By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
“What we wanted to do was talk about the good,” began Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School Principal Neil “Steelie” Kisamore as he addressed the Board of Education. He thanked Superintendent Alicia Lambert, Facilities/Athletic Director Jonathan Hicks, and all central office staff for being proactive to secure the technology to assist students when school goes remote as well as the board for voting to provide the interventionist position at his school.
Kisamore began a slideshow of photos highlighting some of the upgrades made to the facility including but not limited to new carpeting in the preschool room, new entryway flooring, and the doorways at the main entrance. He shifted gears to show the needs of the school, such as bathroom sinks, refinishing of the bathroom stall doors, and addressing water issues causing paint peeling on the interior block walls.
The students took a benchmark test within the first days of returning to school using a new platform called iReady. Kisamore admitted the results were not great, but after being out of school since March and using a new testing program, it was expected. The students will be testing again in early January which growth is hoped to be seen.
Jeanelle Paul, DTEMS Interventionist spoke next to explain how she has been working with students in a reading program. Phonics screenings were conducted to identify the students needing additional assistance followed by developing schedules to fit the schedule models set in place due to the pandemic. “I found that I think it was 57% of the third grade class was considered high risk and their phonics skills were kindergarten, first grade level,” said Paul.
She continued to share the challenges of working in intervention in the midst of a pandemic and how she is overcoming these challenges both in person and virtually. “I prepared packets for kids that I had been working with every day and sent that home,” she explained. She also utilized an online reading program and offered virtual instruction as well.
“The students are very lucky to have you there,” proclaimed Board Member Cathy Hebb. Superintendent Alicia Lambert asked Paul if she felt that her students would show growth with the next benchmark tests to be administered after the first of the year. Paul responded, “I feel like some of them definitely will,” though shares many concerns over being remote. “I’ve definitely shown great improvements over some of the kids that I have,” she added.
Anne Farmer, DTEMS Guidance Counselor, added how happy she is with how much the school staff has been able to accomplish in a short amount of time. “At the beginning of the year, obviously we were really concerned about our students social and emotional well-being,” she began. “We know that chronic stress and living in chaotic environments, living in poverty, these can all be traumatizing for students,” Farmer continued.
Feeling that it was detrimental for the staff to understand what trauma is and how it impacts the livelihoods of the students, Farmer coordinated a training program to aid in understanding self-regulation techniques. “This is the beginning of our journey to becoming a trauma sensitive school,” she explained.
Trauma is a highly objective experience that happens on a regular basis, not only during a pandemic justifying the need for understanding and training by the staff. Farmer showed a list of traumatic experiences that highlighted ones that are known to be currently affecting students within their school. “One in four children has had some exposure to trauma,” quoted Farmer from the National Child Trauma Stress Network, which impacts the way a child learns and their ability to control behaviors.
DTEMS received funding for a school-wide training which assists in recognizing the needs of the students and providing strategies for self-calming and regulation techniques. Farmer provided an overview of a guidance lesson that was used across kindergarten through fifth grade. This program allows for the students to use sign language to indicate what zone they are in based on their emotional well-being which helps Farmer and teachers address those child’s needs.
To close her presentation, Farmer highlighted how her time is spent within the school and what areas she is focusing on. Data is being collected in efforts to record the effectiveness of the program which is showing progress thus far.
Kisamore commended Paul and Farmer for their work at DTEMS and stated that his entire staff is committed to the well-being and education of their students. “Having the counselor in the building may be the reason we have not had a single referral (behavioral) yet,” said Kisamore. “I’m just very grateful you’ve allowed this position to come to Davis Thomas, it’s just so impactful as well as the intervention position,” he added. President Tim Turner commented, “It sounds like you’re doing a really great job and I think the data driving what you’re doing is great and I think you’ve made great progress in the short amount of time you’ve been able to be at the school and in the short amount of time you’ve been with the kids.” Board Member Jessica Wamsley shared her gratitude to Kisamore, Paul, and Farmer for their dedication to the students and treating them “as individuals instead of part of the sum.”
Turner asked for a motion to approve the consent agenda items with a motion made by Hebb and a second from Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans. Lambert moved into personnel making a recommendation to accept the resignation of Dian Pennington Shifflett as the extra-curricular custodian at the TCBOE Annex effective December 31, 2020. Evans and Wamsley made a motion of approval with all in favor. Within professional employment, it was suggested to employ Kenzie Kyle, Leah Underwood, Lindsay Kines, and William Chaise Robertson as substitute teachers for the 2020-2021 school year. All members voted in favor of the recommendation. Lastly, Lambert recommended hiring Christina Nelson as a substitute aide for the 2020-2021 school year. Evans and Wamsley made motions in favor with all in agreement.
A lease agreement between Tucker County Board of Education and Mountaintop Public Library in Davis was presented for review and approval by the board. Hebb made a motion to approve the lease agreement with Evans offering a second with all in favor.
The board shifted focus to COVID-19 when Lambert handed out data regarding the pandemic. The document listed the top 15 counties in W.Va. with the highest infection rates along with their color designation on both the Harvard Map and that of Gov. Jim Justice. According to the graph, Tucker County is the eighth worst county based on infection rate, however out of all 15 counties; Tucker County is listed as red on the Harvard Map but green on Gov. Justice’s. The other 14 counties are all listed on both maps as red or a combination of red and orange.
The Harvard Map indicated colors based on the infection rate per hundred thousand population over a 14 rolling day period. When utilizing that map, Tucker County would turn red once the active cases hit 25. The map developed by Gov. Justice calculates their color designations based on percent positives out of all tests being administered. The issue arises when healthy people get tested regularly as a result of employment requirements which drive the numbers down keeping Tucker County in the green category.
Lambert also shed light on five W.Va. counties that are designated as both red and green on the maps with Tucker having the highest infection rate of 92.95%. The next worst county with a red and green color code is Randolph County which has a 54.27% infection rate. “It makes it a little more evident we have an issue in our county,” said Lambert.
Close contact has been kept with James Snyder with the Tucker County Health Department throughout the pandemic. Lambert stated, “James’ prediction is it’s going to get worse through mid-January,” with the thought that these effects are stemming from Thanksgiving gatherings and expects the numbers to continue to climb with Christmas and New Years upcoming.
Evans asked how many school staff and students were currently affected by the virus with Lambert responding there are seven current positives, two individuals who are not counted as positives but are still ill, and 35 staff and students in quarantine. He also asked about the requirements of job shadowing, which Lambert stated last year the state waived those requirements and anticipates the same, which may also include community service and volunteer hours.
Lambert submitted her document to the W.Va. Department of Education to show how difficult it is for her and all county superintendents and board members to make decisions on how to proceed with such a large discrepancy in information.
Discussion commenced on students with IEP and staff still attending school, a new wave of notices of intent to homeschool, and the unknown of moving forward with what is best for all involved. The TCBOE will meet again on Monday, December 21 at 4:30 p.m. where the National Honor Society inductees from last school year will be recognized.
Editor’s note: According to an announcement made on the Tucker County Schools Facebook, due to a continued increase in positive Coronavirus cases within the county, Tucker County Schools will be operating remotely until after Christmas. Arrangements will be made to assist struggling students and any parent that feels their child is struggling should reach out to their schools