By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Superintendent Alicia Lambert has been working closely with James Snyder of the Tucker County Health Department throughout the entirety of the pandemic. As the Board of Education was preparing to send the students back to school on a full-time schedule, she reached out to him for the county statistics along with his thoughts on returning. At the time of the meeting, there were 21 active cases with the map color yellow. “We finished our last round of round one-shots,” said Lambert, and there will not be more first shots given through the school. “We did prioritize our full-time staff members first, and then we moved to our substitutes who worked the majority of the time and then the people who were in our buildings,” added Lambert, though approximately 20 individuals who had signed up were unable to get vaccinated. Concerns were made regarding the second dose being delivered on time, though Lambert was informed that should not be an issue.
The main topic of the meeting was when Tucker County students would return to in-person learning. Lambert proposed February 8, 15, and 22 and then read the results from a survey sent to each school. Tucker County High School received one vote for February 8, two votes for as soon as possible, three for February 15, one for February 12, one vote for March 1, four for February 26, and one for blended the rest of the school year. Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School had two votes for as soon as possible, seven for February 8, four for February 15, four for February 22, one vote for April 1, and four for March 1. Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School had 40% suggested two weeks after the administration of the second vaccine which would be around February 28, 30% proposing to stay blended for the rest of the year, and 5% saying to return as soon as possible.
David Koritko, TCHS Principal, stated, “The problem is we have inconsistency in our policies which is damaging both the nature of the school system and the students and teachers are being negatively impacted.” Koritko wishes to return to school in person as soon as possible but with giving everyone a slight transition period.
Kelly Thompson, TVEMS Principal, began by stating consistency is needed for everyone. After speaking with her staff, the consensus was most were on edge because of the unknown. “We want to go back to normal, everybody does, but I think it’s just that fear of the unknown,” she said. Thompson also thinks her staff likes the blended model because they can keep the students separated more which has kept everyone healthier.
Board Member Chris Gross referred to numerous studies he has read stating that kids in Norway are going to school full time without masks and are experiencing minimal transmissions. “It’s a lot of fear and speculation,” he added. Board Member Cathy Hebb stated that the Department of Health and Human Resources says the infection rate for ages zero through nine is less than 4%, with ages nine through 17 at 12%.
DTEMS Principal Neil “Steelie” Kisamore added, “The teachers want their students back.” He agrees with families, as well as teachers, need time to prepare for a new schedule such as Koritko suggested with a transition period. “We’re in the business to teach kids and we need to do it in the quickest and safest way possible,” he added. The consensus with all the principals was that remote needs to be avoided at all costs.
“I am currently not willing to go past the 22 (of February)” said Lambert. Hebb reiterated a concern that Board Member Jessica Wamsley has expressed multiple times, which is the emotional damage this is having on the students. BOE President Tim Turner suggested the 15 of February which allows for the staff over 50 to receive their second vaccination to increase their immunity to Covid-19.
Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans stated that consideration also needed to be taken for the employees. “If they’re scared, if they get the second dose, it would give everyone less fear and they’d be more comfortable,” he said. This led to his vote to go towards February 15 to return to full time.
Wamsley stated, “My biggest concern is that the average reaction to the second dose is being reported is up to three days, some up to seven days, where they have the fever and body aches.” If that occurs, some staff may still be suffering from the side effects of the second shot given just a couple of days before going back to school at full capacity on a regular schedule.
Gross referred to essential employees that have been working throughout the entirety of the pandemic regardless if they were afraid, “and they did it, they did it day in and day out.” He continued, “We have this one group of people, and teachers are a special group of people, don’t get me wrong I can’t imagine teaching every day, but teachers are essential employees, and we’re catering to a fear.”
Wamsley responded, “But they have worked every day,” stating that many have already worked more during the pandemic than a regular school year would require. She then stated her vote would be for the 15 of February as well.
Lambert then made the recommendation of a target date to return to in-person learning five days a week on February 15, 2021. Wamsley and Evans offered a motion with Turner asking for all in favor. Wamsley, Evans, and Turner voted in favor with Gross and Hebb being opposed. The motion carried with a vote of three to two.
The consent agenda items, consisting of the previous meeting minutes and the payment of bills, was approved with a motion by Evans with a second by Hebb with all in agreement.
