By Stephen Smoot
The Pendleton County Board of Education held its final meeting of 2023 at Franklin Elementary School. The inclement weather, however, forced the postponement of that school’s update to the board.
Board president J. D. Wilkins opened the session saying, “We ask that You bless the decisions and the kids.”
After hearing the treasurer’s report from J. P. Mowery, the board accepted the resignation of Pendleton County High School volleyball head coach Rod Cooper. Cooper took the team to repeated state tournament appearances, this year’s providing the program one of its biggest victories, an upset of number one seed Buffalo.
Board members and other officials briefly discussed the scandals facing Upshur County Schools during the past year. State officials have sanctioned the system for misappropriation of funds handed to them because of the pandemic. Upshur County’s school system must repay state and federal funds more than $800,000.
Mowery pointed out that “finance is how they got in trouble, not having controls for people.” He further explained that they employed “a sole proprietor as an auditor,” who likely was “not as rigorous as ours.” Upshur County lacked procedures to govern spending and did not use specific purchasing cards.
He then mentioned the advance of the Secure Rural Schools program in the U.S. Senate. The SRS reimburses counties for national forest lands from which counties cannot recoup timber taxes.
Travis Heavner followed with the facilities report, saying, “There’s not a lot from me.” Heavner shared that “we did get the new sign up and running.” The electronic sign had flawed LED when it arrived and it had just been repaired. “They’ve been updating it and it looks nice,” he noted.
He added that “we did order new letters for the side of the high school. They should be installed on the Jan. 27.”
Board member Betty Kimble inquired if the girls’ bathroom at the middle/high school had been painted. Removal of an appliance revealed yellow paint that had not been covered when the school took on its current colors. Heavner replied that the painting was finished.
Carrie Nesselrodt then delivered the fourth month attendance report. Brandywine and Franklin Elementary schools have competed all year for best attendance numbers. This month, BES had the best grade in attendance, second grade with 96.48 percent. It also came in as the top school with 94.406 percent.
She added that “each school follows its own pattern” and that “I’m curious to see how attendance changes from one year to the next.” Also, she stated that each county school has shown improvement in attendance and that “overall, we’re higher than we were last year.”
As she has stated in other meetings, Nesselrodt described chronic absence rates as a significant priority. She explained that chronic absence percentages for both the county and each school needed to be below 20 percent. As of now, only the middle/high school exceeds that threshold. “Franklin Elementary School is doing the best with chronic absence rates,” Nesselrodt said.
Additionally, “chronic absences are lower this year than last for each month.” The improvements helped Pendleton County to rank tenth in the state in attendance numbers.
Charles Hedrick, Pendleton County Schools superintendent, explained that pre pandemic “attendance was really good,” and that he hoped to see the chronic absence numbers decline to 10 percent.
“We’d all like to see it go faster,” he said, “but it’s going in the right direction.”
Board member Sonny O’Neil added that schools with small populations like North Fork can potentially see huge swings when even small numbers of children are absent.
Hedrick closed the meeting by sharing details from his meeting with State Senator Amy Grady. The legislator and teacher is leading the effort to craft a bill regarding the rise of discipline issues in many parts of the state.
He said, “They are trying to think about ideas of what to do differently. They’ve done a lot of conferences already.”