By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The most recent gathering of the Tucker County Board of Education commenced at Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School. Reports began with Attendance Director and Testing Coordinator Amber Kyle. She updated the board that Tucker County schools attendance currently sits at 970 students, which is down from last year. However, though overall population may have decreased, the attendance rates have increased. The average attendance rate for DTEMS currently sits at 95.21%, TVEMS 95.19%, and TCHS 93.48%, all of which are around 1-2% increases. The chronic absenteeism rate is still a worry at TCHS at 19% which is being addressed. In the month of September, DTEMS had 54 students, which is 29% of their entire population, have perfect attendance. This is up from last year of 47. TVEMS had 159 students with perfect attendance, up from 115 last year, but TCHS found itself decreasing from 70 students in 2018 to just 64 students currently.
Board President Tim Turner asked Kyle if she has noticed a common theme amongst these chronic absenteeism students as to why they choose not to attend school. “I think you should get it from me later,” she responded, though she did confirm there seems to be a commonality amongst them.
Kyle proceeded to update on the current home school numbers within our county. There are currently 72 home school students across 53 families, which are seven students higher than last year, though this sits around the state average. Of those students, 13 would be enrolled in TVEMS, 42 DTEMS, and 17 TCHS. She briefly went through the 58 transfer request she has received, with eight shuffling between in county schools, 47 requesting to come in from out of county, and three transferring out of the county. An extremely worrisome statistic followed with a report of 108 students falling within the homeless status, with 14 in the DTEMS area, 53 within TVEMS, and 41 at TCHS. Kyle explained that students residing at Ridgeline are amongst those numbers. 66 students were enrolled in the county schools over the course of last year that was part of the Genesis Facility, which contributed greatly to those numbers. She explained that to be considered enrolled for a full academic year; a student must have attended the county school system for 135 or more days. Using this standard, Tucker County had 897 students for the full academic year out of 1,009 enrolled.
Overall the county had a 91.74% attendance rate, with a four year graduation rate of 95% and a five year graduation rate at 96%. Kyle did note that it’s not just Tucker County facing an issue of attendance, but it’s the entire state.
Concluding her attendance report, Kyle shifted gears to cover the recent testing results. She provided the board members with data to support her information that seemed indicative of growth across all areas. Included in the report were long term goals, which are annual targets. Tucker County Schools have shown a lot of growth and improvement over this last year.
Fall benchmark testing was recently implemented, which are not required but felt were an opportunity to show the students what to expect when it comes to testing. These tests were modeled around the grade standards these students have not yet been taught, however several students have already showed proficiency in some of these areas. There will be one more assessment in either December or January to prepare them for their spring testing.
Steelie Kisamore, Principal of DTEMS, spoke on several topics. He too touched on how their school is encouraging students to come to school by doing an incentive program. The class that won the month of September received outside play time with popsicles and ice cream.
He also explained how they are implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), skill groups, and enrichments. Stephanie Hood, teacher at DTEMS, is working alongside other teachers rotating two to three times a week with these STEM programs. She explained the students have made some fascinating items to test, such as candy machines, an egg drop, and an upcoming catapult. While students are not in their STEM class, they are working on their computer skills, which drastically assist in their comfort when taking their computerized tests. “We’re headed in the right direction,” noted Kisamore as he seemed very pleased with the work his staff is putting in for their students.
Adam Crawford, Student Council Representative, took a moment to share his thoughts and concerns with the board. He mentioned how the student body is assisting raising money for breast cancer; however they are also focusing on making their school a safer and more functional facility. He commented how doors within the school are not sealing properly when closed resulting in snow blowing in during winter months and allowing bees in during the warm seasons. Crawford also explained some doors stick so badly, students do not have the strength it takes to open them in the case of an emergency. He had also been informed from the female student body that the girl’s bathroom is in poor condition and needs some attention as well. His final concern over issues at DTEMS was the time the last students exited the bus on some routes resulting in approximately a two and a half hour commute.
Crawford may not have been afraid to speak up on behalf of the needs of the school, but he was more than happy to make known his feelings on attending DTEMS. He was asked what his favorite thing about attending the school was, when he quickly responded, “The teachers and staff for sure.” He spoke how the school feels more like a welcoming family that you can rely on when in need.
PTO and LSIC Tina Bonner spoke on how they didn’t feel it should be the student’s jobs to help raise money for building and facility maintenance that should be budgeted into the board’s funds. “I ask that you strongly consider allocating funding to Davis Thomas for building improvements,” she began. Safety was a main area of concern in regards to the doors not operating smoothly and the ability for anyone to walk in the door and walk around the school. She also revisited the issue of the girls’ bathroom needing major repairs. “If you had a child here, you’d want them to be safe,” she said. “I don’t think we should have to raise money for the safety of this school,” she added. “I think that should be the responsibility of the board of education.” Kisamore offered to take the board on a quick tour to see firsthand the issues needing addressed at DTEMS.
This concluded the reports on the agenda, moving the meeting into discussion items. The only topic listed was the lack of substitutes in the county. Board Member Cathy Hebb thought the reason the sub list was so short was the pay scale, though Turner disagreed. Board Member Jessica Wamsley described the lengthy certification process now required to become a substitute teacher, and felt that process was a major deterrent for individuals. However, it was agreed upon that maintaining the requirement of a four year degree is necessary. Superintendent Alicia Lambert will be reaching out to current and former subs to ask why they are either turning down jobs or asking to be removed from the list in order to help pinpoint the issue in attempts to alleviate it.
New business followed with the approval of previous meeting minutes and payment of bills. There was a student transfer request as well as notifications of intent to home school, all of which were approved. The WVU Tucker County Extension Service requested the use of a bus and driver on Saturday, October 19 to transport students from Camp Kidd to Snowy Creek Dorsets in Aurora. This too was approved.
The superintendent recommended the approval of Joseph Michael as second grade long term substitute at TVEMS effective October 7 until teacher is released by physician, Lori Mullenax as a long term sub elementary education and specials teacher at DTEMS effective October 7 until the end of the school year, and April Suesli as a substitute teacher. Lambert also requested the approval of leave for Chelsi Demastes, art and social studies teacher at DTEMS beginning around December 2 for approximately 12 weeks, all being approved.
Under service personnel, Lambert recommended Debbie Thompson to serve as a long term substitute cook at TVEMS, effective October 8 until full time cook is released from physician, and Trina Carr’s request for unpaid leave request to be retroactive to September 25. All were again approved.
A memorandum of understanding between Tucker County Board of Education and WV Extension Service and Family Nutrition Program was reviewed and approved for renewal as well. The calendar of upcoming events was reviewed noting there will be a third grade parent meeting at DTEMS on October 14 at 5:30 p.m. and TVEMS on October 15 at 4 p.m. The next regular meeting of the TCBOE will be held on Monday, October 21 at 4:30 p.m. at TCHS.