Pocahontas Superintendent’s Report Part 3- School Employee Survey
In this, the third and final installment of Pocahontas County School Superintendent’s June Report to our listeners, Terrence Beam tells us about the responses received to an employee survey the school conducts at the end of each school year. Mr. Beam begins by explaining the reasons for this survey.
“When I was a Principal in Nicholas County, I used to do this every year with my teachers and my staff there. I wanted to know what direction our school was going in; what changes need to be made. I know you’re going to get the random negativity in anything that you do. But if you see a pattern of something that is being presented to you over a period of time –then you got to say maybe there’s some real credence to this, because we’re hearing it from more than one person. It is important that we give our employees the opportunity to respond to a variety of questions. So I came up with six questions, and then I responded to their responses.”
A nine page summary of the responses received to the six survey questions and Mr. Beam’s answers to those responses can be found on our website, alleghenymountainradio.org, Mr. Beam comments for us on some of what he sees as the more important issues brought to light by the survey.
“One of the first things you always get (from these survey responses) is ‘you need to cut at this Board Office” said Beam. “Well, we’ve cut at this Board Office until there is not much left to cut. When I was Director of Federal Programs and Dr. Bechtel was Superintendent, Christina smith and I were in the back doing the curriculum. Well, now Dr. Bechtel is gone and Christina is gone, and this year Jared is gone. I am the only one left, so not that’s two positions less then we had before. We added back one, which is Lorie Doolittle’s Truancy Diversion Program, but that’s not paid for out of our County money. That’s paid by a grant the State provides because they require us to have a Truancy Diversion Specialist, and they fund that.”
“They (employees responding to the survey) say ‘you have too many Secretaries up there.’ We have five Secretaries right now, and believe me, they stay busy. Could we get by with four? Probably, but there are two reasons I didn’t make a cut in Secretaries in this office. RESA 4’s have been eliminated by our State Legislatures, so our Secretaries will probably be taking on more duties that RESA did before. That’s one reason, the other reason is this- and it’s one that people just do not understand. If I go down the hall and I take our least senior Secretary and cut that position, that employee doesn’t lose their job, they bump another position in our County. So it’s another Secretary that loses their job. Not the one at the Board Office, because (when) they’re cut, they bump into a less senior position.”
“I gave them (our employees) the opportunity to explain what they thought about reconfiguration of our schools. We are very aware we simply can’t afford to keep five schools open in Pocahontas County, and we asked for their input. There were two basic things that came out of that. One was that we go with two pre-K -12’s –one at each end of the County. another one was that we go with two pre-K -8’s –the one at Green Bank as it exists, make Marlinton Middle School a pre-K -8 and keep and keep your 9-12 High School. There (also) were several responses – and I’m just reporting what I was given- that we should close Hillsboro – and that’s a very sticky point for a lot of people. And we did talk to the SBA, and basically they told us that it would be a waste of our time to go back down there until at least 2019 to even ask for any money.”
“I also asked them to comment on the performance of their Principal at their individual school, and it was very consistent what we saw. The employees all seem to think that the Principals care about the kids and they are respectful of the way they teach their classes, but they feel that sometimes communication needs to be improved, and maybe more consistent discipline of students.”
“That’s basically what our survey was. There was some good things said, there were some negative things said, some things were accurate (and) some things were inaccurate.”
Mr. Beam mentioned at least two changes that they are making because of the responses to the survey.
“We’ll do two different things. One, starting July first, we will be placing all job postings on our School Messenger, because people don’t check emails a lot in the summer, they’re not in the schools to see the postings, and the last thing we want people to think is that we are trying to put a position out there that nobody knows about. Also, I am going to be creating an Advisory Council starting this fall made up of a professional and a service from each school that would not be including the Principal and the Faculty Senate President –I already meet with those people regularly. These would be two individuals that simply want to be involved with communication between the Central Office and the schools.”
Below is the Survey Summary as prepared by the Pocahontas County School Superintendent Terrence Beam
Response to 2016-2017 Superintendent’s Survey
To All Employees of Pocahontas County Schools:
I feel that it is important to respond to the 44 survey results (approximately ¼ of all employees) that I have received. As expected, many of the comments that I have received are negative in nature, but I truly believe that many of those are because many employees do not understand what we can do and what we cannot. I will not address specific criticisms of specific people either in my office, on the board, or in the schools as that is not proper. I will answer the comments that were directed to me personally. Some of the criticisms of me are, unfortunately, accurate. Other are not, in my opinion.
