By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The 2020-21 school year has been difficult for everyone, but special challenges and circumstances have arisen for Attendance Director, Amber Kyle. With students being remote, blended, and virtual school; in addition to the significant increase in families choosing homeschool, keeping up with attendance has been especially difficult. Kyle attended the Tucker County Board of Education meeting on Monday to share the data with the board as the first semester has recently come to a close.
Tucker County Schools currently has 928 students within their schools, Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School having 177, Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School with 450, and Tucker County High School with 301. The attendance rate was provided for all three with DTEMS leading the way with 99.12%, TVEMS with 97.74%, TCHS at 96.66% for a total average of 97.66%.
Chronic absenteeism, which includes parent notes, doctor’s notes, and unexcused absences, has DTEMS at the lowest with .56%, TVEMS next with 1.33%, and TCHS at 2.99% for a total of 1.72% chronic absenteeism rate. This data is based on the in-seat days this school year, or 67 instructional days in the classroom.
There are 128 homeschoolers within the county, with 18 who have re-enrolled in the school system. There are a total of 29 students doing the virtual learning platform, five of which are from DTEMS, seven from TVEMS, and 17 from TCHS.
Kyle has sent out a staff survey along with a community survey to gather input regarding the school calendar for 2021-22. Different options are being developed so they can be presented to the board for approval. It is assumed Energy Express will be offered this summer, however Kyle is awaiting confirmation on whether a grant has been received for the program.
Kelly Pennington approached the BOE to address concerns she has regarding discrimination on the TCHS Girls Basketball Team. She stated there have been issues being discussed amongst the community for the past few years and wanted to bring to their attention what her daughter has recently been experiencing. Pennington claims tryouts were held and her child did not attend, “Mainly because of Corona.” “My issue is, is that my daughter reached out to the coach, the coach told her she missed tryouts, she’s not playing,” said Pennington. She then reached out to the coach on her daughter’s behalf to explain why she was not in attendance at the tryouts with the concerns of Covid and claims that the coach then told her he had made accommodations for players in previous years where a special tryout was held on the sidelines. “He told me this out of his own mouth,” claimed Pennington because that child was in Disney at the time and the reason he wouldn’t do so for her daughter was that there was no communication.
Pennington continued stating that the coach does not reach out to her daughter as he does other team members and that he also based this off of hearsay from other players stating Pennington’s daughter wasn’t going to play. After her conversation with the coach, Pennington spoke to other parents about the issues and they supported her coming to the BOE because so many issues have been ongoing. She then contacted the coach again on February 9 due to the changes in WVSSAC rules and to re-discuss her concerns with the special tryouts. “He declined to have a meeting that I had asked for so we could sit down and talk where nobody was interrupting one another,” she stated. Text messages continued where Pennington allegedly has in writing that he didn’t allow the player to have a special tryout on the sidelines, “He completely moved the tryouts for this child.” “So he accommodated one child and the heck with the rest, every other child on that team had to go by this special accommodation made by this child, but there is no leniency for my child this year who did not come due to a family emergency issue and Covid,” she said. Pennington suggested if coaches have rules they want to set for players to be on their team, it should be in writing or in a policy form to make everyone aware.
Pennington’s daughter returned to school earlier that day and was approached by other players concerned with her not being on the team. They allegedly all received a phone call reminding them of tryouts and team purchases, though her daughter did not. Pennington stated her daughter has played for the school teams since sixth grade, dressing on the varsity team last year as a sophomore. She continued saying everyone’s lives have been impacted by Covid-19 and the kids are looking for things to do and they should be given that opportunity. “Unfortunately, a lot of the discrimination in this community with the coaches is preventing a lot of talented athletes to play,” she said.
Stephanie Hood was also present to support Pennington and wished to briefly add to the discussion. She reiterated that students need to return to some sort of normalcy and that this student has been a part of this team since moving up to the high school.
Hood confirmed there is a lack of communication within the team and with the coach and agreed there is nothing stating if you do not attend tryouts you cannot join the team. “As a parent, if it were my daughter, if it were London, I probably would have gotten a phone call or I would have gotten a text asking why weren’t you at practice,” Hood assured. She added that her daughter received texts after missing practice from the coach and feels the inconsistencies in communication is an issue.
Finance Director Tracy Teets provided an update on the current financials, how they compare to years past, and what is expected in the future. She stated her comfort level sits between $1.5 and $1.8 million due to the fact that payroll runs approximately $800,000 each month. She explained that in 2020 House Bill 206 went into effect which positively impacted their funds, however it did not show the personnel hired which utilized those funds.
“The House Bill that I was referring to added $1.7 million to the general fund,” said Teets, $450,000 of that was a shift between funds. Local and state revenues were displayed on a graph to show where the income is derived from as well as the expenditures to show spending habits broken down by payroll versus other expenses. A meeting was held with central office staff and the three principals which Superintendent Alicia Lambert explained was conducted to go over all school accounts, what is left to spend, and what is on their wants and needs list to determine if they have been met or have changed.
Teets continued by stating that preliminary funds have been provided to each county, which she said, “They are showing $223,331 that we are supposed to receive less in state aid next year, and that’s pretty much because of enrollment.” She said if students decide to return, enrollment could increase and therefore so could the state aid. In terms of positions in comparison to enrollment, this would mean two professional and one service position would need to be eliminated. Fortunately, approximately $828,000 in another fund is expected to be received which can be used to maintain those positions.
Lambert expanded on those funds, stating they focus a lot on summer educational programs which would require the creation of positions. She said it would not only serve as remediation, but enrichment for students. A $33 million grant is available through the State Department of Education for summer school, which is also going to be applied for by Tucker County Schools.
It was acknowledged that two more students, one from Tucker Valley and one from Davis Thomas, have submitted a notice of intent to homeschool. The consent agenda items were approved with a motion by Board Member Chris Gross and a second from Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans, all being in favor.
Lambert made the recommendation to accept the professional resignation from Stephen Strothers, part-time computer science and virtual class coordinator at Tucker County High School effective February 21, and from Paul Pacella as a substitute teacher. A motion was made by Gross and a second from Board Member Cathy Hebb with all in agreement.
The Superintendent proceeded with the recommendation to employ Amanda Kisamore as the county-wide virtual learning elementary specials teacher, and Judy Pitzer as the county-wide virtual learning wellness teacher, both for the remainder of the current school year. It was also presented to offer the TVEMS track coach position to Daniele Wilfong. The board voted unanimously to approve these new hires.
Lambert continued to explain that funds had been secured that would enable the county to offer after-school assistance programs, which would create several new positions. She recommends the approval to create the following after-school positions: three elementary math, three elementary reading, three middle school math, and three middle school reading. The high school will be evaluating their needs and making requests on which positions will be most needed for those students. Gross and Hebb made the motions to approve the positions with all in favor.
Teets presented her suggested budget revisions before the board reviewed the January Financial Statement, which was approved as presented with a motion from Evans and Board Member Jessica Wamsley. The board voted unanimously in agreement with the motions.
A Covid-19 update commenced with Lambert stating all principals confirmed the first full day back was a success. There are some parents who expressed concerns for their child, therefore were directed to refer to the schools websites to review the plans to answer any questions they may have. There is one more round of second vaccinations scheduled to conclude those who requested one through the school system, though school will not be closed to perform.
This concluded the business of the school board for the evening. The TCBOE will meet again on Monday, March 1, at 4:30 p.m. at the Board Office.