Monongalia County School Board And Administration Could Not Care Less

TO HELL WITH EXCELLENCE; LET’S BUILD A CONCENTRATION CAMP ON THE MILEGROUND

They don’t care.

Either that or they are monstrously incompetent.

When deciding to close and consolidate Woodburn Elementary and Easton Elementary into the polluted and dangerously sited consolidated Eastwood Elementary (on the smash-and-crash racetrack that is the Mileground road in Morgantown), Superintendent Frank Devono and the Monongalia County school board ignored studies showing that small neighborhood schools are of exceptional educational benefit to students of low income, who make up very many of the children of the affected schools. Board President, at the time and current board member, Nancy Walker even doubted that the mass of research was accurate. These school officials seemed wholly unconcerned and entirely proud of their ignorance and anti-educational action. What wonderful qualities to have in ostensible leaders of education.

UPDATE: And now is the news that the Dominion Post reports about the results of testing in the county next door to Monongalia: “Only Preston County’s three smallest schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year.” And virtually the same results held in Monongalia County.

Monongalia County and neighboring Preston County combined have 30 public schools. In those two counties combined last year, the 6 smallest public schools passed the AYP tests. Only two other schools passed, which means that 22 of the larger schools failed. To recap: the 6 smallest schools passed, 22 of the larger schools failed, 2 other schools passed. Next year, Mon Schools intends to close two of its smallest passing schools to combine them into a larger school (Eastwood), against the public will and best knowledge. It’s anti-educational, just as we have been saying for years now. And it’s otherwise stupid, lousy, and dangerously wrong.

For a long long time we have pointed out that:

an overwhelming body of research shows that small neighborhood schools offer superior education and experience. Small neighborhood schools:

improve student learning…reduce the achievement gap between poor and affluent students and minority students and whites…cultivate better student attitudes…cultivate better teacher attitudes…reduce discipline problems, truancy, and drop-out rates…better engage parents in their children’s learning and foster closer parent-teacher relationships…encourage walking to school and this improves children’s health and active engagement in learning… (Save Our Neighborhood Schools: Lawrence, Kansas)

In 2009, University of Virginia researchers noted, in accord with the large body of research, “large schools no longer are regarded as the panacea for America’s educational challenges. Many of the problems of public education, from low student achievement to high dropout rates, are being traced to large schools….”

In defiance of best knowledge and practice, the Monongalia County School District has pursued consolidation, and by stealth. No notice about possible school closing went home to parents through their schoolchildren until long after the SBA consolidated school grant had already been awarded. Many parents remained unsure of what was going on. While everyone agrees that new schools at good locations are necessary for both Easton and Woodburn elementaries, the overwhelming majority of those who publicly expressed opinion have been opposed to the consolidation.

And now the pathetic tragi-comedy that is the school board and administration of Monongalia County Schools comes full circle for a family with a child at Mountainview Elementary, “So My Daughter Can Leave Mountainview Elementary To Go Where?“:

This weekend, my family received a letter. The letter told us that Mountainview Elementary [one of the largest elementary schools in the state] was considered a failing school. This conclusion was reached as a result of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB is a stupid piece of legislation that replaces learning to think with learning to regurgitate rehearsed answers that will satisfy standardized tests. Still, Mountainview is failing to achieve even that.

Part of NCLB allows us to send our daughter somewhere else if openings are available, and in this case, we were offered two schools that are succeeding in preparing students for standardized tests: Easton Elementary and Woodburn Elementary. At this point, you’re probably saying that those two schools sound familiar to you, and they should: our school board voted to close both as soon as possible. So, to recap:

-My daughter’s consolidated elementary school apparently sucks.
-Our options for other, more successful schools that she could attend and which are better at satisfying national education policy are going to be closed to create more consolidated schools that are precisely like Mountainview Elementary.

Which brings us back to the non-controversy that was the closure of Easton Elementary and Woodburn Elementary. Sure, parents in both neighborhoods stood opposed to such a decision, but that didn’t stop our current Board of Education from voting [unanimously] to close both schools, despite the apparent fact that both are doing a better job than their larger, consolidated counterparts. That didn’t stop them because the MCBoE doesn’t care about communities in our around Morgantown, they don’t care about children, and they certainly don’t care about education.

It’s long since time for the entire school board and the top administration at Monongalia County Schools to be entirely replaced, for many reasons, including the fact that best educational knowledge continues to fall on their deaf ears. We’ve noted repeatedly:

Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology John Alspaugh of the University of Missouri concludes in his 2003 study of Missouri schools, ”School Size as a Factor in Elementary School Achievement,” that “There was  a general decline in achievement as school enrollments increased for both the inter-city and suburban schools.” The Professor Emeritus notes that such findings by other researchers about elementary schools and other schools are common and that they especially hold true for urban schools (of which Woodburn is one) and for low income students, of which Woodburn and Easton have many. On average, the Woodburn and Easton schools have slightly less than 200 students each. Is it not interesting then that Professor Alspaugh found that “Schools with enrollments less than 200 achieved the highest [Stanford test] scores in all the five academic areas of reading, math, language science, and social science.” (Education Information Resources Center, April 28, 2003)

