By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The meeting of the Tucker County Board of Education witnessed the DTEMS award recipients receive their certificates before emotions soared with discussion over the county school cell phone policy. The room was packed with the walls and doorway lined with parents and family members to watch their student’s be recognized for academics and behavior.
Board of Education President Tim Turner asked everyone to stand and recite together The Pledge of Allegiance before calling the meeting to order. The first of two scheduled meetings was to review the proposed 2019-2020 school calendar, presented by Attendance Director Amber Kyle. There were three proposed options with one being agreed upon almost unanimously. The preferred calendar has a start date of August 20 for students and the last day scheduled for June 5 with Easter being observed April 8, 9, and 10. Two other options were presented as well, one mirroring the current years school calendar and the third option begins August 13 and the only guaranteed spring break day as Good Friday. Board member Cathy Hebb questioned when exams would take place with the first semester ending January 8, to which Kyle replied she assumed they would take place prior to Christmas break. The school calendar proposal requires one more public meeting before one can be adopted.
Moving into the regular session, Kyle continued by giving the board members an attendance rate update. As of the third nine weeks, a total of 994 students were enrolled in Tucker County Schools, down from October 1 of 1,013. Of those students, DTEMS houses 195 of them with a 92.98% attendance rate, TVEMS has 493 students with a 93% attendance rate, and 306 students are at TCHS with a 91.51% attendance rate for a grand total of 92.53%. “Honestly, with the outbreak that we have had of the flu and the strep, for our rates to stay where they are, I think that’s pretty good,” she said. As for chronic absenteeism, DT sits at 20.10%, TVEMS 21.91%, and TCHS unfortunately operating on a 30.16% chronic absenteeism rate. This brings the county total to 24.09% of chronic absenteeism, which are kids who are utilizing the unlimited doctor’s excuses and are absent quite often.
Kyle offered information to the board that she recently provided to the state. As of current, there are 46 families in the county who are homeschooling 61 students. Of those 61, 40 of them have never been enrolled in public school, which Kyle commented, “So those are those people that that is their long term plan to provide home school education for their children.” Three participated in preK and/or Kindergarten and then began home schooling, and 19 have been enrolled in school in the past. Of those 19, three are now homeschooled due to truancy issues, six are for health concerns, and 10 are by parent choice. As far as school district is concerned, of those being homeschooled 30 are in the Davis Thomas area, 19 in Tucker Valley, and 13 would be attending TCHS. Kyle also gave statistics for surrounding counties, all of which, with the exception of Grant County, have significantly more home schooled children than Tucker County currently has. “In general, most of our home school families are doing this because that is the way of life they want, it fits into their lifestyle.”
Teresa Brusak, TVEMS Principal, updated the board on their recent Literacy Hero Night which over a hundred parents and students attended. The Kindergarten through third grade teachers recently participated in a writing training conducted by Vickie Nesler, one of the authors of the Core of Writing. “She thinks, and the authors of this book thinks that we need to have a higher rigor at a very early age,” Brusak stated. “She said that she expected Kindergarten students, by the end of the year, to be writing sentences,” she added. Nesler will be revisiting the school for follow up trainings and including older grades as well. Hebb spoke very highly of her experience while attending this function.
Neil Kisamore, Principal of DTEMS, first thanked everyone for attending the meeting and noted, “We always do a lot of sports recognitions, but this one we’re going to do a lot of academic,” he began. He commended the community support DTEMS receives on a regular basis. Kisamore recognized the staff of the school and they presented the certificates to several students for Young Writers, Math Field Day, and Golden Bear Awards.
Upon the completion of awards and the crowd dwindled, the board got to work on other matters on the agenda. Turner informed the passing of House Bill 2541, entitled the School Access Safety Act. This bill was developed to assist first responders in the case of an altercation or incident taking place at any of the public schools. The bill requires room numbers to be placed on exterior walls and/or windows and for updated floor plans be provided annually to first responders in addition to active shooter training each year for all school personnel and students.
