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Jody Johnson, director of federal programs for Upshur County Schools, speaks at last week's CEFP meeting.

Grade-level groupings at center of recent educational facilities plan forum

BUCKHANNON – Reconfiguring how grades are grouped and exploring possibilities for housing those groupings surfaced as a main point of discussion at the most recent meeting on Upshur County Schools’ Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan.

The Monday, Sept. 9, meeting took place at the West Virginia Wesleyan College Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts, where the three subcommittees working on the plan discussed their goals and what they need to implement future goals.

The three committees that presented their findings were the Goals and Objectives Committee, the Community Committee and the Educational Plan Committee. This meeting was solely for discussing the findings in each committee; however, the Sept. 24 Board of Education meeting is when the board will approve the new goals and objectives.

Principal of Tennerton Elementary School Tristen Gray was the presenter for the Goals and Objectives Committee.

“What we did is, we took the previous CEFP plan and we looked at it to try to see what we keep and what we needed to change,” Gray said. “Ultimately we came up with several changes and have left some of the vocabulary very similar to how it had been because it’s consistent year after year.”

Gray said the committee came up with five goals that were fairly similar to the previous plan – but with several changes.

“Goal one is for curriculum delivery models,” Gray said. “Upshur County Schools will provide school facilities which support the implementation of the county’s adopted curriculum, instruction and operation plans and are consistent with adopted State Board of Education policies and standards.”

He listed several objectives that he said would help them reach this goal, including having the necessary facilities for food service, library resources and media centers. Gray said the next objective is to make sure all schools have the necessary instructional auxiliary facilities for out-of-classroom needs; he also said all schools must have a preventative maintenance program on an ongoing basis and all schools need to be clean and meet health and safety standards.

Tennerton Elementary School principal Tristen Gray.

Gray said goal number two, grade configurations, is where they really discussed the possibility of making changes.

“Upshur County Schools will organize grade configuration models that are consistently successful based on research-based practices,” Gray said. “[We will] maintain one high school given the current enrollment, and Upshur County will maintain one middle school … but we also asked that we look into future funding for possibly building a new middle school that will better serve the middle school learning environment and Upshur County schools will continue to provide elementary school services and maintain what we currently have, but also include pre-K.”

Another goal focused on maximum and minimum school sizes and optimal student populations.

“We used projected enrollment data to optimize school size based on attendance areas and we’re looking at the middle school,” Gray said. “That was where we had a lot of our discussion, with the possibility of proposing funding for a new middle school sometime in the future because of its current state of building.”

The fourth goal they discussed was the number of facilities that can be effectively maintained given resources available.

“Given projected decrease in student population and a subsequent decrease in state aid formula dollars, Upshur County schools will work within its financial constraints and opportunities to continue to provide sufficient staff, facilities and curriculum, demonstrating flexibility in order to meet student needs,” Gray said.

The final goal discussed was community expectations.

“Upshur County schools will continue to encourage community and parental collaboration to promote social responsibility and employability,” Gray said.

The Community Committee was represented by Jodie Akers, the student services director for Upshur County.

“We really wanted to emphasize all the wonderful things that Upshur County provides as individuals are looking to come into Upshur County, and we talked about the high quality of life and the availability of services increasing,” Akers said.

Akers said the committee talked about living in a community that has four libraries, and is the home of the West Virginia Wildlife Center, Fidler’s Mill and several parks.

“We really wanted to highlight all these positive aspects,” Akers said. “That’s what our community members continued to focus on in our last meeting.”

Director of Federal Programs for Upshur County Jody Johnson explained that the Educational Planning Committee said they had a discussion about whether they wanted to keep the kindergarten through fifth-grade, sixth through eighth-grade and ninth through 12th-grade school system.

“We had quite the discussion about whether we wanted to keep that grade level configuration or if we were going to look at a four-level system – pre-K through three, four through six, seven through nine and 10 through 12,” Johnson said. “Many people at the table that day thought we should move that way, but after a lot of discussion and talking about buildings and building requirements that would need to happen, they decided to stay with the pre-K though five, six through eight and nine through 12.”

One topic Johnson said they needed more information about before forming a goal was whether there are any students whose needs are not being adequately accommodated.

“We discussed that, but we need to have more discussions with our special education director to determine whether there are any students whose needs are not being adequately accommodated,” Johnson said. “We’re going to need to discuss that and figure out how we want to word that and what we really want to say about our education system’s underserved populations.”

She said the committee hasn’t been able to formulate a plan for new facilities because they aren’t sure what might be available yet.

“There’s a lot of different options right now … so we will be able to talk about that once we know what the main facility goal is,” Johnson said.

The final decisions of the Upshur County Comprehensive Facilities Plan will be presented at the Upshur County Board of Education meeting Sept. 24.

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