In a study published by Nebraska Law Review in 2003, Bob Bastress, Professor of Law at West Virginia University College of Law reviews the extensive literature on the educational and community benefits of small schools which show that small schools are generally far more beneficial. WVU Professor Bastress goes on to explain that “There is simply no reason to conclude that a district has to consolidate schools in order to have ‘modern, safe physical facilities.’ The state could build or repair small, community schools that are just as modern and safe as any new or expanded consolidated school.” Professor Bastress points out how smaller schools are more safe and “generally have fewer discipline problems or violent outbreaks.” In addition, Professor Bastress explains that “The facts in West Virginia show that the state has not saved money from its fifteen years of consolidations…. Larger schools, it has been found, in fact generate significant hidden costs.” He adds, “The last interest claimed by the state, that consolidation will enhance curricular offerings, also lacks a factual basis….”

Community groups in Morgantown and around the nation are working to save or rebuild their small local schools. In summary, they have learned that the research shows that small neighborhood schools:

“improve student learning…reduce the achievement gap between poor and affluent students and minority students and whites…cultivate better student attitudes…cultivate better teacher attitudes…reduce discipline problems, truancy, and drop-out rates…better engage parents in their children’s learning and foster closer parent-teacher relationships…encourage walking to school [which] improves children’s health and active engagement in learning… The bottom lineNew studies…have strengthened an already notable consensus on school size: smaller is better…. Researchers…offer a rule of thumb: the poorer the school, the smaller its size should be. [In smaller schools] students learn well and often better [than in larger schools]…”

A consolidated school for excellence on  the Mileground?

More like, a concentration camp sited  in callous ignorance, and negligence, in traffic and pollution. A ludicrously, unjustifiably expensive abomination at that.

$21 million is an amount of money that could be justifiably and well spent on two modest-sized local schools, but not on one terribly sited concentration camp of a school. These school officials should not be entrusted to handle $21 let alone $21 million, let alone the entire school district budget.

The school officials offer the flimsiest of pretexts for consolidation (doing away with a few itinerant teachers) and for the location of the site (being centrally located between the two current schools – as if a central location should override health, safety, accessibility, and educational concerns. Of course, two modest sized local schools would be far more centrally located to the students and parents than the one centralized school. And would cost about the same.) The consolidation and siting of Eastwood Elementary is a monstrous joke. It is a monstrosity that is being dropped on the heads of the youngest and most vulnerable of the schoolchildren, ages 3 to 11.

Against popular will and best educational knowledge, even against state health and safety policy and law, the displacement of Woodburn Elementary for the spendthrift concentration camp on the Mileground is being shoved down the throats of the public by the top school officials in Monongalia County.

One Response to “Monongalia County School Board And Administration Could Not Care Less”

  1. newcommunityschool Says:

    Is a comparison of a consolidated school to a concentration camp inappropriate as was suggested at the Facebook site? No, it’s a vital comparison. Does “concentration camp” refer to the Nazi death camps? No, that’s a false generalization, which the subtitle at the start of the post makes clear.

    Anyone who reads widely should know that “concentration camp” is used in all sorts of ways. And anyone who doesn’t know would do well to look it up. The post is meant to stimulate thought, discussion, education, action, not to reinforce false generalizations (fallacies of argument) about general terms.

    The post is for people with shared values and interests and concerns who may or may not think differently. What would be the point of writing what everyone else is already saying? When writing to do more than simply share information, the point is to say what no one is saying, or not saying enough, the point is in saying what ought to be said.

    The more that people expand their understanding of what a concentration camp is and what the implications are for children, students, communities, the better. Entire Japanese-American families lived for years in concentration camps in the US. No one was slaughtering them. But they were certainly “abused and neglected” and probably subject to early death from the conditions.

    No one kills refugees detained in US concentration camps on the border, but they certainly are political and social refugees with little or no choice in where they must be, are mistreated to varying degrees, and some die as a result of the conditions, just as some students may die as a result of the Eastwood site, just as WV state Policy 6200 warns.

    The concept of concentration camps goes way beyond Nazis and Jews, though some people mistakenly conflate the idea with that one historical situation. It’s a mistake that ignores the number of actual concentration camps in our society, including prisons, and concentration-camp-like situations.

    Ever more intensive consolidated schools are a “soft” form of concentration camp, except when they are predictably health-damaging and potentially deadly, as on the Mileground, and then they may also be a hard form. It stands to reason.

    Even the super popular movie E.T. referred to a common school as a “prison”; that was more of a joke reference, but surely plenty of people, including children, got the serious side of the reference too.

    The sociological history associating concentration camps with Jews and Nazis is interesting. On a related matter, one might try googling “concentration camp” and looking carefully at the number of results and the type of results (and any images) and then google “death camps” and see what you find. I think you’ll find that “concentration camp” doesn’t begin to describe what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis, whereas “death camp” does.

    Our schools should be de-concentrated, and even de-camped, so to speak. They don’t need to be de-deathed – necessarily – though that would certainly make for an interesting rhetorical essay. In fact at least one well-known educator and researcher has written on that latter subject to illuminating effect: Jonathan Kozol.


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