(08/28/2006)
By Drew Moody
drew@wvmountainsun.com

Gilmer County Teachers met at the high school Wednesday to begin two days of staff development, bringing to an official close the summer vacation.

Students begin classes on Monday.

Superintendent Ed Toman welcomed teachers to the 2006-07 school year. He didn't speak to the group long, but he covered a lot of ground.

He commended workers for a fine job done preparing for the opening of the new year. Toman also indicated he would be visiting schools and classrooms county-wide. He encouraged teachers to call the central office. "If we can help in any way ... that's why we're here," he said.

He wished teachers a great coming school year.

TALK OF CONSOLIDATION

"There's always talk of consolidation," Toman said. He assured teachers no decisions have been made, for or against, closing any of Gilmer County's elementary schools.

The issue will be addressed with the public, beginning later this fall, perhaps in October. "We're going out in the communities and have community forums." These meetings will occur county-wide and be announced well in advance.

Student enrollment in Gilmer County last year was the least of West Virginia's 55 counties. The head count during the 2005-06 school year was down more than 50 from the previous year.

Projected enrollment numbers are not available so it will be some time before the board will know to what extent new students will off-set the graduation of the class of 2006.

THE MONSTER UNDER THE BED

The question of consolidation has been weighing on the minds of virtually everyone directly connected with the school system for quite some time. School board members, and the superintendent, know the topic is not a popular one.

The subject is akin to the equivalent of dancing on the edge of a razor blade.

Rumors resurface frequently, and a detached onlooker might conclude some citizens occasionally try to 'stir things up' like an attempt to troops before a war.

One long-time employee told me off the record, more than a year ago, they could never envision being superintendent because, "I don't want to be remembered as the one that closed a school."

JUGGLING NUMBERS; ECONOMY OF SCALE

The State of West Virginia's schools operate under a complicated funding formula based on enrollment. Other criteria may be factored in but there's an ever-present push to meet economies of scale guidelines.

These guidelines dictate generally how many teachers should be employed, overall budget, money available for building repairs, and how many staff should be required for everything to work.

The formulas provide a check & balance window, if you will, to determine how effectively a county is managing its resources. That is, mind you, according to the criteria.

One item that easily jumps off the page is how many personnel over the standard are employed by the county. The other red letter item: how many schools are required to teach a specific number of students.

Superintendent Toman has been combining some staff and mid-level administrative jobs to off-set the scale-failing numbers.

It's also a simple fact that neither Toman, nor the board of education, created many of the tough issues they could face later this year.

Lately, a different economy of scale theory has even conjured up ideas combining county governments. It's like Texas redistricting run amuck.

SMALLER IS BETTER

There's a similarity between a bloated federal government mandating the No Child Left Behind Act, insurance companies herding patients toward specific types of treatment or care, and the struggle faced by many small school districts.

It's a movement toward centralized, impersonal authority which supersedes the will of the individual, or "the people," and in the process often ignores what would be best "for the people." Such mandates tend to stifle creative options by forcing limited choice, based on narrow criteria.

Further complicating the picture is in many ways a superintendent and school board can wind up in crossfire between the State potentially threatening to take over the school system, and the citizenry being up in arms. A county school board doesn't have the luxury of running up massive debts like those facing the federal government.

In areas with a decreasing population base that is increasingly older, like Gilmer County, the choices are often tough. It causes even more pressure and need for economic development. The difficulty is one the county could "grow" its way out of.

These issues are not new. It's being repeated in county's across the U.S.

Numerous studies indicate removing a school from a community carries with it a widespread negative impact. Students suffer a loss of identity. There are few upsides to warehousing kids. Behavioral issues are exacerbated, and students don't perform as well.

And the most significant group affected - children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Those who are most disadvantaged are hurt the worst.

Those same children tend to thrive in small, rural schools close to their homes, so say the studies. Experts assert these smaller schools "even out" the disadvantages such children are faced with from birth.

For more information on one study concerning the topic see this study about West Virginia schools www.challengewv.org/news/Matthew.pdf The following link is to the author's website, where more information is available oak.cats.ohiou.edu

SOME GOOD NEWS

Toman announced 95-percent of Gilmer County's were rated as "highly qualified" under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) standards. Statewide that number averages 92-percent.

The WESTEST scores arrived and the superintendent reported students performed very well. All five schools in Gilmer County made adequate yearly progress by NCLB standards.

That is not the case with all area schools.

Area schools falling below expected NCLB standards include: Robert L. Bland Middle School in Weston, Doddridge County Middle School, Calhoun County High School, Braxton County Middle School, Ritchie County Middle School, Spencer Middle School

Others are: Summersville Junior High School, Buckhannon-Upshur Intermediate and Middle Schools and five schools in Harrison County.

Calhoun County High School apparently has a graduation rate of under 80-percent.

Two exemplary teachers were recognized by RESA: Twila Moyers and Julia Fisher.

New employees for the 2006-07 school year are: Tina Foster - Social Studies - Gilmer County High School; Janette Ramezan - Consumer Science/English - GCHS; James "Mike" Work - Soc Studies - Phys. Ed/health - GCHS; Debbie Huffman - Cook - GCHS; Darrel Ramsey - Bus Driver - Glenville Ele.

Retirees are: Francis Fitzwater - teacher; David Bishop - half-time assist principal/half-time attendance director, GCHS; Audrey Duelley - cook; Desi Garrett - teacher - early retirement.

Staff transferred to new locations: Rebecca Hacker Minigh - secretary - Normantown Ele.; Sharon Zinn - secretary - central office.

Dave Bishop gave a short presentation on the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act. The legislation expands the definition of homelessness and provides some meager funds to provide children with books, clothes and other school-related expenses.

See also wvmountainsun.com


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