By Mary Catherine Brooks
Wyoming County Bureau Chief
Dr. James B. Phares, superintendent of West Virginia Schools, talked with Wyoming County Schools officials Thursday morning, toured the county Career and Technical Center, and presented a medallion, from the West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education, to one of the center’s outstanding students — Russell Brooks.
“I believe this is the first time ever a state superintendent has been on our agenda — to talk with our board (of education),” noted Frank Blackwell, county schools superintendent. “So, you’ve made history here today, Jim.”
Blackwell said Phares has been in education for more than 40 years, beginning as a teacher, an assistant principal, principal, college professional and the state superintendent since January.
Phares said he arrived early to tour the facility and emphasized the extraordinary things being done at the Wyoming County Career and Technical Center.
“Some school systems in West Virginia are part of the problem and some school systems are part of the solution,” Phares told schools officials. “Wyoming County is definitely part of the solution.”
He lauded the county school system, and its employees and students, for their continued improvement on WESTEST scores.
He praised the Wyoming County Career and Technical Center for its national Green Ribbon School Award, and noted the solar panels used on the industrial equipment building are “talked about quite often.”
Additionally, he complimented the center’s history of constructing a stick-built house, beginning in August, then auctioning it in May. He said other school systems have done it a few times, but the Wyoming County Career and Technical Center has done it for 32 years.
Phares said he talked to the students as he toured the campus and was impressed with the students, and emphasized the students, director Shelia Mann and the instructors are dispelling illusions about tech education.
“(The students) are articulate. Every student looked me in the eye, and shook my hand,” Phares said.
He said they easily, and fluently, discussed the skills they were learning, how each of their career goals was mapped out for their futures, and the fact that they would not begin their careers in Wyoming County.
He said others across the state complain that you can’t find a carpenter, a plumber, a welder, an electrician... Phares noted all those skills are being taught in Wyoming County.
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In another issue, Phares said he is working to return some decisions to the county school systems, including changing hiring practices so that more than seniority plays into the decision of hiring a teacher.
“Seniority will still be a factor, but it won’t be the only factor,” Phares said.
He also wants to change the attitude that schools officials must come to Charleston to talk to him. He wants to talk face-to-face with officials on their home ground.
To that end, he is visiting each of the state’s school systems.
Additionally, he said West Virginia needs to do a better job of marketing the advantages of working in the state, as well as increasing teacher pay and benefits in an effort to keep more state graduates.
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