(Editor’s Note: Each of the six candidates in the race for two seats on the Ohio County Board of Education was asked to reply to five questions concerning the future of Ohio County Schools so that their answers could be published free of charge. The stories will be published based on the order the replies were received from a total of 16 candidates running for Assessor, the Board of Education, County Clerk, and County Sheriff.)
Sarah Koegler, Incumbent, District 2, Ohio County Board of Education:
A native of New York, Sarah Koegler chose James Madison University for her undergraduate studies and graduated in 1997. She then moved west to California to continue her education at San Francisco State University, where she earned a master’s degree in social work.
Following a decade working in education in the Bay Area as a teacher, social worker, and as a new-teacher support provider, she and her husband, Jason, a Wheeling native, opted to move back to the Wheeling area to raise their two sons, Will and Campbell, who are now 10 and 8 years old respectively. Although the Koeglers added a daughter, Cora, this past winter, Koegler wishes to serve a second term as a member of the Ohio County Board of Education as a representative of the county’s second district.
Koegler is employed as a Senior Managing Director of Human Assets for Teach for America, the national non-profit organization based in New York City that supplies instructors in poverty-stricken areas across the country. She bases her operations in the Friendly City, but she does travel to the locations where the Teach for America program is operational.
What are your primary reasons for filing to run for a seat on the Ohio County Board of Education?
Our school system is this county’s greatest asset, and it needs to continue to be excellent if our community is going to grow and thrive. When I decided to run four years ago, I knew that my skills and perspective as a parent, former educator, and school social worker would help me to be a strong board member. I’m running again because I believe we need consistent leadership, focused on the most important priorities, during a time of change in our school system.
What is your opinion of the most recent test scores received by Ohio County’s public school students; how do you believe improved scores can be achieved in the future; and do you feel those scores represent an adequate way to judge a school district’s employees?
Folks should know that it’s difficult to understand what the test scores actually tell us. Last year was the first year West Virginia students took this new test, so we have no ‘previous year’ comparisons. To try to compare these proficiency numbers with last year’s is impossible, unfortunately, because it was a different test. Also, we are not able to use this assessment to understand how we performed compared to other states. So, what do the results show us? A) how we compared to other counties in West Virginia; and B) comparisons between schools and groups within our own county. Another challenge is that the testing company and our state department of education are not able to tell the counties what it means for a student to be ranked “proficient” in a subject. Therefore, I can only comment on what we do know from the test data:
- Looking at how we compare with the rest of the state — for what it’s worth — we are the highest scoring county in English and second highest in math;
- Looking within our county, we have some schools and student groups that scored better than others; there are differences between schools and between socio-economic groups;
- We can see that our scores peak for our youngest students who took the test, and are lowest for our high school students, especially in math.
How do you believe improved scores can be achieved in the future?
I believe we should focus on improving student achievement period, not only on improving state test scores; while these are related, they’re not exactly the same.
- We need to understand the many challenges that face our kids growing up in low-income areas of our county and their families. What support do our teachers need in order to reach these students? How can we better partner with community organizations so that we are all collaborating to support these families so that their kids come to school ready to learn, and the learning continues at home?
- We need to continue to invest in targeted professional development for our teachers.
- We need to engage and involve our parents MUCH more so that they have the skills and resources they need to reinforce learning outside of school.
- We need to use assessments that our high school students actually care about, like the ACT, to determine success at the high school level.
- We need MULTIPLE ways to measure how we’re doing, such as ongoing assessments in all of our schools along with comprehensive standardized tests and other things such as graduation rates, college completion rates, and employability of our graduates.
Do you feel those scores represent an adequate way to judge a school district’s employees?
As far as our teachers, the vast majority of our staff is working tirelessly to reach our students. The recent test results do not tell me that our teachers or administrators aren’t doing their jobs — far from it. The very little that we CAN see from those results tell me that we continue to lead the state and that there are very real challenges for certain groups of students. We need to focus on closing those gaps by ensuring our teachers get the support they need to reach all kids, not by pointing fingers of blame.
How important do you believe the current arts programs are to a child’s education?
Extremely important. Research shows that students who receive arts education show enhanced learning and performance in all other academic areas. The arts are not an “add-on”; they are foundation, a key ingredient in the recipe for student success. The arts also support the social and emotional development of children, something that we need especially for our students who are in difficult situations at home. I’m very proud of our arts programs.
What ideas do you have at this time to increase the amount of parental involvement with the Ohio County public school system?
This is a passion of mine. At the most basic level, we need to increase two-way communication with our parents. Additionally, I’d like to see the county establish a parent liaison group to the board to help us develop these strategies. I helped start the countywide LSIC parent group three years ago, but we need even more ways to partner with parents. Depending on what this liaison group advises, we could set up ways to help parents support their students academically, navigate the process of applying for colleges, understand challenges related to social media, and the dangerous growing drug epidemic, etc.
What should be the top priorities be for the members of the new school board and the new superintendent heading into the 2016-2017 academic year?
- Rebuilding credibility with our community by setting and sharing clear priorities for the year;
- Setting measurable goals around student achievement that we all agree on; using data to gauge success;
- Developing a sound long-term financial plan to ensure we can meet our technological, facility, and programmatic needs in an ever-changing funding environment;
- Preparing for potential changes at the state and national level that may impact the county (common core, changing state assessments, calendar policies, etc.).
(Photos provided by the candidate)