Educators Speak Out Against Changes
By Lauren Matthews - Staff Writer
Tensions were high Monday night as several Wetzel County educators spoke out against the board of education regarding changes recently made in system. The educators' frustrations came to a head after a recent petition, filed by concerned Wetzel County parent Christina Coulter, called for the board's removal of new superintendent Leatha Williams. The petition has since been signed by over 1,028 individuals.
"The degradation of our teachers, frustrations of parents and students is evident in every school of this county," Coulter said to the board at the Monday, Nov. 2 meeting.
Coulter referenced an article in the Oct. 28 edition of the Wetzel Chronicle, in which Board President Mike Blair referenced several points which supported the hiring of Williams. Coulter said one of the points addressed dealt with the fact that the counties surrounding Wetzel have placed in the top of the state concerning test scores. Coulter argued that the surrounding counties have superintendents that are former educators in their respective counties and are widely supported by the teachers they serve.
Coulter said it was made evident to the county's educators that high test scores is the ultimate goal, "not to form students into productive and caring citizens."
"You do not minimize and patronize students, take away their most fulfilling and rewarding activities, and claim to have their best interests at heart," Coulter said.
"Our success as a county will come from when we can unite and encourage our schools, when we can positively implement changes," she added.
Coulter added that Wetzel County parents, in essence, its taxpayers, have supported excess levies year after year and "shown our trust in board members by granting them re-elections."
Josh Weekley, co-president of the Wetzel County Education Association, also tapped into the topic of the levy, thanking the county's citizens for continued support of the school levy.
Weekley said that without the levy, many teachers in the county would find themselves without jobs and children would not be traveling in modern school buses or have as modern of technology.
Weekley said he knows "folks in this county are angry."
"I hear it everyday," he said.
Weekley said he hoped the WCEA could continue to address concerns that effect the students and staff of Wetzel County Schools and pleaded that the citizens would not allow their anger to influence their vote in 2017 for the school levy.
Educator Sharon Snider said that many of the school's yearly programs have been put on hold even though educators have volunteered time to set up and proceed with the programs. Snider said teachers have been told that the programs, such as spelling bees, field trips, Christmas programs, Math Field Day, and the Science Fair, are taking away from instructional time.
"How do we take our best and brightest and push them further into greatness if the classroom is the only place it can occur?" Snider argued.
Snider also argued that teachers, who are each required to write two personal goals for the school year, are instructed on what to write. "There is not an educator in this room who does not believe they have room to grow and learn. Sometimes we need a refresher course on the strategies at our disposal. Sometimes we have to be trusted that when we embrace curriculum, technique, or a program, maybe just maybe we are on to something; however, we are not nor should we be treated as one of Pavlov's dogs and only respond when the bell rings. We should not be treated as if we are ignorant of how to teach and that we know nothing of education practices."
Also during remarks made to the board, Teacher Linda Fonner announced she would be retiring at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Fonner referenced the choices allegedly given by Superintendent Williams to teachers who did not like the curriculum changes in the schools. "If the choices are to relocate, resign, or retire . . . I'm retiring," she said, becoming emotional.
Fonner said the board had said learning deficiencies among Wetzel County students had went unnoticed because educators had not been trained.
"I cannot tell you how many trainings we've had over the past decades," Fonner said.
Fonner said she had previously had support in the county office and that went she previously spoken before the board, she had never come "in this fashion."
"It's always been for accolades for my students," she said.
"This is the first time in my 36 years I've had to come speak like this, and it hurts me," she said, becoming emotional again. "The students aren't going to do better if we get beat down. In the past, I thought I've always had the respect of the school board and county office and teachers I've had to work with. I feel like I still have most of that respect."
Fonner said she did not feel like she had the respect from the board nor the superintendent.
Fonner said she has chosen retirement.
"I don't know if I'll make it through the year, but I've chosen retirement."
Teacher Carol Tallman said that the board, in its arguments for curriculum change, had cited that General Summative Assessment practice test results were already better than the previous year's results. Tallman asked the board what they based this comparison on, as the county was still scoring the tests.
Blair said all the other schools had graded the practice tests.
"Tallman argued that there was nothing to compare the practice test to, as it had never been administered before. She further argued that teachers who are hand scoring the tests are working after school hours and being compensated for less than their hourly rate.
"Many successful people have graduated from Wetzel County Schools," Tallman said. "If you truly believe we are headed in the wrong direction, perhaps we need to spend more time teaching and less time testing."
Board Member Carolyn Gatian remarked to the teachers in attendance that the board did not have an issue with anyone addressing them; however, she added, that in her four years on the board, she had received eight anonymous letters that were "degrading, disturbing, backstabbing, and totally disrespectful."
"If you truly care about these issues, please never send them to me as anonymous because your point is lost."
Gatian stated that the petitioners, in threatening not to re-elect board members to their elected positions, were actually targeting herself and Board Member Linda Kirk. Gatian said that if the worst thing she had ever done is hire Mrs. Williams, who she believed in the concept of, the petitioners could go ahead and not re-elect her.
Blair then spoke to the audience, reiterating his opinion that Williams had inherited a lot of issues. He addressed concerns that were brought to his attention, stating that Williams had not changed exam policies nor cancelled any trips.
Blair also told the audience that whether they wanted to read about it or not, the school system was in trouble.
"We chose to change the curriculum, get away from programs . . . we are trying to make a move and trying to change instruction. That process has turned to where we are now. The only thing we tried to do is improve our school. We thought we could do it differently."
One parent in the audience lamented that her children come home worrying about tests. "It doesn't do our kids any service to sit and test all day long," she said.
Blair remarked that the board might consider holding a special meeting to discuss the issues further.