School News

School board votes 4-1 to use $95K in ARP funding for teaching assessment at high school & middle school

by Kate Evans

Morgan County School Board members voted 4-1 to approve partnership with the company Instructional Empowerment at a total cost of $95,449 to conduct onsite assessments at Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School and a district-level workshop with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding.

The vote took place at their January 23 meeting. Board member John Rowland voted against the measure.

Instructional Empowerment is a private company based in Blairsville, Pa. that has worked with over 200 school districts, according to the company’s website.

Rowland read a letter that expressed his concerns about the partnership, saying that the school system had recently implemented Capturing Kids Hearts, a character-based curriculum, and worked with  John SanGiovanni in specialized curriculum areas and Weston Kieschnick, who emphasizes teachers having strong relationships with students.

John Rowland

Rowland said he had no problems with the goals of any of these programs and that their success “depended on the commitment of the teachers to implement the components and all administrators to support and monitor this.”

He feels the programs need more time for teachers to become comfortable with them and for full implementation to occur.

Under consideration was using the company Instructional Empowerment for two under-performing schools, which Rowland thinks is premature.

The initial cost for the assessments at Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School and a District Level workshop is  $95,449 and may be covered by ARP funding, but the first year costs of $695,000 and the second year costs may not be.

The total cost could easily reach $1 million, he noted.

Rowland said they could have local costs from the state requirement of having third graders be readers by the end of third grade.  He wondered if they could predict revenue and guarantee they’ll have the necessary funds to pay for this and all normally expected expenses.  Rowland felt a cautious approach toward their healthy reserve balance and spending is still best.

Rowland said this system implementation must have strong support from teachers, staff and administrators.

He’s heard multiple times that teachers are “new program weary.”

“I am concerned that the staff will not have the enthusiasm or energy to take on another program,” he said.

Because of these and other concerns, Rowland said “I feel I would be doing a disservice to Morgan County Schools by voting for this expenditure.”

Coaching needed

School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle told the board she feels the  coaching is needed.    They only have secondary academic coach and technology coach Robert Dugan and he’s just one person.

“We have to focus on instruction and don’t have the resources for the secondary level,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle talked with Wyoming County who went with Instructional Empowerment for all their schools last year.  They are very happy with the results.

Board president Aaron Close said he believed their staff needs some coaching.

“We need to raise the bar of what our kids can do,” Close said.

Rowland said he sees the need, too.

Board member Laura Smith asked if they could just do the assessment and see what the company recommends.

Tuttle said the board could choose to hire their coaches for 40 days instead of 60 days or look elsewhere  for the coaching.

Tuttle noted that she got an email from the state late that day that guaranteed that they could use 100% of their ARP funding to fund this specifically for next year.

School strategic updates

Superintendent Tuttle said she talked to all the principals about whether they wanted to hold their annual school strategic update –formerly called the local school improvement council (LSIC) presentation — at their school or have it at the school board office.

Berkeley Springs High School and Paw Paw Schools want to present their update at their school while the other schools wanted to present theirs at the board office, Tuttle said.

School board member John Rowland said at their January 9 meeting that he felt strongly that the school board should go to each school for the updates.  Board member Justin Litten agreed.


Tuttle advised the board that new Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) officer Deputy Chuck Hess was hired and started working a couple of weeks ago.

Deputy Paul McFarland, who was hired as PRO officer when Deputy Kevin Barney retired last year, has also retired.

Math Field Day took place successfully on January 23 at the middle school, she said.  The county science fair was postponed twice.  Judges were going to the schools to judge the projects.

Bus drivers have been great clearing the garage on the weekend, Tuttle said.

They had a pre-bid meeting for the flooring replacements, she said.  The bids closed on January 30.  The bid process for the architects for the high school cafeteria heating, ventilation and air conditioning (VAC) replacement is in progress.

School board president Aaron Close said that the roof drains at Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School had been blocked by the snow.  The melting snow couldn’t drain and leaked into the buildings. They had to fix some ceiling panels, but the situation is resolved now.