With schools slated to re-open on August 20, both Jefferson and Berkeley County (WV) school systems are continuing to see an upward trend in enrollment, which they are juggling while rolling out new programs for both students and faculty.

Even as the population of West Virginia, both in terms of public school students and actual residents, decreases, the two eastern most counties have bucked the trend.

“Berkeley County schools’ student population has grown by 1,574 students since 2010,” said Manny Arvon, superintendent of Berkeley County Public Schools. It “is the fastest growing West Virginia district.” Arvon added that Jefferson County is the third-fastest-growing system in the state, with a population increase of 328 since 2010.

Manny Arvon

As nearly 2,000 additional students were added in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties over the past eight years, the state, as a whole, dropped from 282,130 students in 2010 to 270,613 students in 2017.

“Last year, we did experience a growth of nearly three hundred students, and we are anticipating similar growth this year,” maintained Arvon. He and Hans Fogle, the public information officer for Jefferson County Public Schools, both indicated the official increase in population for this school year will not be available until a few days after the doors open.Arvon noted that approximately 200 new teachers will also join Berkeley County for the coming school year.

Training Trends

Following the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students around the country engaged in rallies, lobbying activities, and pro-education drives designed to shine a light on the lack of gun safety initiatives both in many states as well as the federal level. The #neveragain movement formed as the number of school shootings in the U.S. totaled approximately one per week over the course of January to May earlier this year. The movement was not absent in the Eastern Panhandle, as students at several high schools hosted safety-centric demonstrations.

According to Sheri Hoff, director of attendance for Jefferson County Public Schools, all school administrators will receive additional training for the 2018-2019 school year.

“Everyone at Jefferson County Schools remains keenly aware of safety issues facing schools across the country,” she emphasized. “Along with efforts that have been initiated over the past few years, such as new types of safety drills and specific trainings for teachers focusing on emergency preparedness, all county administrators will receive a full day of instruction relating to school safety that will include a presentation on ‘trauma informed classrooms,’ techniques for preparing for crisis planning, and a lecture entitled ‘Lessons Learned from a School Shooting.’”

Continued Focus on Academics

Berkeley County will see the acquisition of new textbooks for mathematics courses, which will, according to Arvon, “… bring a renewed focus on ‘With Math I Can.’” Additionally, the school system is continuing to promote their “Literacy Project,” enacted last school year.

“The Literacy Project spans all curricular areas and complements existing instruction,” said Arvon. “The Project focuses on reading, responding to a prompt, organizing information in a graphic organizer, then writing a five-paragraph essay. Student gains in literacy proficiency were noted, and literacy will continue as a priority for the 2018-2019 school year.”

Bondy Shay Gibson, superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools, will be announcing new academic initiatives after press time, according to Fogle.

Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson

Both counties, as well as the state as a whole, have seen dramatic increases in graduation rates since 2010, when 76.4 percent of seniors graduated, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. While figures for the 2017-2018 school year won’t be available until October, for the year ending in 2017, Jefferson County was slightly below the state’s score with 89.3 percent of seniors graduating (state score was 89.4 percent). Berkeley County clocked a 94.2 percent graduation rate.

New Board Members

Arthena S. Roper, the recently retired cultural diversity facilitator for Jefferson County Public Schools, was sworn in as the newest Board of Education member in July. Roper joins Gary Kable, Mark Osbourn, and recently re-elected members Laurie Ogden and Kathy Skinner on the five-member panel.

Roper, Ogden, and Skinner prevailed in a crowded field that included then-Board president Scott Sudduth, retired educator Jim Watkins, educator and coach Donna Joy, recent-Washington High School graduate Aaron Hackett, and retired government worker and writer Tom Poteet.

“I’m looking forward to working with my fellow Board members on developing a strategic plan to recruit staff and enhance student engagement,” said Roper.

All incumbent members were returned to office in Berkeley County, keeping the established Board of Michele Barnes-Russell, Pat Murphy, William Queen, Todd Beckwith, and Darin Gilpin in place.

Successful Summer Program

August 3 was the final day of the inaugural run of the Rising Rockets Program at Ranson Elementary. The new initiative served approximately 60 students, all of whom were referred to the program by teachers at the school.

Attendees varied from incoming kindergarten students to incoming third graders. According to a press release from the school system, the classroom instruction was supplemented with programs tailored to English language learners, a presentation relating to healthy eating habits, and read-aloud events. Additionally, students received breakfast and lunch onsite.

Two of Ranson Elementary’s Rising Rockets students enjoy lunch together.

The program was developed by Principal Debra Corbett and her staff, and is fully funded through federal Title I grants. “The parents have been very happy with the program,” said Corbett. “We received requests every day from parents asking for a slot for their child.”

Just Around the Corner

Big, yellow buses will soon be a common site, yet again, around the Panhandle each morning and afternoon; back-to-school displays are already dominating stores. As students and faculty return for a new year, Roper offers encouragement: “Hold on to your dignity, decency, and civility as you interact with others. We’re fortunate to live in a caring community. Kindness and mutual respect will enhance our ability to live, learn, and thrive in harmony.”

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