Leadership team at Berkeley Springs High hitting their stride, getting back to basics

by Kate Evans

After a year of back and forth remote learning and in-school instruction due to the pandemic, Berkeley Springs High School is getting back on track to solid teaching and learning in the classroom, said Berkeley Springs High School Principal Mitch Nida.

New administrative team

Nida has a new Assistant Principal Kevin Pittsnogle this year that joins him and Assistant Principal Matthew Bender on the administrative team.

Pittsnogle had been a special education teacher in Berkeley County for the past six years.  He received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from West Virginia University and attained a master’s degree in special education.  Pittsnogle got his educational leadership certificate from Salem University.

Pittsnogle also coached basketball for the last four years at Hedgesville High School.

Bender was hired as Berkeley Springs High School Assistant Principal in July of 2020. Bender has been an English teacher at Musselman High School in Berkeley County.  Before that he taught   English at Ravenswood High School in Jackson County for 11 years.

Bender received a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in English and a Master’s of Arts Degree in curriculum and instruction from West Virginia University.  Bender was also athletic director at Ravenswood High School and has coached football, golf and wrestling.

Berkeley Springs High School Principal Mitch Nida (middle) is seen with his administrative team members new Assistant Principal Kevin Pittsnogle (left) and Assistant Principal Matthew Bender. (right)

Nida said that they share a lot of duties and they all do a little bit of everything as well as collaborate and work together. Nida does curriculum and evaluations, communications and partnerships.  Bender is in charge of special education, which is pretty much a fulltime job.  He also manages some curriculum and evaluation. Pittsnogle handles attendance and discipline and is their facilities manager.

Bender said they work really well together as a team and all share a lot of the load.  He noted that with all the complications of the pandemic that they were in unfamiliar territory school-wide.  Staff has shown the ability to come together and problem-solve.

Homecoming, other activities

Nida said his team is trying to do all the events the school used to do.  The school had two outdoor pep rallies and a bonfire for Homecoming Week, plus Spirit Week.  Students decorated the hallways and class floats for the parade.  The Homecoming Court did skits, races and events.  Kids are coming to the games now for free and attendance has really picked up.

The opening of the school year was very busy, Nida said.   Some students who were interested in pursuing military service did a Skype session with Senator Joe Manchin. Some 40 schools attended.  One of the questions Manchin took was from Berkeley Springs High School student Tyler Barney.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner visited the school to talk about the importance of voting and registering to vote.  Several student organizations went to the Food Lion on the Day of Caring to get donations for the Morgan County Backpacks Program.

The high school has a new Career Exploration Center where representatives of multiple colleges have come to talk with students.  The room is still being set up with a lot more planned, Nida said.

The newspaper classes are doing broadcast videos along with publishing the school newspaper.  The high school’s collaboration with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College continues with the Jump Start program and the Blue Ridge Scholars program where 15-20 students are chosen per year to have free Blue Ridge classes.

Credit recovery, graduation

Former Assistant Principal and Career Technical Education (CTE) Director Les Morris is now the high school halftime graduation coach and halftime credit recovery coach.  Principal Nida said Morris is monitoring students in credit recovery courses and goal-setting the amount of credit recovery class per day, week and month for each student.

As graduation coach, Morris is looking at kids that are falling behind and getting them the supports and interventions they need to graduate on time, he said.  They’re also offering four days of after-school tutoring through the MC After 3 program.

New teachers

New Berkeley Springs High School teachers include math teacher Kari Lacy, social studies teacher Spencer Shives, science teachers Denise Gipson and Rachael Probst and English teacher Chuck Walker.

Nida said they were doing okay with staffing and COVID-19, experiencing  days where some staff were out, but covered by substitutes.

Communities in Schools

The Communities in Schools (CIS) program is still adding students to their caseload, Nida said.

CIS Student Success Liaison Emily Hawver is working on adding Tier 1 approaches to improve attendance and discourage truancy.

They are getting ready to schedule the Principal’s Honor Awards for last year, Nida said.  The junior class did really well on last year’s state SAT assessment exams and the school is planning a nice reward trip for them that’s still being decided.

Nida said he was very happy with the kids’ scores last year, especially with all the remote learning they had.

Nida said they’re still using IXL and Khan Academy regularly and are focused on student recovery to get back on track.  A lot of time has been spent getting students involved at school.  Kids are cheering their teams on.  Daily routines are getting more consistent as the school year kicks in.