WILLIAMSON — The Mingo County Board of Education has responded to questions raised during the last BOE meeting by MCHS Administration and staff concerning the proposed position cuts to take place at MCHS during the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.
In an interview with the Williamson Daily News, Mingo County Schools Superintendent, Robert Bobbera and Director of Human Services, Richard Duncan assured the cutting of positions at MCHS – a total of seven professional positions, would not affect students, classroom size or the curriculum that MCHS has offered since its opening five years ago.
“The good news is given our proposed reductions, the number of students at Mingo Central and the classes offered, we project no programs will be cut,” said Duncan. “We may have to arrange some things with the schedule and you will see larger classes but there really aren’t very large classes there to begin with.”
“The average now is currently seventeen students and next year we predict that will rise to an average of twenty. A lot of courses at both high schools in our county are very small with less than five students in them and we want to keep those classes but look at how to do it in an efficient way. For example, maybe offering that class every other year instead of every year,” Duncan continued.
According to Duncan, teachers at MCHS teach approximately 150 students in a day which would mean that yes, you would need to find classes for those students to go once a teaching position has been cut.
“What we’ve seen with looking more closely at the schedule currently is that there is space to put everyone in the existing schedule. English offers many electives which is great but some are very small and even the AP classes are small,” said Duncan. “One AP class has 28 students enrolled but it is split into two sections, two classes of fourteen. We wouldn’t want to put 28 freshmen kids in a classroom because they need a higher level of support and have different behavior expectations and we wouldn’t want 28 in a math class because our scores in math have been a real struggle and we want to make sure they also have that type of support but in AP English, 28 is really not a big class. It is probably a pretty healthy class because at that level, students are seniors preparing to go to college and they’re enrolled in AP which means they are self motivated.”
According to a MCHS class schedule obtained by the Williamson Daily News, AP Literature, taught by Katie Endicott is the class mentioned above with two sections and according to MCHS principal Teresa Jones and Endicott, there are two sections for a very specific reason.
“There are two sections to this class because we wanted to make sure that our CTE (Career Technical Education) students were offered the same opportunity to take AP courses as our other students,” said Endicott. “
According to the schedule which also listed enrollment in each class as of January 6, there are seventeen students enrolled in the morning section and 11 students enrolled in the evening section which is available for CTE students. One of those students is MCHS senior Kenny Allen who is currently in the CTE Nursing program.
“I feel like because I was able to do the nursing program and my AP classes, I am more ready now to go to college than I have ever been,” said Allen.
Faith Hensley is another MCHS senior who is currently enrolled in the larger section of AP Literature with 16 other students and says that she could not imagine being in a class any larger than hers and that often she wishes she was enrolled in the smaller section.
“I have noticed that the smaller section of AP does better than us during our classroom competitions because they get so much more one on one time with Mrs. Endicott when we have essays that we have to complete,” said Hensley. “A lot of times students in our class go to Mrs. Endicott at other times throughout the day because there is not enough time to get the same type of instruction that the smaller class gets. She teaches the same thing during each class but that one on one time is what helps students pass those classes. This is my last chance to get everything I need for my fresh — I mean my sophomore year of college,” said Hensley as she laughed. Hensley will begin her college career as a sophomore due to the classes and curriculum offered at MCHS.
According to Jones, the BOE is not taking into consideration these special circumstances when considering next years cuts and schedule. For example, one of the smallest English electives offered at MCHS is Mass Communications, a class with equipment funded by GearUp, with an enrollment of 8 students but according to Endicott and MCHS Counselor Latisha Marcum, the class enrollment may seem low but it is actually at capacity.
“That elective is at capacity,” said Endicott. “Even if we offered the class ten years from now, we could still only enroll 8 students in that course and truthfully, we only have equipment for four but we make it work.”
According to Robin Ellis, another AP teacher at MCHS, the idea that every student in AP courses are AP students and can take on bigger classrooms couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We have what is called Access and Equity in AP which essentially means that our doors are open to everyone,” said Ellis. “AP courses are not just the best and brightest now like it used to be years ago which means these students still need one on one time and a proper education that would not be possible with 28 or 30 students in a classroom.”
Even though MCHS teacher and students disagree with the BOE analysis of classroom size and student needs, Director of Human Resources Dr. Duncan insists that upper level courses can manage bigger class sizes.
“One thing we would like to see is that by doing this, we will push more support to the lower grade levels at the expense of larger classrooms in the upper grade levels,” said Duncan. “Thirty is a bit much even with seniors just with the way classes are built. Putting thirty desks in the room is hard to do.”
“The real question is…what is overcrowding,” said Superintendent Bobbera. “What does overcrowded look like and does having larger classes mean that quality can’t go on?”
Duncan also insists that all electives will be able to be offered but there could possibly be some changes for students.
“All electives will be able to be offered,” said Duncan. “Whether or not it will fit into a kids schedule is another story and that is where we will work with the school to see that everyone works out. There is capacity in other electives and students might be surprised by the classes their placed in but sometimes by doing that, you encourage them to branch out a little. They may not know they’re interested in economics or creative writing until we put them in it.”
