By Stephen Smoot
Since the 2019-2020 school year, Pendleton County has participated in the Communities in Schools program. This national effort seeks to mitigate learning disadvantages experienced by children living in poverty or facing other social challenges.
Site coordinators from each county school came to the regular Pendleton County Board of Education meeting to update members and the superintendent on their goals and progress toward them. The meeting opened with prayer. J. D. Wilkins asked that God “grant us wisdom and discretion.” Directly afterward, the site coordinators shared their reports.
Amanda Teter described her efforts at Brandywine Elementary School. All the coordinators listed improving overall attendance and reducing chronic absences as primary goals. Teter stated that her goal lay in improving attendance at BES by two percent. Although illnesses and vacations made achieving the number a challenge, they hit the mark in February.
“Every day we express how important it is to be here,” Teter told the board. She added that she does “a lot of tutoring with them, as much as I can.”
CIS encourages incentive based programs to encourage better attendance among all students while also targeting those with unfulfilled basic needs. Teter organized assistance to help with weekend needs of 19 students.
Teter also organized events for students. In October Papas and Pumpkins, for example, targeted dads and kids by getting them to carve pumpkins together. Also, First Lady Cathy Justice brought Christmas presents and students received supplies and information for February’s Dental Hygiene Month.
“It’s still kind of a work in progress,” Teter stated, adding that “every school is different and every need is different.”
Elizabeth Harper delivered the report for North Fork Elementary. Their efforts to reduce absenteeism by two percentage points only slightly fell short, but shot past the chronic absenteeism reduction goal. Harper set that goal at two percent as well, but saw a four percent improvement.
She explained that “I monitor the absence list every day. I call the parents. When they come back, I ask them ‘how are you doing?’” Harper added that she uses the motto “attendance matters, all day, every day.” The school also, starting in March, offered a weekly attendance award where students can win small prizes, such as a pencil or an eraser. All winners get to participate in a year end drawing for a bicycle.
Other activities included a trunk or treat and special event for veterans. “They really appreciated it,” she said.
Wendy Kisamore discussed progress at Franklin Elementary School. She also reported that incentive programs helped to contribute to declining absenteeism numbers, saying that “baby steps may help.” However, progress was hindered by a rash of illnesses that swept through the school.
Franklin conducts daily attendance drawings. “We keep a close watch on absences and tardies. We’re seeing a slight improvement in tardiness as well.” Kisamore said. Like the other site coordinators, she emphasized the importance of engagement. “We greet them warmly, letting them feel welcome at school,” she said.
Additionally, the school held a special luncheon to welcome 28 new students. “It helped us, because we got to know those kids,” Kisamore explained. She added that qualifying students got to attend a party held by the Fraternal Order of Police in Elkins. “They even provided money for transportation,” she noted.
Leslie Cook, site coordinator for Pendleton County Middle/High School also shared information on progress at that facility. Cook focused strongly on chronic absenteeism at the school. Sixty students receive extra focus in case management for attendance and/or academics. Cook explained that 52 percent of the students showed improvement, 14 percent no change, and 34 percent had declines.
Cook stated that “we have to drill down to find the root causes,” with the individuals whose attendance got worse. She and students worked on addressing one potential root cause by putting together a mental health week. “This was something the students requested,” Cook shared. It included topics such as art and music therapy, as well as wellness.”
- D. Wilkins, school board president, said, “I thank all of you for the difference that you make.” Sonny O’Neil, board member, added, “We’ll do every kind of support you need.”
The board moved on to discuss facilities construction and planning. “We are trying to get the CAN building operational,” Travis Heavner reported. The concrete floor still needs time to cure and flooring would be installed next week. “The people at CAN are very pleased with the new floor,” he said.
He also stated that FES would likely not see its new bleachers until next fall.
In the long term, Heavner explained that the school system had plans to develop the area behind the school for the convenience and use of football and spring sports. “It will be a really nice place if it all works out,” Heavner noted.
Charles Hedrick, superintendent, reported that PEIA premiums would increase by approximately 25 percent to keep the legally mandated 80-20 split in cost. He explained that salary increases for most would mitigate that increase. He also shared a new mandate that every public school post its curriculum online. Parents may access, but only with passwords.
Finally, the board decided that it would dedicate one wall of the new meeting room for permanent display of Pendleton County teachers of the year.