Barbour BOE hears protest

PHILIPPI – Advocates seeking kindergarten and preschool programs at Volga Century and Mount Vernon elementary schools took a stand Wednesday by protesting before the Barbour County Board of Education meeting.

One supporter, Sherri Dennison, said she won’t give up the fight to add the programs to the two schools until she has answers.

“You may find yourselves getting irritated at us for continually coming back each meeting, and that’s OK because when we first came here we told you we weren’t giving up,” Dennison told a packed room at the county Board of Education office Wednesday evening. “You can tell by my outfit tonight that we are dedicated, we are going to be loyal. We stood out in the rain and we are not going to give up.”

Dennison stood at the podium Wednesday in soaking wet clothes after protesting in the rain.

“We are loyal,” Dennison said. “We’re dedicated. We want this to happen for our children. We know nobody likes any kind of negative attention, no kind of negative p.r., we understand that.

“Our protest tonight, standing out there with those signs – our kids were out there with us standing in the rain – it seemed like that was the last way, the final way, that we could reach out to people, to reach out to you guys, to show you that we’re not giving up and we mean it.”

“We just want you guys to think of our kids,” Dennison continued. “Think of their education. It’s gone on long enough. All we want to know is when can we expect an answer.”

Parents and educators from both Volga Century and Mount Vernon have spoken at BOE meetings since April asking for the preschool and kindergarten programs. Board member Joanne McConnell said after the meeting that both schools had preschool programs until their removal six years ago, and that both schools had kindergarten programs at one point. She said the decision to remove the programs was made by a previous administration.

“Meeting after meeting, we’ve come to you with proposals,” Dennison said. “We’ve brought you (names) of parents with children who want to go to Volga Century, parents who have stated that they would not send their children to pre-k or kindergarten if it wasn’t at Volga Century. Or if Volga Century closed, they would even go so far as to home school their children.”

BOE President Bob Wilkins encouraged speakers not to be afraid to come to the board with their questions, comments or concerns.

“You elect us, we’re here for you,” Wilkins said.

However, he also said the answers Dennison and the other advocates were searching for may not be ones that can be provided quickly.

“In reality, that could be not until closer to when school starts because that’s when (potential) students finally actually show up and we have a better head count,” Wilkins said. “Now, it’s either on paper, or it’s not even a real number that we’re looking at because they haven’t signed up. We’re working with numbers of those that we actually have a count for.”

“Once we know we have concrete numbers that will necessitate an additional classroom, then we will make a decision,” Superintendent Dr. Joe Super said. “Whether it’s a case of an additional classroom or we can absorb the students in current classrooms, that’s where we are right now, and that decision has not been made.

“I really don’t think that our position on that has changed. Once we know if the numbers are there, we’ll come to the board with a recommendation as to what to do, where to place the class.”

McConnell said the inclusion of preschool and kindergarten programs at the schools could make a difference in enrollment, thus bringing in increased funding for the county schools because the state aid funding formula depends on student enrollment.

Dennison and others have stated at past meetings that the programs could help with the schools’ enrollment figures. School advocates fought last year to convince the BOE to save the two schools, which had been targeted for closure. The BOE decided in a split vote to keep both schools open. However, with fifth-graders moving from elementary schools to middle schools in Barbour County this fall, the schools’ Parent Teacher Organizations understand the schools’ low enrollments, which were a cause for the closure consideration, will be further affected by the move.

“This may all sound redundant to you, but it just doesn’t seem like anyone is hearing us,” Dennison said. “If you are, it just seems though that you’re stalling only to pass it on to the next set of board members. In my opinion – and it’s only that, just my opinion – that’s just putting the child’s education on the back-burner, and that education needs to come first. To me, that’s leaving a child’s education behind.

“Somebody really needs to step up to the plate and make the decision. We feel like we’ve been put off and put off and put off. Our childrens’ education really depends on it.”