Lambert brought to the table the retirement request of Marilyn Dian Shifflett as a Kindergarten Aide at Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School, effective June 30, 2021. A motion was made by Hebb with Evans offering a second before all voted in favor. “She is so wonderful with those kids,” stated Hebb. “That’s going to be a loss.” There was a recommendation to hire Liana Brusak and Zoe Evans as Substitute Teachers for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, pending background check and certification. All members voted in favor of the recommendation. Lambert suggested hiring Karen Ball as a Substitute Bus Operator and Custodian, pending training, certification, and a background check. A motion was made by Evans with a second from Wamsley and all in favor.
Lambert continued with the before discussed position of an Athletic Game Administrator Itinerant for Tucker County Schools for the 2020-21 school year only. The position has been posted twice with no qualified applicants, therefore will be posted for the third and potentially last time. Amy Nestor, Cook at TVEMS, requested an extension of her unpaid leave of absence effective January 27, 2021, through June 30, 2021, unless released by a physician.
Lisa Corbitt, Aid at TVEMS, requested an unpaid leave of absence from January 21 through the 28, including February 2, and any additional days as needed. Motions were made by Evans and Hebb with all in favor of the requests.
Lambert presented the board with the option to create four new positions within Tucker County Schools. Those positions would include a volunteer Head Baseball Coach for TVEMS/DTEMS, a volunteer Head Volleyball Coach at TVEMS/DTEMS, both being just one position for a combined middle school team and hopefully would be paid the following season, a county-wide Virtual Learning Middle School Wellness Teacher, and a Virtual Learning Elementary Specials Teacher for grades kindergarten through sixth. Lambert explained that West Virginia Virtual School decided they would not be offering any electives this semester and it would be required of the counties to provide those. These positions were approved by the board and will be posted for interested candidates to apply.
Moving onto discussion items on the agenda, the first topic was a retention policy. To assist the board with making any changes they felt necessary to the policy, a sample letter from TVEMS Counselor Ronda Adkins that is typically sent to parents with students who are facing repeating their current grade after the first nine weeks. The letter indicated that for students failing three or more core subjects throughout the school year there was a chance the student would be retained.
“What we’re really working to do is provide administrative guidelines for promotion, retention, and acceleration,” said Lambert while continuing to offer the schools the final decision. “We really just want to set some guidelines on what that would look like,” she added. Interventional steps would be required for these students before they are notified of the retention along with proper communication with the child’s parents or guardians informing them of the status of the student.
Kisamore stated it is an ongoing process with students who become identified as struggling and in need of assistance. Kim Lipscomb, Director of the Special Education Program, stated that the SAT process is a three-tier program that a student goes through which begins with the benchmarks at the start of the year indicating which students may need help. Teacher input and the second benchmark test usually helps get those students into the program to start seeking the assistance needed to catch up.
“One of the things that concern me, in the opinion of the professional staff failed to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics and reading (read from current policy, so we’re basing the retention on math and reading according to the policy,” began Turner. “If that’s the case, a student fails sixth-grade math, seventh-grade math, and eighth-grade math and is not retained, goes to the high school and is not able to do high school math,” he continued, “That’s the frustrating part for me, how did they get through all those levels and not get retained.”
Hebb responded, “Because we allow social promotion.” Wamsley added she felt that having to fail three core subjects to be retained was extreme and intervention needs to be done earlier to help these students. She asked Principals for their thoughts on the matter with Koritko beginning. He suggested there are two problems, “One has to be teaching staff and the ability to support the instruction.” “The second component is, you know there’s an emotional or special education component that may need to be considered.” Koritko stated that if a student cannot pass a course three times, that student may need to be enrolled in a special education course.
Thompson stated that she knows there are a handful of first graders who are repeat students in that class. “They’re still not getting it but yet they don’t place in special ed, we have our interventionist that can work with them but, some of the kids just don’t get it,” she added. There are also concerns with some parents who refuse to allow their child to be retained and to avoid that they relocate to a different school or county.
Kisamore brought up the fact that a lot of the students at the high school came through the elementary and middle school when there was a lack of certified teachers, and then some they did hire were new and learning the position. “We’re struggling with this group of kids we have at the high school now, they didn’t have good quality math when they were there, that’s not an excuse that’s just where they’re at,” he said. He suggested after-school tutoring such as the former Gear Up program, to provide enrichment activities. Lambert noted that with some grant funds they are expecting, afterschool programs and transportation may be an option.
The WVSBA Winter Conference usually attended by all board members has been canceled until further notice. The next TCBOE meeting will be held Monday, February 15, 2021, at 4:30 p.m. at the Board of Education Office.