Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Mon BOE candidates talk issues with newspaper’s editorial board

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Jennifer Hagerty, a candidate for Monongalia County Board of Education, wants to see more relevant professional development opportunities for educators — related to the specific needs of their schools and the content areas they teach. That information wasn’t clear in a Wednesday story due to a reporter’s error.

Candidates for Monongalia County Board of Education sat down with The Dominion Post Editorial Board on Tuesday afternoon, for a ranging discussion that took in everything from the local school district’s response to COVID19, to whether bureaucracy is keeping teachers from effectively doing their jobs.

Present were Dan Berry, Jennifer Hagerty, Michael Kelly and Cristy Moats. Brandon Myers, who is also a candidate in the race, didn’t respond to the editorial board’s invitation.

Berry taught in the district for 33 years and is now curriculum director a national educational outreach and consulting firm.

Hagerty, who was a teacher and assistant principal in Mon Schools for two decades is now a Realtor.

Kelly, a product of the local district, is a business owner who has served on the BOE for 15 years.

Moats, who also works in real estate, graduated from Clay-Battelle High School, where many of her former teachers also taught her three children, who became Cee-Bees like their mom.

All four agreed that the district did the best it could with technology tweaks and shifting protocols at the height of the pandemic. What follows are other highlights from the discussion.  

Banning books, and teaching revisionist history

Should certain books with controversial themes be permanently lifted from school library shelves?

Absolutely not, all four said.

Berry: “My rule is, if you’re gonna ban a book, you should read it first.” That’s something he traditionally hasn’t seen, he said.

Keep the books there, Moats agreed — just make sure the titles are age-appropriate.

Hagerty answered with a remembrance of her days teaching in North Carolina, where a librarian at her then-school told one of her elementary students he “shouldn’t” be reading Harry Potter.

Kelly agrees novels should be age appropriate. And history textbooks, he said, should be just that: “History is, whatever history is,” he said. Translation: If it happened, good or bad, don’t omit it or spin it. Teach it.

Charter schools

With the state lawmakers opening the door to charter schools in West Virginia, what might that ultimately mean for Monongalia’s public school district?

Kelly, the incumbent, said he and his fellow members have been driven by another core question since the legislation came down: What can a charter school do here — that public schools aren’t already doing?”

Nothing, he said. “We already offer everything you can think of.”

“I don’t see Monongalia County Schools as a place where a charter school is needed or necessary,” Hagerty said. “If our system wasn’t so high-achieving, then maybe.”

“There’s no competition,” Berry said, agreeing. “Maybe charter schools work someplace else, but they can’t do what we do.”

Any Mon student transferring to such a school, would also take money away from the local district which operates West Virginia’s state-aid formula for students and student expenses.

Moats, while saying she understood that concern, also allowed she’d keep an open mind: “Parents wouldn’t be looking for a different avenue if it [Mon’s district] was working for their kids.”

Getting teachers here — and keeping teachers here

The local district, like most others in the Mountain State, has teacher shortages too.

With Mon being one of West Virginia’s more prosperous counties, relatively speaking, Moats said she’d like to see that fiscally reflected in teacher paychecks.

“Paying them a little more would help,” she said. “Offer some incentives.”

Berry recounted what Maryland’s State Department of Education did when it started losing teachers to neighboring Virginia.

The Terrapin State began bringing retired teachers back. The retirees signed on at the first-year rate, while keeping the benefits built up after a career in the classroom.

Hagerty wants to see “more relevant” professional development opportunities for educators — related to the specific needs of their schools and the content areas they teach.

Kelly proposed a “teacher financing rate” for new educators wanting to buy a house in Mon’s expensive market.

Why are they running?

Berry, who travels frequently in his current job, said having boots on the ground in other places makes him appreciate Mon Schools even more: “We’re not that far away from being one of the best school districts in the country.”

Moats, meanwhile, wants to knock away bureaucratic stumbling blocks in the classroom and central office — “Our teachers do a great job and I can see they’re frustrated,” she said.

“Things are in place that are keeping them from doing their jobs. I would like to be in a position where I could change that.”

Hagerty: “I want to make sure that every decision made at the board level is one with students in mind. Beyond that, I have no agenda.”

“I want every student to come out of our system with critical-thinking skills,” Kelly said.

“Every answer should create a question, which creates perpetual learning,” Kelly continued. “When I talk to parents, I ask them why they feel the way they do. Communication is the key.”

Mon’s primary election is next month.

TWEET @DominionPostWV