It was my intention to use a survey to give our employees a chance to voice their concerns. I have had several employees tell me that they did not do the survey because all it did was give people a chance to criticize the board office and me and they thought everything was just fine. This is the second year that I have served as superintendent and the second time a survey has been sent out.
It is hard to make decisions when finances are limiting the number of employees we can afford, which buildings get the care they need, and what services and supplies we can provide for our students.
You must understand that with the drastic reduction in income that our schools system has had to endure over the past few years, it was inevitable that changes were going to have to be made. We have gone from receiving in excess of $600,000 in federal forestry money to zero. Many of our Snowshoe owners have not been able to pay their taxes, thus we have not collected as much local tax money. Things like that force us into unchartered waters as far as being able to sustain what we have gotten used to having in the past.
I will now respond to the survey questions as best I can. I will share the responses from the employees and follow up with my comments.
If you were superintendent, what changes would you make?
This first question received comments on many issues. Most often mentioned were these:
- Cut staff at the board office/cut secretaries at the board office/cut supplements or stipends/cut salaries at board office
- Reduce contracts from 261 to 240, thus eliminating vacation days
- Improve communication with the schools
- Put in a time clock for all employees. There is a concern that many employees in our schools are skipping out early.
- Do more recognition of staff members
- Quit creating jobs when we have had to RIF positions
- Discuss cost-cutting measures with each staff
- Close the board office
- When Dr. Bechtel was superintendent, both Christina Smith and I worked in this office along with Ron Hall, Ruth Bland, Lisa Dennison, and Sherry Radcliff. When schools starts this fall, there will be myself, Ron, Ruth, Sherry, and Lori Doolittle in this office. That is two less professionals in this office. Supplements are received by the following people in the office: Ron and Ruth. Lisa Dennison will be working out of MMS this year and receives a supplement. Contrary to the many rumors, Ron Hall does NOT continue to receive a supplement for the one year he served as principal at HES. I emphasize this because there is no truth to it. That supplement was for that particular year only and saved the county at least $40,000 by not hiring another individual to finish the year. Our principals do receive a supplement, as do our speech therapists and athletic director/assistant principal. One often-mentioned idea is to cut the board office secretaries from 5 to 4. This is something that I strongly considered but chose not to do because of the fact that RESA 4 will be closing and many of the responsibilities that they took care of now many be placed on the shoulders of each county. One thing that needs understood is this….cutting a secretary at this office does not mean that secretary is out of work. Board secretaries have the same legal right to “bump” as other service personnel. The secretary at the board office would bump out the least senior secretary in one of our schools. And to put this rumor to rest……secretaries receive NO supplement. It is my understanding that several years ago, secretaries received a supplement, but no secretary presently working here receives a penny of a supplement and haven’t since they began working here.
- Reduce contracts from 261 to 240. Please understand that there are many employees with 261 day contracts that do not work in the board office. Our bus mechanics, maintenance men, and head custodians are all 261 employees. If we reduce days at the board office, then we would reduce the other positions too. Those with 261 contracts do not necessary receive three weeks of vacation. The number of vacation days is based upon the number of years worked in the system. For example, Cora Lee is the only secretary at the board office that receives 20 vacation days.
- Improve communication with the schools. I believe that both the board and I have tried to improve this. We both meet with each staff during the year from Q & A. I meet 2-3 times a year with faculty senate presidents and monthly with principals. Next year, I do plan on forming an advisory council made up of two employees from each school. I want one service and one professional employee to represent each school. I want the professional person to not be either the principal or faculty senate president since I already meet regularly with them. The meetings will be at the end of the day to avoid using subs. Finally, I will be directing our office to use school messenger to announce all job postings and vacancies to ensure that all employees are aware of positions that they may be interested in applying for. We will begin that on July 1.
- Time clocks. That has been discussed in the past but never seriously considered. I think that it is demeaning to those who are dedicated and work more hours than they are paid as it is. I would prefer not to do that although I agree we have employees who may not be working a full day.
- More staff recognition. Of course, we recognize Teacher of the Year and Service Employee of the Year but we need to do more. It believe it is the school’s responsibility to recognize at the school level, but I regularly ask our principals to provide me with names of employees that deserve special recognition. We often recognize employees at the board meeting when we are made aware of note-worthy accomplishments or contributions.
