Upshur County Schools Special Education Director Melinda Stewart and director of student services and attendance Jodie Akers lead a discussion about a possible alternative education pilot program at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School during Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting.

Middle school to test out ‘personalized learning center’ pilot program

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Board of Education members learned about a possible alternative education pilot program targeting students at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School with a variety of special needs during Tuesday’s board meeting at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.

Melinda Stewart, special education director, and Jodie Akers, director of student services, told board members they are working to implement a personalized learning center at B-UMS. They said the initiative would serve as a pilot program with the hope of first adding an evening program, then expanding their current day program.

Stewart and Akers discussed what would be needed to effectively establish the program, which included more space and the hiring of one additional staff member.

“With the students we currently have and are continuing to get, their needs are very drastically different,” Stewart said. “We need to, as a school system, decide what we need to do to meet those needs and what we are going to do to support those needs.”

Stewart said the middle school is the best place to test the pilot program. She also said students receiving services include those with special needs related to academics, behavior, emotional well-being and attendance.

“We are looking at pulling back in some of our kids that are on home school and trying to meet some of their needs,” she said.

Akers said they were looking at some academic figures and found that the number of failed classes are relatively high at this point.

She said the evening pilot program, when approved, would begin in January 2019.

“Our goal is to add the evening program for our out-of-school environment, our homebound, home-schooled, expelled students and fifth-grade students with utilization of our activity bussed for transportation,” Akers explained. “We would like to hold this on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings 2:45 to 5:30 p.m. Our goal for next year would be to expand the day program to house 20 students and continue with the evening program. Our data reflects this is a need.”

Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus elaborated on the alternative education pilot program.

“The program is to focus on students with different needs and students who want to be learning in different ways,” she said. “It will be personalized because it will be based on student needs – be that behavioral needs, emotional or academic needs – we will have teachers who can personalize that learning for the students.”

Stankus said the pilot program will take place from approximately 2:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“Our students are bringing different needs to the school house, and schools cannot, nor should they, look like they did 10 or 15 years ago,” Stankus said. “Learning doesn’t have to occur only in the traditional classroom. We feel like we are only limited by our creativity in terms of programming.”

Also, during Tuesday’s meeting, there was a discussion about the upcoming school levy renewal. Upshur County Schools Business Manager George Carver said after the levy order was approved by the BOE, it was forwarded to Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith.

“She has sent the ballot to … the printer, and they are doing up the electronic ballot,” Carver said. “Absentee ballots are supposed to be mailed the first week of December upon written application. They can be mailed out up until Jan. 14, five days before the election.”

Carver said they will meet with Smith, the county clerk, in the next week or so to make sure “everyone is on the same page and things continue to roll along.”

Board vice president Katie Loudin said she spoke with the Upshur County Chamber of Commerce last Monday about the upcoming levy election.

“They were very receptive of the levy and asked great questions,” Loudin said. “The levy handout has been helpful in describing the difference between a bond and a levy. I think people have appreciated that, and people are happy knowing we are not asking for an increase.”

Loudin said people are happy the levy rate is so low compared to other areas around West Virginia.

The board also approved the virtual school policy, which will allow students to take some classes online.

When My Buckhannon spoke with Stankus Wednesday, she described the policy as multi-faceted.

“What the West Virginia Department of Education has done is contracted with many different virtual school vendors,” she said. “There are different courses that are offered through colleges and universities, and there are virtual schools that might offer a Spanish course.”

Stankus said students can sign up for the virtual schools, and they will then have the support of a teacher who has accepted the role of virtual school coordinator.

“Students can earn the high school credit through these virtual schools,” Stankus said. “The courses are offered free of charge.”

The policy is expected to go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

“I think this will be a nice alternative for students to accelerate learning or for students who want to take courses not offered at Buckhannon-Upshur High School,” Stankus added.

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