Hundreds urge BOE to keep school open

Nearly 50 supporters spoke and hundreds more packed Mt. Vernon Elementary School Wednesday, each person wanting the Barbour County Board of Education to know the impact the small school has on the community.

Judith Archer, a representative from Matthew 25: Ministries, traveled from Cincinnati, Ohio to appeal to board members to keep the school open during Wednesday’s public hearing.

Over the past 10 years, Matthew 25: Ministries has donated more than $250,000 in supplies to Mt. Vernon, along with countless man hours, hats, winter coats and gloves, and incentives for parents through a store at the school. They have also provided summer learning activities and warm, nutritious meals for its students.

“We have supported Mt. Vernon Elementary for the past 10 years,” Archer said. “We knew that Mt. Vernon was a special place, a place deserving of our support. We began to bring work teams down to help refurbish, repair, upgrade and maintain the school. All of the tiles, linoleum, painting, white boards and library was supplied by Matthew 25: Ministries and our volunteers.”

Archer said each fall, the group brings winter coats, hats and gloves for the students at the school.

“We believe that Mt. Vernon School is a special place,” Archer said. “They have an incredible principal and teaching staff that bounce back from every adversity and keep the school high functioning. They turn out students who are incredibly gifted and prepared for the next step of their education.”

In mid-August, the Barbour BOE proposed closing two elementary schools, Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon Elementary, in order to save about $700,000 annually and avoid major renovation costs. The board set public hearings at the two schools, and one at Philippi Elementary School, where the children from the closed schools would attend in 2014.

A public hearing was held at Volga-Century Monday, but Wednesday’s hearing drew more than twice as many supporters at Mt. Vernon Elementary.

School parent Chrissy Knapp presented BOE members Wednesday with a stack of petitions signed by those in favor of keeping Mt. Vernon open.

Kenneth McElroy said when he and his wife moved to the area, Mt. Vernon staff welcomed them with open arms.

“I want to talk about the community,” McElroy said. “We live on the county line and we are within 20 miles of three of the largest employers in Northcentral West Virginia. There is a new house being built in this community by a family that have three young children, and those children go to school out of the county. We are missing out on something there.”

McElroy asked board members what they are doing to draw people to Barbour County rather than push them out.

“You are right on three county lines,” McElroy said. “When we were looking for a home, we were looking at school numbers and Mt. Vernon School was the reason my family moved to this community. Bridgeport was a very attractive option with its nice homes and schools, but we chose to move here.”

McElroy said North Dakota is looking into hedge funds that come from the oil and gas industry.

“How much money is the school system going to get from these hedge funds?” McElroy asked.

Karen Dunkerley, assistant professor of education at Alderson-Broaddus University, urged board members to keep Mt. Vernon School open.

“I encourage the Barbour County Board of Education to consider the nature of the exemplary learning environment here in your strategic action plan and find a way to keep this school open,” Dunkerley said. “A great school is more than four walls and a plot of ground – it’s a vibrant, dynamic, exciting and engaging non-stop, 24-hour learning center along with its participants. Mt. Vernon is that kind of school – not in spite of its size, but because of its size.”

Tammy Tucker, principal and teacher at Mt. Vernon Elementary, addressed board members and drew a standing ovation from audience members.

“I keep hearing happy, loving, friends and family,” Tucker said. “That is what we all are about. We care about one another. When I was sick, they all took care of me. That’s so important to me. After you have a good, caring and loving place then kids will learn. We have that. And I believe some kids need a small atmosphere for learning.

“I am not saying a bigger place is bad – just that some kids need that smaller space for learning. It would be nice for our county to have a place like that, a smaller place for learning for those who need it.

“You have heard from our students,” Tucker said. “You can see they are poised, confident and they have self esteem. They have great leadership skills. They are academically prepared and adept at technological skills. They are ready for the 21st century. You have heard several reasons why the school should stay open, but the most important is so the kids receive a quality education.”

The next public hearing will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Philippi Elementary School; if necessary, the meeting will continue on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The board will make its final decision on the proposed closure of the schools during meetings scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Contact Beth Christian Broschart by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @ITM-Broschart.