‘Oh my gosh’: Jackson County shows off new school

KENNY KEMP | Gazette photos
Students at Kenna Elementary, in Jackson County, get their first glimpse of their new and improved school building Tuesday. The $12 million project includes new safety and technology features and is the first school to be built in the district in 40 years.
Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess shows off the newly constructed Kenna Elementary School to the public for the first time Tuesday. The school is the first to be built in Hess’ district in 40 years.
Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess speaks to students and local and state officials Tuesday at a dedication ceremony for Kenna Elementary School.

KENNA, W.Va. — Corby Stalnaker feels spoiled by the new and improved Kenna Elementary School, which will open its doors to students for the first time in August.

Stalnaker, who has taught physical education there for 37 years, will for the first time have an air-conditioned gym, an electric partition that allows him to separate his classes from the cafeteria and adjustable basketball hoops — which he is especially excited about.

“It’s just amazing how much has changed,” Stalnaker said. “Something like this, it’s motivating. It’s good for the community.”

Stalnaker wasn’t the only one impressed.

The school’s future students gasped as they caught a glimpse for the first time on Tuesday. One girl said, “Oh my gosh, look at all the colors.” Another asked, “They made all of this?”

Local and state officials dedicated the technology-packed Kenna Elementary during a ceremony Tuesday morning — the first school to be built in Jackson County in 40 years.

While students seemed most enthralled with the bathrooms — which, to allow more teacher supervision, have sinks in the hallway instead of in the room — Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess was captivated by the building’s attention to detail, but in other ways.

The school has comprehensive safety features, finally getting students out of portables and putting them under one roof. There’s expansive capacity for wireless technology, two playgrounds (to be divided by age group) and two computer labs. Lights are automated to curb energy usage. The music room is insulated. The art room has plenty of natural light.

While the school is merely bricks and mortar, it has the potential to improve learning dramatically, Hess said. He hopes it will fuel the entire district’s momentum toward getting a computer tablet in the hands of every student in the county. Kanawha County Schools announced earlier this week that it will achieve its goal of a 1:1 student-tablet ratio this coming school year.

“This building is already ready to accommodate whatever direction we go with our technology,” Hess said. “You give your teachers and your students the very best facilities that you can provide, but it all goes back to the instruction in the classroom. Part of that engagement is the increased technology in the classroom — letting students learn the methods that they’re comfortable learning in and also preparing them for the world that they’re going to be living in when they graduate years down the road. We know that technology is always changing, and we have to be able to sit on the cutting edge of that.”

The nearly $12 million project — which was paid by both the state School Building Authority and the Jackson County school board — has been a long time coming. Kenna Elementary’s Local School Improvement Council first approached the Jackson Board of Education about the need for a new school 10 years ago, according to Hess.

“The School Building Authority is very competitive. Do you realize not everybody can get these funds?” Mark Manchin, director of the SBA, said to students on Tuesday. “The SBA really looks at the leadership of a county.”

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or at 304-348-4814.

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