By Stephen Smoot
Brandywine Elementary School has received praise and high rankings recently. Last week, the Pendleton County Board of Education members sat down to have dinner with administrators, teachers, and parents, then held their first scheduled meeting for the month of October.
After a dinner featuring baked potatoes will several toppings, broccoli, salad, and a six-foot-long table packed with homemade desserts, Ryan Lambert, principal of BES, shared how his team has promoted good attendance and academic progress.
Lambert opened his presentation with “it’s always a pleasure to have staff show up and the board.” He added, “We’ve had consistency and soundness at the board level. We appreciate you all.”
Kelly Marsh, the chair of the Local School Improvement Council, shared parent surveys about the 2022-23 school year. With 101 students enrolled, 80 surveys were returned. She said they had “excellent participation this year.”
Marsh then shared a quick summary of the questionnaires, which had 22 questions in four categories. The ratings for each ran between one and five with five being the highest rating. Communication was rated collectively as a 4.6 out of five, classroom criteria a 4.7, school criteria a 4.8, and student growth a 4.9.
Parents also shared a total of written comments in response to specific questions. One area in which some gave a rating of two related to the lack of a permanent music teacher last year and requesting more testing for the gifted and talented program. Marsh said that the school mitigated the first problem, sharing that “we have a wonderful music teacher this year.”
Marsh ended her part of the talk with “I’m really proud of our school, proud of Mr. Lambert, and proud of our staff.”
Lambert then stepped in front of the board and said he had two things to share.
First, he discussed attendance. He explained that two years ago, Charles Hedrick, superintendent of Pendleton County Schools, challenged the leadership group. Although the aftereffects of COVID contributed to the issue, the scorecard on attendance had the schools all in red, which indicates “does not meet standards.”
Lambert said that the superintendent did an “absolutely wonderful job” and provided “good communication when it comes to attendance.”
He added that “Mr. Hedrick was big on incentives, something that gets them here.”
Lambert then described the series of incentives that has elevated the school in that category in recent years. These included different prize drawings for students who had earned their way into different attendance tiers. The Communities In Schools program helps to put together these incentives, that include tablets and even a smart television set as a prize.
Also, classes that have the best attendance receive the attendance flag that moves every two weeks. The class gets to enjoy a reward during the time in which it holds the flag.
Aliyah Wright and Tracy Rightsell helped to give students a visual example of attendance success by creating bulletin boards with popcorn stuck to them. Lambert told the board that it represented a “living, breathing every day visual so they can see it.”
Betty Kimble, board member, related that she asked her grandchild, who attends BES, about class attendance. The student replied, “Not very good. One missed today.”
Lambert went on to discuss academic achievement and accountability, saying that the school “has meaningful data” that it injects into educational improvement programs. He said that “Mr. Hedrick asked principals” about having data-driven solutions.
BES assesses each student within three days of the start of the school year, then every four and a half weeks thereafter. Each student’s progress in key categories, including content standards, capabilities, and other skills, gets measured on a spreadsheet. “We do have team meetings,” Lambert stated. Faculty and administrators go over “what’s working and what’s not working” and determine how to address each student’s individual needs.
He added that “in my eyes, that’s living and breathing,” using data “to hold us accountable,” but “you’re not teaching to a test.”
Hedrick said, “You’ve all done an excellent job. His staff has done an outstanding job.” He added that BES has “a culture of excellence” and “nobody does anything great alone.”
- D, Wilkins, board president, shared that “we’ve known Brandywine has done well for a long time,” but the status quo isn’t good enough. The school “is doing well and wanting more,” Wilkins said.
The official board meeting then commenced and opened with public comments from Krista Owens and Nick Rexrode.
Owens opened by discussing the proposed fieldhouse at Pendleton County Middle/High School, which would have served football, basketball, baseball, and other sports, but was “tabled because of the price.”
She said, “I want to bring it back to the table . . . this is a great need,” then described how having all sports all year long rely on one set of locker rooms creates an impossible situation in terms of keeping them cleaned and maintained.
Referring to the design of the building and the costs, she said, “I think it’s a little more elaborate than we need.”
Rexrode explained that he had been asked to oversee the construction by one of the bidding firms and that he had examined the blueprints. He said, “Let’s see what the actual necessities are,” and also suggested alternative designs and materials that would lower the cost.
Hedrick encouraged Owens and Rexrode to share their ideas with facilities administrator Travis Heavner, who could not attend that night. He added that “some things may be requirements” and that there could be “code issues.”
Hedrick also said Heavner would “like to see the fieldhouse completed as much as anyone.”
Wilkins explained how he, fellow board member Sonny O’Neil, and others worked to build a gymnasium facility in Circleville, saying, “We applaud you. It’s not necessarily easy.” O’Neil said, “We built the gym and sold it to the school system for a dollar,” adding, “I tell you, it can be done,” and “we were shocked and disappointed at the price.”
At the end of the public session, Carrie Nesselrodt reported on attendance so far this fall, sharing that “I feel like it’s very positive. We’re in a good place.”
The next meeting of the school board will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 in the board office.