MCHS Counselor Latisha Marcum disagrees.
“Forcing students to be in classes that they may not be interested in is not helping them expand their knowledge,” said Marcum. “It is setting them up for failure.”
Marucm is also worried about what eliminating courses will mean for the graduation rate at MCHS.
“Policy 2510 requires students to complete a program of study which is like college. You take certain classes in that program and while most are CTE, if you are college ready then you need to take psychology and other courses. If we cut these classes, students who are needing these classes will not graduate on time,” said Marcum. “How am I suppose to sit down with a student and parents and explain to them that their child may not graduate on time because we no longer offer the course necessary for them?”
According to Duncan, position cuts will weigh heavily on the money that is given the the county by the state based on county enrollment and are not set in stone.
“If the money is there and things are better than we anticipate then we have talked about adding some positions back,” said Duncan. “Not a science or a social students position but instead offer kids programs who are not excelling school. One program would be to take students at risk for dropping out and find a CTE pathway that they are interested in. The idea is to say, school is not working for you but maybe you are interested in welding or some other program.”
“If we lose these at risk students then we will lose more of our funding so by keeping them in school, everyone benefits. They benefit from a certification and a diploma and we still get the funding for enrollment. It feeds itself,” added Bobbera.
According to Marcella Charles, placing students in the CTE program because they are at risk will only put a ding on the profile of the CTE wing at Mingo Central.
“When students decided they want to do CTE, there is a professional interview where we look at grades, GPA, everything,” said Charles. “Our CTE program is rigorous and has recently been named a Model and Premier school based upon increasing the number of program completers, compliance with simulated workplace protocols, business and industry inspection reports, CTE staff walkthroughs and more,” Charles explained.
While cuts appear to be inevitable across the entire county, MCHS staff is wondering why they are seeing 33 percent of the total cuts.
According to Bobbera and Duncan, this is due to the fact that Mingo Central has not suffered a loss since its opening five years ago while the rest of the county has been cut.
“When you look county wide, we have tried to eliminate positions through retirements rather than cuts,” said Bobbera. “Other schools have had reductions that have hit progressively whereas MCHS has remained steady. Mingo Central has lost 100 students since the first year it was open but has remained fully staffed for the projected number of 882 students which we never were able to reach.”
“None of us predicted that the economy would take such a down-turn. We are losing people so fast, there are houses for sale everywhere and businesses are closing which means the schools take a loss of tax revenue,” said Duncan. “If there aren’t more than 650 students in the building then it is difficult to keep it staffed at the 800 student level. This year our county lost 150 students.”
“The numbers that we lost last year are the greatest numbers that we have ever seen,” Bobbera. “Losing 150 students is something that have never encountered before.”
The Mingo County BOE also addressed the possibility of making cuts at the central office instead of cutting core teachers who interact with students on a daily basis.
“We have lost twelve central office positions since Mingo Central opened. Just last week we cut 2 more positions here in the central office,” said Bobbera. “We are now down to 28 employees. We have lost more employees than any other school in the county.”
According to Duncan, the Mingo County central office salaries are down $500,000 in five years.
“A teacher costs about $75,000 with benefits so by us saving $500,000 in our office, that was ten teachers we were able to keep there longer,” said Duncan. “Dr.Bobbera recently took a $10,000 pay cut.”
According to a report just released by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy in response to the state deficit, W.Va. manages 55 individual school districts, but has only 281,000 students in the state. Maryland, by comparison, needs just 39 districts to educate 866,000 students. Since each school district maintains its own central office staff and infrastructure, West Virginia’s unusually large number of districts translates into lots of unnecessary overhead costs and central office duplication. The report suggests the state should consolidate, build and merge schools over district lines, reduce central office positions and services and…have job-sharing arrangements across counties.
According to the same report, West Virginia’s public schools are overseen by a Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs). The state’s eight RESAs provide planning and cooperative purchasing assistance for schools in their areas, as well as recognize exemplary teachers, offer technical support to under performing schools and assist with computer support services.
Additionally, an external audit commissioned by the governor’s office in 2012 found the RESAs failed at one of their only real jobs: obtaining low prices on administrative costs such as supplies, utilities and insurance. The report concluded more responsible spending would save $782,000 a year – regardless of whether it was a RESA or a school district handling those purchases.
MCHS principal Teresa Jones says she believes it is imperative to leave teachers in the classrooms, to keep classes at MCHS small and to offer advance curriculum to the students because that is what was promised to them with the consolidation.
Superintendent Bobbera says that it is time to lay the blame the aside.
“We have to look at where we are right now and what we are going to do with it,” said Bobbera. “We can’t mourn the loss of revenue because it is our new reality but I believe we have excellent staff, teachers, administrators to collectively keep that vision for Mingo County and MCHS going. It won’t be as easy as it has been but it is still worthwhile. We have to learn to adapt to this new reality.”
(Madalin Sammons is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. Madalin can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 304-664-8225.)