When Kanawha County students return to class this week, students at Cedar Grove, Dunbar and Sissonville middle schools will no longer be able to learn Spanish from teachers in traditional classrooms. Instead, they’ll have the option to take it online.
According to documents obtained through an open records request, Spanish teacher jobs were among 35 regular classroom teacher positions cut for the upcoming school year, which has already started at Piedmont and Mary C. Snow West Side elementary schools and begins Monday for the county’s other public schools.
Other positions cut included five librarians: one full-time at Piedmont and one half-time each at Holz, Lakewood, Pratt and Sharon Dawes elementary schools, with all of those being converted to “technology” positions. A Kanawha human resources worker said these technology positions are responsible for running libraries but also for additional technology duties throughout the school.
Seven Title I classroom teachers were also cut. Title I teachers are funded out of the Title I federal antipoverty program.
An equivalent of about 80 full-time public school jobs were cut overall across the county, which lost public school enrollment five years straight through the previous school year.
Enrollment is the main determinant of state school aid funding, and enrollment numbers from the prior school year are used to set funding levels for the upcoming fiscal year. Kanawha’s public school headcount enrollment is down 395 students from the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year. The count early last school year was 26,230.
Even though Kanawha’s total number of positions has been decreasing in recent years, school systems have many retirements annually.
Carol Hamric, the school system’s executive director of human resources, has said that since she began serving in her position in 2004, the county has always been able to re-employ all those who want to continue working in the following school year. Currently, two previously laid-off employees don’t have jobs for this school year.
But position cuts and the resulting transfer of employees to new roles may affect students’ education regardless. The school system did not previously provide the exact numbers or types of positions that were to be cut for this school year, so the Gazette-Mail filed an open records request for the documents. The school system’s figures don’t include changes to Temporary Itinerant Regular Employees, who the school system says are fluid positions that are technically all laid off each year.
While it cut 80 jobs for the upcoming year, Kanawha only added 30 more in their place, about half of which were labeled classroom teachers or Title I classroom teachers.
Other additions included interventionist classroom teachers, which a Kanawha human resources worker said offer targeted help to students who have math, English and reading needs. Three full-timers were added at Flinn Elementary.
A half-time French/half-time art position was added at Capital High after the full-time French teacher position was cut there.
Angie Harless, the Capital French teacher, wrote in an email that she’ll just be teaching French half-time there.
“I agreed to it because I have children (one in kindergarten) and this way I can get them on and off the bus,” Harless wrote. “I also didn’t want to teach other than my certifications, French or English as a Second Language.”
She wrote she’s also a lawyer and hopes to also now get guardian ad litem cases [representing those who can’t represent themselves], but “now I am pretty stressed because what if no judges assign a Guardian Ad Litem case to me now that I have lost half my income lol?”
She said she’d been offered a full-time French position at Putnam County’s Winfield High, but that would have been a 45-minute drive.
The documents showing the county school system central office’s ordered cuts — some specific and some as broad as an order to cut any classroom teacher — are called “staffing letters.” They were sent to principals in the spring.
Principals respond with “recommendation for staff reduction” forms, telling the central office their suggestion for how to make the cuts at their individual schools. Their leeway differs depending on how specific the order is.
Hamric wrote in an email that all ordered cuts were carried out, save for an autism aide position at Mary C. Snow, where the employee in that role won her appeal to the Kanawha County Board of Education. Hamric said the school system followed all other written principal recommendations on how to fulfill the cuts at their schools.
The principals of Cedar Grove, Dunbar and Sissonville middle schools recommended cutting their Spanish teacher positions in response to orders to each to cut some kind of teacher. In their written responses to the orders, all three principals said they could offer online Spanish instead.
Sissonville Middle Principal Gene Smith told the Gazette-Mail his daughter took Spanish in-person at the school last year. But Smith, who’s currently pursuing an online Marshall University educational leadership doctorate, didn’t say keeping a Spanish teacher at the school would have been superior to going all-online.
“If the person is developing the curriculum and holding the kids to the standards and making sure the online curriculum is rigorous and meeting all the standards, I think it could be the same,” said Smith, who said he worked under and is confident in former Riverside High principal Valery Harper, who now leads the county’s online school program.
Smith said his recommendation to nix the position wasn’t just because the teacher in it, Betsy Snyder, who had 27 years of experience, was retiring at the end of last school year. Rather, he felt it was the best way to meet students’ needs while still following the order to cut a teacher job.
Many, but not all, of the central office’s position-cut orders that it provided to the Gazette-Mail were accompanied by the recommendation for staff reductions documents, which further specified which exact positions and individuals were cut.
Hamric wrote that “we confirm verbally by phone if we do not receive the sheet” from the principal. In cases where there is no sheet, it’s sometimes unclear what subject was taught by a classroom teacher position that was cut.
The forms include spaces for principals to list concerns shared by the targeted employee, their fellow faculty and the Local School Improvement Council of their school.
Alum Creek Elementary was ordered to add a classroom teacher and cut a half-time multi-category resource teacher, a type of special education instructor. Principal Elizabeth Hoylman noted faculty were concerned about a “lack of consistency.”
The targeted employee, Sherrie Murphy, was noted as having 35 years of experience.
“Current teacher is very effective,” faculty said, according to Hoylman’s notes. They suggested leaving the position full-time “due to increased number of students with individualized education plans [IEPs].”
Brigitte Evans had worked at Pratt Elementary as a teacher’s aide since 2000. She said she was a preschool aide for about the first 10 years, working with special education and non-special education students, and the last eight years she was a kindergarten aide.
The central office ordered Pratt’s principal to cut a kindergarten aide, among other positions. Evans was cut.
“It was like home,” Evans said of the school. “I live in Pratt, my grown kids came through Pratt. Either as a parent or an employee, I’ve spent about 35 years in that building, it was like home.”
“I know a lot of the kids’ families, you know, and some of the needs that some of these children may have,” Evans said. “I don’t know, I just felt like by being there and knowing these people in the community, we were better able to serve some of these kids, we were a Title I school. Yeah, and I got in my comfort zone and it’s close, I mean, I planned on retiring from there, and when I got called into the office to be told I was being cut, I mean, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather.”
Evans, 58, said she’s started working at the county’s Carver Career Center, which her son attends. She said it’s a 25-minute drive to work, where she’ll now be a special education aide for high-schoolers.
“We’re just trying to teach an old dog a new trick now,” she said with a laugh. She said she won’t be wiping snotty noses, tying shoes and pulling kids off their parents’ legs on their first day of kindergarten, “so it might be easier.”
A list of Kanawha County school positions cut and added can be viewed at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/ 4776413-Cuts-1.html.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article attributed student enrollment figures to the wrong year. They were for last school year.