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Year in review: 2019 brings much for Mon schools to ponder

Of charter schools, test scores and what to do when the next subdivision takes root in the attendance area.

So went the life and times of the Monongalia County Board of Education in 2019.

While Mon fared better than most, this past year still turned out to be contentious for all 55 public school districts in West Virginia.

Like the kid held back to repeat a grade, the new year just might be more of the same, state Sen. Roman Prezioso said.

The Democrat from Marion County is a longtime lawmaker and education advocate who isn’t seeking reelection in 2020.

He’ll be in Charleston in coming days for his final legislative session as an elected member with three decades in the House and Senate.

That gathering gavels in Jan. 8.

Prezioso is a retired teacher and school administrator who began his education career in Mon County Schools.

West Virginia’s education woes make for sort of an Everyman loop, he said.

Especially during the legislative session, he said, when partisan divisiveness often clouds actual dialogue.

The script, the senator said, never seems to vary much.

“We hear the same thing from every board of education across the state,” he said.

“And then we take it all back to Charleston, and preach and preach and preach, and it all falls on deaf ears.”

Mon makes the grade

Meanwhile, Monongalia County’s students once again outperformed the rest of the state in reading and math scores.

That’s according to 2018’s West Virginia General Summative Assessment, which was given last spring to students in grades 3-8.

Courtney Whitehead, who directs assessment, accountability and counseling services for Mon County Schools, detailed the data in September.

The test is a benchmark charting proficiency in math and English and language arts.

Scores here came in an average of 11% higher in math than the state’s other districts, she said, and 10% higher in English and language arts.

Charting the charters

What can a charter school do — that isn’t already being done in public schools across Monongalia County?

That’s the homework assignment for anyone considering the launch of such an academic endeavor here in the future.

Those aren’t Mon BOE rules, Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., said.

Rather, that’s how the state Board of Education wrote the proposal.

“A charter school proposal must be presented to the community with an idea that’s new and different,” he said. “Something the county system is not doing.”

Which, he allowed, could be a tall order in a county lauded for diverse course offerings, teaching innovations and above-average test scores.

Lawmakers voted House Bill 206, and Policy 3300, its charter school statute, into law in a special session last summer.

HB 206 allows for the possibility of three such schools — with all coming under control of the respective local board of education — by 2023.

After that, the door is open for the possibility of three more schools every three years, and three more after that.

Off to school

All roads lead to Monongalia County Schools.

In a manner of speaking, that is, Andrew Gast-Bray told the board in 2019.

Gast-Bray, the county’s planning director, said he’s been drafting a workable set of subdivision regulations, since his hiring over the summer.

It will be a first, if it happens.

County officials have tried, and failed, since 1968 to get something on the books — and in that 50-year span, Mon and its county seat of Morgantown have both enjoyed marked prosperity compared to the rest of the Mountain State.

Prosperity means people moving in, he said.

Families, and more kids in the classroom.

More kids in the classroom mean more school bus traffic — on roads that were never designed for the vehicular influx now occupying their lanes, to and from.

Which, he said, adds to another car-quandary, as more and more people are put on those roads.

“Most developments in Monongalia County have one way in, and one way out,” he said.

An actual set of subdivision regulations, Gast-Bray said, could eventually lead to a natural re-tweaking of zoning laws in a county where sprawl has been part of the order.

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