Felicia Goldizen, Payroll and Benefits Coordinator, came forth to present recent decisions made by Harry Poling, transportation director for Tucker County Schools. To present, those wishing to utilize the school buses for other uses have been required to pay the bus drivers pay rate, taxes, and compensation fees in addition to $1.50 per mile. Effective as of May 1, the driver fees will remain the same but the mileage will increase to $3.00 per mile due to increase in fuel prices and wear and tear on the older buses. In the past, non-profits have not been charged but will be as of May 1. Tracy Teets, Director of Finance, requested to look further into these numbers to ensure it is what is the most feasible for the county to cover their costs.
The next topic on the agenda was the county wide cell phone policy. Superintendent Alicia Lambert provided samples that were developed by attorneys and utilized by other schools that a Tucker County draft could potentially be developed from. Lambert explained she did not go with the most stringent option, which would eliminate PCD’s (Personal Communication Devices) on school property. The option she chose to base the Tucker County policy from allows the use of PCD’s before school, after school, between classes, during lunch, during after school activities, at school functions, and on the bus and/or transportation vehicle. “The state creates policies and then we as a school system can create policies more strict than the state, but we can’t be more lax than the state,” she explained. The schools then can become stricter than the county policy, but they cannot be more lax, such as if the principal notices phones between classes are resulting in several tardy issues, the principal can remove the right to use cell phones between classes.
Board member Chris Gross responded, “I do not like at all is the discretion.” He continued, “It’s got to be uniform.” Board member Jessica Wamsley disagreed sharing her feelings of the PCD’s being a valuable resource and stated, “Discretion should be important.” Hebb favored Gross’s feelings agreeing it should be the same across the board to prevent confusion and potential issues with student arguments. “It puts too much pressure on the teachers and the bus drivers who want to say no,” she stated. Wamsley responded that a policy as stringent as this takes each individual teachers authority away in their own classrooms. Turner envisions all phones being turned in at the door prior to class commencing each block, sharing during his teacher conversations at the high school that they are frustrated with their pictures being taken and posted on social media. “When it comes down to it that’s not even lawful to do,” confirmed Turner, “We’ve got to get control of this.” Lambert added, “A device is a lot of power to put in a kids hand and they’re not always ready for that responsibility that comes with it.”
Delbert Pennington, Carpentry Teacher at TCHS, spoke up saying, “I believe it should be uniform,” adding he doesn’t see the need for them at school as they are a major distraction. Alex Cork, TCHS Social Studies teacher shared his experience with the board. “I spend probably ten minutes a day saying ‘Put the phone away’ and one of the issues now we’ve seen now develop is the fights,” he said which occurs every day. Cork’s request for the board in regards to the policy is to be rigid and uniform with some academic flexibility that can be dictated by teachers pertinent to their classroom needs. Lambert explained that the board can set the policy and can adopt a procedure for punishment, but the schools will have to be uniform and carrying out the consequences. Before concluding the cell phone policy discussion, Pennington asked who would be responsible for the devices if they become lost, stolen, or damaged while at the school. Lambert explained phones are personal property and if they risk bringing it to school, it is their personal responsibility.
Under new business, the previous meeting minutes and payment of bills were approved. Out of state travel was approved with proper approval by parents for mixed school/grade field trips. The use of school buses for transportation of wedding parties by Ella & Company was approved as well as TCHS senior job shadow sites of Sunrise Sanitation Services and Eglon Clinic.
The superintendent recommended the acceptance of the resignation of Teresa Brusak as principal of TVEMS effective June 30, 2019 and the removal of Tammy Knotts as a substitute custodian due to failure to complete training in a timely manner. Both were approved as well as the retirement of Tom Gutshall as head boys track coach at TCHS, effective June 30, 2019.
A memorandum of agreement between the board and WVU Extension was approved and the calendar of events reviewed. On April 16, a public calendar hearing will begin at 4:30 p.m. at TCHS with a regular board meeting immediately following. This meeting was then adjourned.