Phares returns to Randolph

Dr. James Phares, the West Virginia superintendent of schools, has been touring each county in the state recently, but said he did not come to talk but to listen to what Randolph County Board of Education members had to ask him Monday.

While revisiting the county where he served as superintendent of schools before assuming the state education chief position in January, Phares said he wanted to recognize some major recent accomplishments in Randolph.

“First I want to recognize Pickens School and the Randolph Technical Center for achieving exemplary school status,” Phares said. “Also, the Tygarts Valley High School boys basketball team won first place in Class Single A at the Big Atlantic Tournament.

“Elkins High School senior Maggie Jones was named a Presidential Scholar Semifinalist,” he said. “Westest scores showed a significant increase in math and the county now offers parents online access, where they can make payments and view activity.

“Sarah Cooper, Elkins High School senior, was highlighted on the WV Department of Education website for her Digital Learning Day project,” Phares said.

Board member Harvey Taylor asked Phares about the state board’s input into school calendars.

“We are hoping to allow the counties to determine the start and stop days of school and set their own vacations,” Phares said. “The counties calendar committee would make recommendations, and the board of education would be the final authority on calendars.”

Board member Ed Tyre asked Phares if there would be changes in the funding formula.

“Thirty-three counties are sliding toward deficiencies in their budgets,” Phares said. “So yes, I do think you will see some relief in the formula.”

Board member David Kesling asked Phares if there was any consideration of adding outside security in schools.

Phares said he has attended two summits on the issue, and said he thinks there needs to be more conversation on the subject before a final decision is made.

“Do we want armed teachers? Do we want armed guards?” Phares asked. “We tried to get resource officers here and in Marion County and it never worked out.”

Phares said one item officials are looking into is installing film on the lower windows of schools that will prevent the windows from shattering.

“This is an issue that is on everyone’s mind,” Phares said. “How do we prevent these kinds of incidents. But when we arm folks and the first responders come on the scene, how do they know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?”

Tyre asked about adding more counselors in schools.

“We are going to recommend more counselors, as well as speech therapists and library media specialists,” Phares said.

Taylor said guns in the schools are a bad idea.

“What happens if a teacher has a gun and students find out where it is?” Taylor said.

“It is an oxymoronic idea,” Phares said. “We have just spent the past five years working to get guns out of the schools, and here we are talking about putting them back in.”

Board President Lisa Wamsley asked about the lack of completers in career technical education classes.

“Students have so many core credits they need, they can’t take career technical education classes,” Phares said. “We are working to include a math credit with these classes. That would help students fit more CTE classes into their schedules and we could have more completers.”

In other business, board members voted to pull three items from the agenda. Interim Superintendent Terry George recommended creating and posting three positions for the 2013-2014 school year, including a K-1 split at Harman School, a K-2 split at Valley Head Elementary School and a 3-5 split at Valley Head Elementary School.

Members voted to put these items on the March 18 meeting agenda.

The next regular meeting is slated for 6 p.m. March 4 at the central office.