Hancock teachers try to keep up with the times

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By Stephen Huba
For the Weirton Daily Times

NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County school teachers are working harder to keep up with expectations at the state and national levels, the school board learned on Monday.

The ever-changing landscape of public education, and how it's affecting local school districts, was a common theme in Monday's presentations by the faculty senates and school improvement councils of Oak Glen High School, Oak Glen Middle School and the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.

Presenters said reforms in state education standards, the length of the school year, class scheduling, and teaching methods are requiring more of teachers, so much so that the three-month summer vacation may become a thing of the past.

"Teachers are never off during the summer with all the training they have to do," Oak Glen High School Principal Barbara Logue told the board.

Logue said the biggest changes this year involve adjusting to a trimester schedule and teaching English and math in light of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

"We got off to a great start with the trimester schedule, with only a minimal amount of confusion," she said.

Logue said she likes the trimester schedule because, among other things, it gives students who have failed a course a chance to retake that course in the next trimester - something the high school already has done with math and biology classes.

The trimester schedule also is being used by Assistant Principal Dave Smith and Prevention Resource Officer Brian Hissam to give extra help to students with behavior issues or who are failing a course, she said.

"Students ... are put into a special educational opportunity period (EOP) for a set period of time. They report to the library and must have their agendas filled out and must bring work to do," Logue said. "Their parents have been informed, and they are monitored by Mr. Smith and Officer Hissam. Their grades and behavior are checked weekly. If no improvement is shown, then their time in the EOP probation period is extended."

Faculty Senate Chairwoman Debby Churella said adjusting to the trimester schedule is a "work in progress."

Logue said teachers began Common Core training in the spring of 2013, and those workshops continued into the summer and fall months.

"We are moving forward with the introduction of the Common Core standards and the different teaching style that goes with presenting Common Core to our students," said Churella, who teaches precalculus, calculus and advanced placement statistics.

Career Center presentations centered on the school's transition from traditional classroom instruction to a Simulated Workplace model.

The Career Center is one of only three career-technical schools in West Virginia chosen to participate in a Simulated Workplace pilot project this year, said Martin Hudek, director of Secondary, Adult and Career Education. State education officials hope to implement the Simulated Workplace concept statewide over the next three years.

As a simulated workplace, the Career Center is imposing requirements on students similar to what they may encounter at a real job - filling out an application, going to an interview, punching a time clock, wearing a uniform, submitting to random drug tests and maintaining a good attendance record, among other things.

On Monday, Hudek and Faculty Senate Chairman Milt O'Mery, an auto collision instructor at the Career Center, said the students are reacting positively to the changes.

"You're seeing them respond. They're so proud to put on that uniform," O'Mery said.

"Some of them have even asked, 'Can we have these (uniforms) when we leave?'" Hudek said.

Hudek also praised the the Career Center's new diesel technician program, taught by instructor Jim Luevano. Inaugurated at the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the program currently has 16 students.

"I'm confident that word of mouth alone will get more students into that," Hudek said.

Oak Glen Middle School Assistant Principal Chris Enochs singled out a before-school tutoring program for eighth-graders who are struggling in English and math. Although some students are referred to the program, participation is voluntary, he said.

"It's nice we don't have to reach out to them all the time," Enochs said.

Superintendent Suzan Smith praised the initiative. "As soon as they start to struggle, the goal is to have students come in immediately (for help) rather than wait until the summer," she said.

Board President Jerry Durante said the tutoring program may help some eighth-graders make the transition to high school. He noted that 12 OGHS freshmen qualified to attend last week's Straight "A" Breakfast.

Student presenters on Monday were Oak Glen Middle eighth-grader Kayla Gilmore, 13, of Chester; Career Center senior Lindsey Robinson, a nursing student; and Oak Glen High senior and Student Council President Chris Bailey.