HAMLIN — Problems that led to a state of emergency in Lincoln County Schools have nearly been eliminated, and the school system will report significant progress to the West Virginia Board of Education when it meets in June to discuss the matter, Department of Education officials said earlier this month.
For nearly two years, Lincoln County Schools has operated under the supervision of the Department of Education after a Special Circumstance of Review of the school system resulted in the state BOE declaring the state of emergency.
The Lincoln County Board of Education hired a new superintendent, Jeff Kelley, and implemented sweeping changes to avoid further intervention by the state.
The county also has three new principals and a new assistant principal.
In December, the state Board of Education voted to extend the state of emergency for six months. In June, Kelley will update the board on the progress the school system has made under the supervision of Matthew Hicks, director of the Department of Education’s office of accountability, and Lynn Hurt, a Department of Education liaison to Lincoln County Schools.
During a Lincoln County Board of Education meeting earlier this month, Hicks and Hurt praised the board and Lincoln County Schools for work they’ve done to turn things around for the school system.
“I can’t tell you what the future holds, but I can tell you that progress has been made — significant progress. The key to all the progress is to sustain it. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Hurt said.
Many Lincoln County residents have been operating under the misconception that the school system was “taken over” by the state, said Lincoln school board President Steve Priestley. He noted that people are wary of that term because of the consolidation of high schools in Lincoln County that occurred in 2006.
A state of emergency is not a “takeover” of the school system, Hicks said. If that were the case, the state would take over all operations of the school system. As it stands, the local Board of Education is still in control, but must work directly with the department to prevent further involvement, he said.
The state inquiry looked at everything from transportation and finance to maintenance, federal programs and curriculum, Hurt said.
“Every time we turned around we were adding something new. The board was open and responsive to the changes that needed to be made, and that has paid off,” Hurt said.
Administrators work off a planning document that is updated regularly and is specific to the areas needing focus, Hurt said. The school system has made improvements in every area, she said.
The transportation department has shown a great deal of progress thanks to director Peggy Stone, the bus drivers and the mechanics, Hurt said.
“We have no issues in transportation. If you could get us some more bus drivers, we would appreciate that, but I think everyone is feeling that pinch right now,” Hurt said.
The issues in finance and in personnel related to finance have been cleared, Hurt said.
“That was done through training and re-training as we’ve had new people come into finance and personnel,” Hurt said.
Special education was another major area of concern, and officials reorganized the department and increased training, Hurt said. The county’s director of special education, Joni Shortridge, was a new addition, coming onto the team after the state of emergency was declared.
“She wasn’t here when we decided to revamp, but she bought into what was happening when she came here,” Hurt added.
Individualized Education Program specialists go into the schools and work directly with teachers to help them craft IEP plans to ensure student success, Hurt said.
The Department of Education’s Office of Special Education conducts on-site reviews every three years. It was perfect timing that Lincoln County’s review was this year, Hurt said, because state officials were able to see the improvements firsthand.
“This report was nothing like what we got last spring. This is a true testament to not only that department’s work but the special education teachers in this county, the work they’ve done and the training they’ve put into what they’re doing,” Hurt said.
The school system addressed maintenance issues that were a concern, Hurt said. Administrators are monitoring general upkeep and maintaining a schedule of inspection and repairs.
“Maintenance issues have and will continue to be addressed. Let’s be honest, maintenance is a process, and it’s going to continue to be a process. And it has to be sustained,” Hurt said.
Academic achievement has been another area of focus and, as superintendent, Kelley has been at the forefront of those changes, Hurt said.
Kelley has an open-door policy and conducts frequent meetings to make sure administrators are on the same page. That frequent communication has been a key to improvement, Hurt said.
The school system has developed English/language arts and math supervisors who go into classrooms to mentor teachers who need help, Hurt said.
“The county has done quite a bit in this area, starting with Mr. Kelley, who is data-driven, not only in test scores, but in discipline and attendance. He has a let’s-fix-it attitude. He has worked with his directors and his supervisors to bring academics to the forefront, which is where it should be,” Hurt said.