By Cody Neff
The Fayette County Board of Education continued its Local School Improvement Council tour last Monday, visiting Valley High School.
Reports from officials in the area said things are mostly positive.
One official said his school is having problems, but he knows he and his staff can get things fixed.
“These young people are our future,” Gauley Bridge Elementary principal Joseph Groom Jr. said. “They are our resources. They are the ones that we as educators strive to support each and every day in each and every matter that we can, no matter who they are or what they are. We should do everything we can to see that they’re successful and have every opportunity for success.”
Groom said the school has problems with writing and analyzing written works.
“To fix that, our teachers are doing more activities that focus on writing and analytical traits,” Groom said. “We feel this will help our students become more proficient in how to paraphrase, do sequencing, drawing conclusions, and describing characters. Our teachers are helping students to summarize and determine cause-and-effect. We feel this will help them with analytical traits.
“We've also planned a ‘family literacy night’ workshop in November with West Virginia author Cheryl Ware. This workshop will give parents some insight into the writing process and what it takes to master the content standards pertaining to analytical traits. It will also equip parents with the knowledge to help their kids with assignments.”
Groom said his staff also is working to help parents to be able to help their kids with their math homework.
“We have also planned a ‘family math night’ in November that will give parents and students an insight into what it takes to master the standards of math,” Groom said. “It’s a wonderful workshop in which we take the parents into the classroom and sit them down and give them a math assignment. Their children help them with the math. We feel this will help parents to understand what their child is going through and to help students understand the problems better.
“We also let the parents get on these every-day math games on the computer and their kids help them with the math games. Before they all leave, we try to equip them with resources and tools so when they get home, they can sit down with their children and help them do math homework.”
Although he said things have been hard, Groom says the school has had some good improvements too.
“Our fourth grade this past year did better than they’ve ever done before,” he said. “I think a lot of it is due to our parent workshops, teachers collaborating, and parent involvement.
“We are also currently installing new playground equipment into our playground. We also really appreciate the help from the board of education to get a new roof on our school and the new HVAC system. These things allow us to have a warm, safe, and secure learning environment.”
At Valley Elementary School, the principal says test scores have been very positive.
“Our fourth grade students increased test scores in the areas of reading by 16 percent, in the areas of math by eight percent, and in the area of writing by 23 percent,” DeAnn Bennett said. “Our fifth grade students experienced an increase of 16 percent in writing. We attribute that growth to new teacher training and support.
“At Valley we have had a high turnover rate of teachers because of our location. We’ve decided to jump in quickly with those new teachers to get that training done as early in the year as possible.”
Bennett says the faculty and staff have been working to help students to become more mature in different ways.
“We’re trying to help our students become more responsible and to value their own education more,” she said. “We have partially implemented the ‘seven habits of happy kids’ and we’re working on the first two habits. The first habit is ‘Be proactive’ and the second habit is ‘Begin with the end in mind.’
“We’re also using the ‘Kennel Club.’ That’s a program in which the Valley High School students come over once a week and meet with our students that need extra help and that’s had a real positive influence in some kids’ lives.”
For Valley High School’s presentation, principal Craig Loy couldn’t make it to the meeting, but teacher Rita Bohanna read a letter that he had left behind.
“Valley High School has developed a plan to target three key areas of improvement,” the letter said. “These areas are student achievement, school culture, and graduation rate. Valley High School has been struggling with making and meeting achievement rates.
“This year, I’m pleased to inform you, Valley High School has increased its achievement rate and we are now a transition school.”
The school fell just short of its assigned goals, but the letter said the school’s staff was very happy all the same.
“Our (accountability) index target for this past year was 48.721 and Valley High School’s rate was 47.6637,” the letter said. “We missed by just 1.2084. Our accountability items that were lacking were graduation rate, observed growth, and adequate growth.
“We met at least 50 percent of our targets in math and reading language arts. Our faculty has worked very hard to assist us in meeting these targets.”
To help improve the lives of more students, the letter says faculty worked with a group to create ‘the Kennel Club’ program.
“We have worked with Hi-Y to provide a peer mentoring program,” the letter said. “We want to make Valley High School a place that students want to come to every day to learn and have fun.
“We are identifying students early that may be potential drop-outs and are offering assistance academically and emotionally so that the student will not fail. We’re offering course recovery for failing high school students to get them back on track.”
The principal’s letter said everyone’s hard work paid off.
“One significant gain in our achievement is in our seventh grade math and reading/language arts classes,” the letter said. “The assessment scores have improved and progress there seems to be increasing each year.”
Now that the LSIC meetings are done, board members will be able to take a step back and look at how things are going in Fayette County. One board member says he’s very happy with what he has seen.
“We’re seeing a lot of work to get children connected with education and with each other,” board president Steve Bush said. “I was so proud that I’ve seen a lot of achievement, especially among disadvantaged children. Educators are starting to see that it’s not so much about putting the cookie right at the bottom, but raising the bar just a little further. Everyone is seeing that when these kids are given the challenge, they'll make the challenge and exceed it.
“Once they dig in and see what’s at the core of it all, they say, ‘Well I can do that.’ These little people say, ‘Well I’m interested in this and interested in this, so I may be interested in this too.’ They broaden their thinking. They see there’s more to school than a nice, happy meal. There’s something beyond that. Once they realize that, they start to ask themselves where they can make a connection that makes it relevant to them. We’re seeing that it’s not about educating the masses. It’s about educating children one by one by one.”