WINFIELD — As Putnam County students begin the 2014-2015 school year today, the entire school district, and particularly its leaders, may be in for a larger learning experience than usual.
Two new central office heads of secondary and vocational education are part of a team overseeing a total of 10 new principals and assistant principals across the 23-school district. These individuals were either transferred from top roles at one location to another or were promoted to administrators for the first time.
Together, these leaders will implement new and expanded programs this school year, including more college credit offerings.
Penny Fisher, assistant superintendent for personnel, said the school board has eliminated at least two top positions over the last three years because of cost concerns and a wish to focus on individuals’ strengths.
“We try to keep reorganizing to make the most of what we have,” Fisher said.
She’s part of that reorganization; her transfer from a position in charge of pupil services and middle school education eventually led the school board to combine the vacant middle school director position and the high school director position, whose occupant retired, into a new secondary education director position.
The vocational education duties that once fell to the high school director were given to Mike Erwin, the current principal of the Putnam Career and Technical Center. He said he’s overseeing special business and agriculture programs at Buffalo High School and technical education programs in middle schools in his added role, and he trusts others will help him with his learning curve.
“I work with a lot of good people, and as long as I’m upfront and honest with them, they’re going to help me feel my way through,” Erwin said.
Among the curriculum additions this school year are dual-credit classes, in which students can simultaneously earn high school and college credit. As the pilot school, Hurricane High will begin offering English 101, Biology 105 and Math 127 dual-credit classes this semester, said Doug Cross, the new director of secondary education.
The district will transport students at other high schools to Hurricane to attend the classes, but officials hope to eventually expand the courses to the other schools.
Cross said dual-credit teachers are technically hired as adjunct Marshall University professors, though the school district still pays them. He’s hoping to partner with West Virginia State University to offer more dual-credit classes in the spring.
“It would be our hope to offer a greater variety of classes that our students would need their first year of college,” Cross said.
Students currently can also take college-credit-only classes for English 101, Math 127, Health Science 200 and Psychology 201 through Marshall at Winfield High School.
Erwin said the Putnam Career and Technical Center has hired a math teacher, Adam Scott, and English teacher, Carolyn Allen, to help the school start offering embedded courses that offer both high school and vocational credits.
The teachers will analyze PCTC’s courses on car technology, electrical work, plumbing, welding, carpentry, restaurant management, computer repair, nursing, dentistry and other topics to see which qualify to also offer math and English credits.
Erwin said the embedded program is still in the “developmental stage,” but he believes most, if not all courses, will qualify to offer the academic credits. This will help reduce the number of students who can’t take the vocational courses they want because they must complete separate regular educational classes.
“What it’s doing is freeing up their schedule,” Erwin said.
It’s clear how learning about carpentry and computers could teach math; Erwin said the English instruction can come from the research, resume and oral presentation students must complete in creating electronic portfolios of their vocational studies.
Director of Early Childhood Education Karen Nowviskie isn’t new to her position, but she can focus more on it now that the school board has hired Rudi Raynes to take over her secondary role as spokesperson.
A large part of what Nowviskie will be focusing on is a statewide policy change in which kindergarten must now be treated as a “school readiness” grade, like preschool, rather than a “primary grade” like first or second grades. Nowviskie said this will shift kindergarten toward more “direction-based learning” that will be more hands-on and less reflected on traditional paper schoolwork.
“For example, it was previously perfectly OK for kindergarteners to play with blocks, and as we became more focused on academics we forgot that kindergarteners need to be allowed to do those sorts of things,” Nowviskie said.
She said there will now be more focus on this type of play, but teachers will still need to ensure that students are learning academically, socially and physically through it rather than just having recess.
Also this school year, the district will expand the Leader in Me program to the last of its 14 elementary schools: Hometown, Eastbrook and Winfield. The program, which focuses on leadership and other non-academic skills like teamwork, began about three years ago at Hurricane Town Elementary.
“I don’t believe that any county has made the commitment that we have made,” Nowviskie said. She credits the program with decreasing the number of students skipping class, requiring discipline referrals and being held back a grade, though its effect on test scores isn’t yet clear.
In all, she said Leader in Me shows students they have the ability to be “anything they want to be.”
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