Supporters try to save agricultural program

Two state delegates and around 40 Harman residents spoke to the Randolph County Board of Education to save the school’s agriculture program on Monday. The issue has been a heated concern in Harman since the program’s teacher, Donley Teter, retired, and no efforts have been made to replace him.

Nearly every seat in the room was filled with people wearing large tags on their chests that read, “Supporting the Harman School Agricultural Program & FFA.” At the start of the meeting, representatives of the group had their chance to speak before the board.

Pam Pennington, a former vocational agriculture student and secretary of Harman school, went beyond her own opinion by compiling a file including letters from members of the community. It included concerned citizens working in agricultural-related positions at West Virginia University and the the West Virginia Farm Bureau and numerous graduates of the program.

One graduate, Justine Seville, shared how the vocational agriculture program jumpstarted her career.

“At WVU few of us grew up on farms. Everyone relies on learning in school,” Seville, who studied agriculture in college, said.

She went on to say that her Harman classes helped her to ultimately become a veterinarian.

Two former instructors of the program, Bayard Swecker and John Yokum, expressed they can’t imagine students losing the opportunities to learn what they taught.

“It opens up a whole new area, including trips,” Yokum said.

The final speaker, Portia Dean, spoke on behalf of the Randolph County Farm Bureau.

“We can’t all be computer people,” she said. “Show me a computer that can feed you. … I do not want us to rely on imported foods.”

Addressing the delegation, board member Harvey Taylor said, “I’m upset, but I can’t promise you the moon.”

Someone in the audience said, “It sounds like you’ve made a decision.”

Taylor said he hadn’t made a decision yet.

Board member Ed Tyre expressed a wish to continue discussing the topic, but the item wasn’t included on the agenda, forcing the board to wait until the next meeting.

The board’s next meeting is slated for after the firs day of school, noy allowing time to hire the program’s next teacher. Eighth-grader Zachary Roy spoke up and asked if the board could find time to schedule an earlier meeting. President Lisa Wamsley said a meeting could be set with a three-day notice, but the board felt there still wasn’t enough time.

But the talks didn’t end there, and the conversation on elimination of the program led to larger issues facing educators.

The Harman delegation relocated outside where they listened to Andrew Yost of agricultural outreach for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

“I’m here to say that we support all the agricultural programs in Randolph County,” said Yost. “By showing our support for all agriculture in the area, we hope the local schools will mirror that support.”

Also outside was Del. Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, and Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph.

“I serve on the the education committee so I know the board is held to a budget,” said Campbell. However, she fears that the elimination of vocational programs will lead to an increase in drop-out rates. “I know how tough decisions can be, but I hate to see Randolph take a step backwards while everyone else is moving forward.”

Hartman said this issue is bigger than agriculture.

“We talk about reform, but we just make changes,” said Hartman. “We need to hold people to the fire.”

Hartman said he was referring, in part, to an environment that sends the message that a four-year degree elevates someone to a higher social status than a vocational education.

Also at last night’s meeting, the board also took up the issue of whether to place school clinics in specified Randolph County Schools for the 2013-2014 school year and what corporation to select. A motion to choose Valley Health Care was passed 5-0.