By Lon Anderson
For the Hardy County Board of Education, change was in the air at its meeting July 6 with lots of “new” on the agenda: a new fiscal year, with new members to be added and new officers to be selected; a new contract to be approved to provide computers to students, and a reorganization of teaching “blocks” for the school year, all to gear-up for extraordinary challenges this fall.
Raising their right hands and swearing to give it their best after winning the election in May were current Board President Nancy Hahn (re-elected), and newly-elected Janet Clayton Rose.
In what she declared to be her last official business as President, Hahn nominated Doug Hines, currently serving as Board Vice President, to be President. Hines then nominated Board member Melvin Shook to be Vice President. Both were then elected unanimously.
With the new leadership in place, the Board launched into a full agenda mostly involving preparation for the fall term with a range of daunting new challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trying to ensure there is education for all — whether in the classroom or virtual, and likely some of both — clearly poses enormous new challenges, such as how to get the faculty trained for virtual teaching, and getting all [private]students equipped with the necessary computers and training to ensure that they can participate fully.
“We are required to have a virtual school plan,” Superintendent Sheena Van Meter told the Board. “And that means we have to have computers.” Further, she continued, “We’ll have to do better (this year) than last time.”
As a result, the biggest action of the evening came as the Board approved a new contract with Apple Computers, agreeing to a four-year lease that will get each student a personal computer to use. Younger students will get iPads, and older students will get MacBooks. But with the $198,000 per year lease, “every student will have a device.”
Students, she explained, will learn how to use the computers while in classrooms, and will then be able to use them for the virtual classes that will be offered. Van Meter told the Board that (because of the virus) she “believes there will likely be more closures in the future.”
The computers will allow them to continue teaching on the West Virginia’s virtual platform, Van Meter continued, which they have already agreed to use, where many lessons, materials and tests have already been designed. The cost to participate on the W.Va. statewide platform is $160 per pupil, as long as Hardy uses its own teachers.
This means the “teachers will have to learn to teach virtually,” Van Meter explained, but “the platform comes with tests—just about everything.”
“It’s good that everybody is going to have to learn on the same platform,” commented Board member Dixie Bean.
“Now that everybody will have a machine,” Van Meter said, “I wish we could do better for access,” since not all homes have access to computer networks. The ideal, she explained, is that students could all work from home, but since that’s not the case, they are working with Hardy Telecommunications to identify areas in the County with weak internet access. She expects to have 15-20 access points, from which students could work, available in the County by the start of school.
Van Meter noted that another benefit of the virtual class option is that “snow days can be virtual and won’t count against us,” which seemed to please the Board.
In response to a Board member’s question, the Superintendent noted that parents will be responsible for damages to computers and can refuse the computers. They also have older, cheaper models on hand that they can make available to students if parents prefer.
After Sarah Earle, Director of Finance, assured the Board that “we have the money there” for both hardware and software, the Board voted unanimously to approve the four-year Apple contract.
The Board then considered and approved a restructuring of the teaching “blocks” to better work with new realities. They agreed to move from an eight-period teaching format to seven, but the seven would be broken up into three and a half periods a day, Van Meter explained. Three periods would be 90 minutes each and another would be 45 minutes; the year would be divided into two semesters.
This would mean that classes for the three blocks would be the same all semester, but would change to three different subjects in the second semester, Van Meter explained. The one 45 minute daily class, however, would be the same all year. Thus, students will have completed seven classes by year’s end.
Also, very much top of mind for the Board was the condition of the facilities as they prepare for a new school year and Board members had many questions for Steven Williams, Director of Administrative Programs, asking about specific work orders and project updates. The bottom-line, he said, “is that we are in pretty good shape.” The detailed questioning seemed to bear that out. And Williams reassured them that the few issues identified by the Fire Marshall’s inspections had been fully addressed.
Toward the end of the meeting Hines turned to the Superintendent and said “I want to thank you for taking the bull by the horns to get us through this difficult time.”
Van Meter, after acknowledging his comment, thanked her staff, whom she said deserved great credit for their success, singling out Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Strawderman, Finance Director Earle and Assistant Shawn Cullers.
Following that, the Board approved a long list of personnel actions, including the resignation of part-time teacher Janet Clayton Rose, who had to quit her teaching position in order to serve in her new role as a member of the Board of Education.[/private]