Uniform and phone-in participation policies, the non-renewal of the former superintendent, no-shows by BOE members, tax decreases and then increases, and the nastiest of all election cycles dominated the news pertaining to Ohio County Schools for much of the past two-plus years.
As the age-old saying goes, “If it bleeds it leads,” and there was bad blood.
Now, with the May 10 Election Day in the past, one new Board of Education member, and a new administration put into place, leaders in Ohio County’s public school system hope to move into the future with a new perspective and a fresh set of goals. As far as what media coverage follows, well, the new superintendent, Dr. Kim Miller, believes she knows how to solve past issues that have plagued the district.
“We change the media coverage by communicating to the media and not putting our heads into holes and ignoring the media,” Miller insisted. “There are going to be tough questions, and I can already tell you that we are not going to have the answers to everything. But working together, we’re going to figure out those answers so we can improve our schools.
“If the focus stays on our children, we cannot go wrong,” she added. “It’s all about the children. It must be all about our children.”
One example of a solution search is the inclement weather Ohio County usually endures during the winter months. The conundrum concerns the school system’s current policy pertaining to canceling classes because of roadway conditions in the early morning hours.
“I’ve already initiated a conversation about the possibility of alternative snow routes,” Miller said. “That’s something we should consider in Ohio County, and it has been a topic in the past. If there is a way we can get the children to bus stops that are safe, I think we should try to figure that out.
“In Ohio County the weather is very different in Dallas Pike than it is along National Road. We know that we can feed them breakfast and lunch, and we know we can educate them, so why not try to figure out a way to get them to their schools,” she said. “And most of the times the roads are completely clear by 10 a.m., so we know we can get the children home. It takes communication so we can make sure that the kids are safe and sound.”
The district’s new assistant superintendent, Rick Jones, has been a teacher, a principal of a middle school and a high school, and he has been involved with athletics, too, during his career in education. Through those years Jones has reminded himself and his colleagues about what they are and what they are not.
“I’m an educator. Kim is an educator. Teachers are educators. We’re not politicians,” Jones said. “That’s why I don’t see any problems with answering questions about education. This isn’t about a political race.
“Now, the people on the Board of Education? They are politicians. They get elected, and they make a lot of tough decisions, and sometimes those decisions are controversial. It’s a very tough job,” he continued. “But our teachers and all employees of the school system need to keep education on their minds and be a little less of politicians, and let the politicians be the politicians. It seems as if they sometimes get intertwined, and I just don’t think they are at all.”
Rating Schools ‘A’ to ‘F’
It was known as “Policy 2320” when being considered by the members of the West Virginia Board of Education, but since it passed in June, it is now referred to as the “A-F County and School Grading System.”
The new system was delayed by a year so the first round of grades given to the Mountain State’s 55 county school system could be based on two years’ worth of its recently adopted standardized test. No longer are the students administered the WestTest; now it’s the Smarter Balanced statewide standardized test. The first round of letter grades is expected to be released later this year.
The accountability system will be based on more than the test scores and graduation rates as attendance, career- and college-indicators, reading levels in the third grade and math abilities in eighth grade will factor into the formula, as well.
“I see it as a very dangerous thing,” Miller said. “It’s going to be the way the public perceives what’s happening, and if it is determined by the tests that we take in one or two days, we’ll have to be very cautious because as we all know, we are so much more than a one-day test. Who knows if, on that day, a child is not feeling well or if their parents had a fight, or if they didn’t have any food for breakfast? None of that shows up on a test.
“For a school system to be ranked by a letter grade based on that one day is a little worrisome,” she continued. “I’ve disagreed with such a system since the state board began discussing it, and I continue to disagree with it although it is now in place.”
Jones agrees and primarily because he views the system as slanted.
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“I’ve written a Letter to the Editor not too long ago against it, and one my big problems with it is you can never achieve what they want in the state because it’s on a Bell Curve,” Jones said. “That means they’ve already said that four or five counties will get A’s no matter what, and then the bulk are getting to get lower grades. That’s already set into stone.
“If they want all of our schools to become A’s ultimately, how is that ever going to be achieved if it’s already pre-determined what every system is going to get? That’s very puzzling to me,” he continued. “I think it’s going to be embarrassing.”
Just because the school administrators do not appreciate the new system does not mean they will not consume the results in an effort to recognize where curriculum and instruction adjustments are needed.
“When the results come in, we are going to analyze them, and I’m sure changes will be made, but they will be made for the right reasons,” Miller said. “We’re going to find out where our children had deficits, and we’re going to see where their strengths are. And regardless of where those children are, we’re going to take them to the next level.
“Traditionally, Ohio County Schools has been a strong school system,” she continued. “Yes, we have had our bumps in the road, but for many years we have been a very strong, very professional school system. I think a lot of people care, too, and that’s most important.”
Moms, Dads, the Kids
The challenges, for many parents and most teachers, are real.
In the majority of cases, both the mother and the father must work to make ends meet, and today there are more single parents, and grandparents who are raising children in Ohio County and nationwide. And now we know that far too many children are going to school hungry, and that is why each child in Ohio County Schools will receive a free breakfast and a free lunch during the 2016-2017 school year thanks to the federal government.
All-the-above scenarios place educators in a far different position from what teachers are taught while acquiring their college degrees. They are instructed how to instruct, not how to serve as a child’s parent and that is why six years ago the members of the Ohio County Board of Education approved a Parental Participation Policy that encouraged the obvious.
Did it have an impact? So-so, according to past administrators Bernie Dolan and George Krelis, but new methods of engagement have been made to further the school system’s efforts because students throughout the country now are learning a much different way from how today’s parents and grandparents were taught. What currently is considered traditional instruction greatly depended on repetition and memorization, but now, though, Common Core Standards are more focused on instilling problem-solving pathways.
But today’s mothers and fathers are unfamiliar with the Common Core so a distance between parents and their children, when it comes to education, has been realized. That fact, though, soon will be under attack.
“I do believe it’s very important for parents to interact with their children concerning their education and we’ll be using social media to interact with the parents with children in our school system,” Miller reported. “What we also have talked about doing is recording teachers teaching a lesson or recording the teacher’s hands while they are working a problem. That will allow our parents to go online to see how their children are being taught in our schools.
“Then we hope our parents watch those recordings so they can figure it out and get it so then they can assist their children even more with their homework,” she continued. “Along with providing those opportunities to our parents, we’ve also discussed having, ‘Meet and Greet’ nights so our parents can interact more with our teachers so they can gain that new perspective.
“Hey, I remember that math grid, and I just had to remember the grid to do my multiplication tables. That’s how we were taught because that’s what worked more often than not back then,” the superintendent said. “Now we are trying to allow the parents to understand why we are coming up with the answers in a new way, and then we take it one step further with having the students and parents applying that knowledge.”
The Facebook Timeline for Ohio County Schools was created by Jones two weeks ago and already more than 1,500 visitors have, “Liked” the new page. The posts have involved student spotlights, musical performances by pupils of the district, and flood relief efforts for the victims of central and southern West Virginia.
“We are now communicating with our parents with our Facebook page, and I can tell you that we have a lot of wonderful teachers who have been getting parents involved, and I can tell you when I was the principal at Wheeling Middle, the staff and teachers there have done a great job with making that a community school,” Jones explained. “But it does seem that the older a child gets, the parents become less involved with their education. They may go to the football or basketball games, but that’s it.
“We can always do more to try to get the parents back into the buildings so they can be very interactive with their child’s education throughout the whole process,” he said. “So we plan to make a lot of efforts to promote that beyond what our staff members and our teachers are already doing.”