans to attend college in the fall to study computer science.
The minutes of the previous meeting were quickly adopted as written by a unanimous vote.
Personnel was next up on the agenda. There were no resignations to consider, but there were six new employees to review and approve: Corrie Wagoner, for a homebound teaching position at all schools; Wes Fleisher, as a bus driver on the run to the South Branch Vocational Career and Technical Center; Amy Gardiner, as a half-time cook and half-time custodian at PCMHS; Lori Moore, as principal of NFES; and Rebecca Miller as a long-term substitute secretary at FES.
Four people were named to posts in the Summer Success Academy, as well: Holly See, as an itinerant school nurse; Nancy Bowers, as a cook and custodian at NFES; Margaret Wimer, as a cook and custodian at FES; and Beth Kimble, as an itinerant aide with autism mentor and CRP certification.
Hedrick recommended approval of all of the new hires, and it was quickly moved, seconded and unanimously voted to do just that.
Sharon Crider was proposed as a volunteer and chaperone at BES and Patricia Sponaugle was nominated as a volunteer at NFES. The Board quickly ratified both with a unanimous vote.
There were no new contracts or leaves of absence to consider.
Moving to the finance item, President Wilkins called on Business Manager J. P. Mowery to present his report. Mowery gave the Board a brief presentation outlining the highlights of the month, and distributed a written summary for the Board to review and study, after which it was moved, seconded and unanimously voted to approve the report.
There were no budget revisions to consider.
Mowery reported to the Board that a request had been received from the West Virginia University Cooperative Extension Service for a contribution of $5,000 toward its programs. With Mowery and Hedrick recommending approval, the Board lost little time in passing a motion, unanimously, except for an abstention by Heavner, to grant the request.
The Board was advised that the auditor would be coming on February 21. A conflict of interest and fraud questionnaire was handed out to Board members to complete, in connection with the audit.
Mowery reported to the Board that Trent Sites had arranged for Upcycle Electronics to come on February 18 to collect discarded electronics equipment and properly recycle it.
He closed his financial report by reminding the Board that budget discussions would begin in March.
Moving to the facilities report, Facilities Director Tim Johnson told the Board that he would be meeting with the architects to begin planning for renovations at the recently-acquired Lovegrove Building, in preparation for its makeover during the summer months. The bid to change the locks at that facility had been received and was being reviewed, he reported. A conference call in which he had participated concerning security cameras had determined that grant monies up to $500,000 might be available, and it had been determined to apply for the full amount, any proceeds of which would be used to upgrade security cameras. At NFES, the vendor would be coming to look at the gymnasium padding the following week. DSO was working on the split climate system for the server room at the high school. Technicians would be coming the next day to NFES to adjust the regulators for the heating system. A new pressure regulator was being installed at FES, as the old one had been blowing seals. Workmen were pulling cable for the Halo system at the high school.
O’Neil asked the status of the Alternative Education building, and Mowery replied that the grant monies should be arriving any day.
Board Member Betty Kimble asked if it was possible to clean the bleachers at the high school? She said her son had told her about a small unit which could fit between the rows and run down the aisles. Johnson asked Kimble to provide him with the information about the unit and promised he would follow it up.
Kimble also inquired about what could be done about very high steps on the bleachers at NFES, and Johnson said additional handrails could be fabricated and installed in such a way that they could be removed when it was necessary to fold the bleachers up for storage.
There was no new discussion on the advanced construction planning agenda item.
The was no old business to come before the Board.
New business was next, and the Board was presented with an updated educational leave plan which, after brief review, it was approved unanimously.
Moving to the superintendent’s report, Hedrick’s first item was a report on a power outage which had recently occurred at BES. At first, he said, the outage had only affected half the school, but shortly it had spread to the entire facility. A conversation with the power company indicated that the outage might last for an extended time. The students were moved by bus to PCMHS but the power outage had not lasted as long as had been predicted, and they were moved back to BES again.
Hedrick said there was new guidance on masks, effective on February 18. When the county was in a high (red) or substantial (orange) condition, masks would be required in schools, but when the risk level fell to moderate (gold) or low (green), while masks would still be recommended, they would not be required. Masks would continue to be required on school buses, in accordance with CDC guidelines. He passed out a sheet outlining those policies, as well as policies in the event of exposure to COVID.
There were no conferences scheduled, so he had no conference update for the Board.
There being no more business to come before the board, it was soon voted unanimously to adjourn.
The next regular meeting of the Pendleton County Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1, at the Pendleton County Board of Education Annex at 5:30 p.m.