By Stephen Smoot
Last month, representatives of Pendleton County Schools’ service personnel requested that the county match what the state provides for teachers and other staff categorized as “professional” in terms of a retirement bonus and job attendance incentives.
In the Pendleton County Board of Education meeting last week, service personnel received one, with the other tabled for a final decision in November.
The meeting opened with Sonny O’Neil serving as acting president in the absence of J. D. Wilkins. In his opening invocation, he prayed, “Please keep all of the innocent people in Israel safe.”
After the prayer, the board recognized the success of the high school Future Farmers of America judging team.
J.P. Mowery shared as a statement of information, not an argument against adoption, that because the state did not support such programs, “anything for service personnel would be county funded.” O’Neil suggested that “it worked really well with teachers.” Nicole Hevener added, “I do think this would very much help us.”
With the recommendation of Charles Hedrick, superintendent of schools, the measure passed.
A second proposal, to also extend the attendance incentives offered by the state, did not come to a vote. Hedrick informed the board that “there’s some details we have to work out.”
Mowery then gave a report on financial and budget information. One item of note was a $2,000 “From Scratch” grant that funded trainings of cooks on how to make more food “from scratch” using the resources and equipment available in a school lunch setting.
He and Hevener will also take a trip to Washington, DC, to visit with Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito. They will provide information to help the senators inform the United States Senate on the value of the heavily forested counties and related funding that go to rural counties such as Pendleton and Pocahontas.
“I’m really proud of Pocahontas,” Mowery shared, adding that “they do a lot of the heavy lifting.” Pendleton County receives $100,000 and Pocahontas $400,000.
Hedrick said, “I really appreciate J.P. and Nicole going down there.”
The board then heard a report that internet expansion under the ECF fund in conjunction with the Pendleton County Library is “basically done.” Shentel had seen delays related to getting their money from the Federal Communications Commission, who had initially declined to fund the free hookup element of the plan. They finally relented and those hookups will continue until May 29, 2024.
Progress on the Sugar Grove/Lingo internet expansion had progressed more slowly, with completion not expected until August of next year.
Hedrick also expressed appreciation for Mowery’s help with those projects.
Travis Heavner then shared his facilities report. He first discussed a project to change the lettering on the side of Pendleton County Middle/High School. “We have a few broken ones,” he said, adding that “these are the original letters.”
He also said that the new letters, made of a more durable material than the original plastic, should last longer and not be discolored by long exposure to the sun.
Heavner also shared that the new electronic marquis for the front of the middle and high school would also get installed soon. “I’ve seen pictures of it,” he said, “it looks nice.”
The epic saga of the new alternative education building might end soon. Pendleton County Schools participated in a prison skills training program that saw Huttonsville inmates construct four parts of a new alternative education building for the middle and high school. Conventional trucks, however, could not move the structures off the grounds due to the height restrictions created by the sign over the only entrance to the grounds.
Finally, Heavner found LW Enterprises LLC of Randolph County with the specialized equipment capable of moving the structures without destroying the sign. “We’ve got a game plan in place,” he said, adding that “we could possibly get it moved next week.”
The last roadblock lies in obtaining a crane to set the buildings on the foundation. “We’re making progress and getting closer,” he said.
As new facilities will soon arrive in the county, the board said farewell to another. It voted to accept an offer for the old board office, originally made by the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority, whose operations have been assumed by the Seneca Rocks Rural Development Authority. The SRRDA, with grant funding, will renovate the facility into an innovation hub for remote workers.
The board then passed approvals of policy updates concerning critical needs, disciplinary regulations, and student journalism. The critical needs policy provides “for the employment of retired teachers in areas of critical need and shortage beyond the post-retirement limitations established by the Consolidated Public Retirement Board.”
Retired teachers may accept roles if the county cannot hire substitute teachers in the field of critical need. These substitutes fill vacant positions. The county must review and renew the policy annually as needed.
Pendleton County Schools plans to fill critical needs in science, English language arts, business management, and elementary health/physical education for the 2023-2024 term.
Next, the board heard attendance and achievement reports. Carrie Nesselrodt informed the board that Brandywine Elementary fourth grade had the best attendance at 98 percent. BES as a whole had the best school attendance at 96.5 percent. Countywide, third grade performed the best at 94.19 percent.
She then discussed chronic absence numbers, sharing that 10 percent represented the target goal. Chronically absent students are those who miss more than 10 percent of school days. While BES and Franklin Elementary School are “in really great shape,” all schools combined had a number just under 13 percent. Nesselrodt said that overall “we’re not far from the 10 percent mark.”
Different schools have explored ways to motivate students to make attendance a personal priority. BES and FES use a number of techniques, including “attendance flags,” daily announcements, and other public praise and material reward plans. North Fork Elementary has weekly competitions and a prize box.
Pendleton County Middle/High School uses a football inspired contest where each class earns “yards” on a field diagram. The class that scores a touchdown first earns a “super bowl” party.
Nesselrodt said, “Everyone has some really interesting ideas.” She added that she has met with the principals to work on ways to curb absences around the holidays.
Hedrick then presented the superintendent’s report, much of which discussed the county schools’ approval status and accreditation. First, in career and technical education efficiency indicators, the county scored 86 points with 75 indicating that the system “meets requirements.” It also earned a “meets requirements” in all operational effectiveness fields. This includes areas such as child nutrition, special education, personnel, federal programs, and more.
Pendleton County joined 16 counties that had met requirements in these for two years in a row. Twenty-four in total met all this year. “We’ve done it every year for the past several years,” Hedrick noted.
He then shared the state response to the county being placed “on watch” for not meeting standards in math achievement and post-secondary achievement. According to the letter from Michele Blatt, State Superintendent of Schools, “it is the county’s responsibility to monitor for continuous growth and improvement of its students.” The state will analyze student data to determine if the school system has demonstrated improvement.
The state lists these results on Annual Accountability Ratings for each county.
The county did not receive a “support” designation in any category. Counties with this failed to show improvement in categories that did not meet standards for two years in a row.
The next meeting of the Pendleton County Board of Education will take place at Pendleton County Middle/High School at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.