- Quit creating jobs. The only jobs that have been created to my recollection are math coach and truancy diversion specialist. The state requires all counties to have a truancy diversion specialist (which we created a position for) and ours in Lori Doolittle. She is paid from a truancy diversion grant that we get from the state. It is a year to year position, since her position is dependent on that funding. The math coach position has been filled for several years, but we chose to make it a half-time position rather than a contracted position. There is still NO COST to the county and never has been. This position has assisted in successfully improving our math scores. Many have asked me to do the same for ELA and that is something I would love to do in the future. I have asked for (and received) permission to post an additional counseling position at PCHS but have chosen not to do that at this time because of the financial uncertainty. It is ironic that some recommend to cut the math coach because of cost, but then to add an ELA coach at the same time. I think we need both, and I will continue to try and find funding to add an ELA coach to our schools.
- Discuss cost-cutting measures with the schools. This survey gave our employees an opportunity to discuss things such as that. I always welcome input and will ask for that with our advisory committee this fall.
- Close the board office. I totally agree with this idea, but where do we go? I am not in favor of dividing everyone up and putting them throughout the county because every day we have to work together on many issues. I support the idea of moving out of this building for many reasons: cost savings and health concerns being at the top. We have been looking at possibilities for a few years now, and continue to look for the right opportunity. If we do find a location and move the board office, it would be of no cost to the school system because we would use “flood” money that we received from previous board office damages that are designated to be used for board office repair only.
Do you trust the central office to be honest and respectful?
- The opinions here were about 50-50. Many responses were negative toward most of the office staff. I admit that I was less than professional on two occasions this year. In my opinion, one of those was entirely my fault with a service employee and the other small incident with a teacher was an overreaction on my part, not theirs. I have apologized to both of those individuals. I may not know all of the answers and sometimes situations force changes in direction, but I have never lied intentionally to anyone. I have tried to be very open and transparent and when we are accused of doing “back room deals” with the board it bothers me. That simply is not true.
What you recommend we do to reduce the number of schools?
- This question had many comments. There were several stating that HES must be closed. Most of those recommended that the board office be moved to that location. Others recommended two PK-12 schools and one vocational school at PCHS location. Still others recommended two PK-8 schools and one high school. Yet others want three PK-6 or 8 schools and either a 7-12 high school or keep 9-12. Even others suggested one school for everyone. No one thinks we should keep the board office open.
- In my personal opinion, I believe that either two PK-12 schools or two PK-8 schools plus PCHS are the best options at this point. We cannot afford any more than 3 schools, in my opinion. The board may have other ideas, and there have been no formal discussions about the future of our schools. That discussion must take place very soon. The most obvious concern will be how do we possibly pay for it?
Tell me one thing positive about your principal and one thing you would like to see them improve?
Most positive comments were as follows:
- Let’s me teach my class as I choose
- Listens to what employees have to say
- Treats us with respect
- Supports us
The negative comments were:
- Lack of communication
- Inconsistent discipline decisions
- Needs to be more strict with parents and students
- Staff moral issues
What suggestions would you make in reducing costs?
I have addressed many of these areas already, but here are a few more comments:
- 150.00 stipends for teachers missing 2 or less days of work
- Quit contracting out the gym floor work
- Have sports teams pay their own way
- Consolidate duties at the board office and cut jobs
- Consolidate schools and quit talking about it
- Recycle as much as we can
- Eliminate academic coaches
- Eliminate some sports that cannot support itself
- Combine small classes into larger ones
- Farm to School needs expanded
What are your overall thoughts of our school system?
There was a wide variety of responses, some positive, some negative. Here are some of each:
- Good academically
- Good place to raise a family
- Mostly good teachers
- Employees are underappreciated/poor benefits/free lunch needed
- Bullying issues/more counseling needed
- More CTE needed/less math emphasis
- More professional development needed
- Too much talk about facility issues
- Too many supplements
In summary, it is important for me to look at these comments and determine whether they are the feelings of the majority or of just a few. I think many of the criticisms are justified and I take full responsibility for them. Many of the comments, however, are not accurate. I am not saying that people who make them are being unkind or untruthful, but rather that they are uninformed or misinformed. I think we have good people that I enjoy working with, but I can’t do everything everyone wants me to do. I have to try and make the decision that I believe to be fair and in the best interest of our students and employees. There is so much criticism of our board office for making too much money, having vacation days, supplements, etc. I think it strange that when jobs are posted here for those “overpaid positions,” we get very few applicants.
I am trying to do the best job I can do, but I need your understanding and support. I, too, am struggling with the direction our county needs to go. No one person can or should make that decision.
I thank everyone that participated in this survey and hope that my responses at least clears up some misunderstandings or enlightens you on certain issues. I feel blessed to work with the people and students in this county.