BOE Meeting Dominated by Discussions of Potantial STEM teacher and Course Cuts

Although the March 26th Pocahontas County Board of Education (BOE) meeting was held at the Green Bank Elementary/Middle School, about 50 PCHS parents, teachers and students showed up at the afternoon meeting, along with a few other concerned citizens. All were upset with the proposed cuts to the high school’s dual credit and AP STEM courses, as well as with the proposed reduction of a math teacher and a science teacher at the school.

On the day before the meeting, almost all of the students at PCHS protested these cuts by demonstrating and staying outside the school during school hours. Those students said they were not only concerned with the educational damage those cuts would cause to students who wish to attend college after graduation, but they were also upset over the possibility of losing some of the teachers they had come to rely on and respect. Some of the students were also upset that when they asked to be put on the meeting’s agenda to talk about their concerns, they were denied that.

Earlier that day (Tuesday March 26th,) a number of students, after being warned to not demonstrate on school grounds during the school day, did so anyway. Some went into school after being warned, and those received in-school suspensions while 59 other students ignored the order to return to class, and as a result each received one day of out of school suspension.

Since the students and their adult supporters were not on the meeting agenda, thirty-one of them signed up to speak to the board members as public delegates. Not knowing what to expect, Board President Sue Hollandsworth read the group the rules that apply to public delegates who wish to address the members. Basically, each speaker is limited to 5 minutes, they must be polite and civil, and the members cannot answer questions or otherwise engage in discussions with the speakers.

All of the speakers were very polite, their statements were well thought out and they expressed their concerns about the proposed personnel and course changes very intelligently.

In addition to the students who spoke, some of the speakers were STEM teachers at PCHS, others were parents and some were alumni who talked about graduating from PCHS with up to 35 college credits already earned, of scholarships they received, and of the very professional careers they achieved in STEM related fields after college. All of the speakers warned that these proposed changes at PCHS will limit future graduates’ similar opportunities.

Emery Grimes, a past president of the BOE also pointed out that when he was on the board, a lot of emphasis was placed on improving the STEM classes, and doing everything possible financially to avoid losing teachers, especially in critical academic and vocational courses.

After the public input ended, the board ran through the other items on their agenda, approving them all, without controversy. In one notable action, the board approved hiring Alexander Hummel as a teacher of music at PCHS, and as Band Director for PCHS and for Marlinton Middle School.

During the Matters of the Board Discussion. Board Member Sam Gibson commented that the way this whole personnel and course matter was handled was “the worst public relations error we have ever had. And it has thrown all of our PR efforts out the door.” He said he has received 184 emails, texts and phone calls from upset parents, and it could have all been avoided.

Member Becky Campbell said that there has been a lot of misinformation put out there and she was upset that the board members were not given much information, so it has just generated a lot of mistrust.

Sue Radcliff said that part of the misinformation came about because the state requires that teachers who are even remotely being considered for transfer, reassignment or lay off must be informed by letter before April 1st each year that they are being considered for that, but those decisions have not, nor can they be definitively be made until the board votes on them later in April.

Superintendent Lynne Bostic said state procedures for handling transfers, reassignments and layoffs limit the amount of information that can be released until the board votes on the issues at the end of April. Some board members suggested that consolidating some of the Dual Credit and AP courses which only have a few students in them, could ease some of the budget problems anticipated for next school year.

Sherri Radcliff, the School Treasurer, said there will be a budget shortfall of one and a half million dollars this coming fiscal year because of the loss of COVID money and the probable loss of National Forest money. She said the BOE has to balance next year’s budget. Radcliff said for the past two years she has been warning that this day of reckoning would come.

The day after the Board meeting, Superintendent Bostic sent out a letter saying she will remove these recent suspensions from the students’ records provided the demonstrations on school grounds during the school day end.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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