Webster County parents express concern about education quality

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WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. – Webster County Board of Education held their regularly scheduled meeting earlier this week where some parents addressed the board about the quality of education their students are receiving because of COVID-19.

Parents raised concerns to BOE members about students not going back to school five days a week and falling behind in course work.

Superintendent, Scott Cochran stated that upon returning to school at the start of the year, the Webster County Board of Education voted to return to a blended instructional model, which, according to documentation, states is phase two of their re-entry plan.

“Overall, it’s just not working. We have waited for Webster County Board of Education to, you know, make an effort, try, and take a step forward, and we are here six months later, and nothing has been done,” said Amanda Dillon, a parent of a Webster Springs Elementary School student.

Parents and guardians have stated that some are struggling with the online virtual learning component while students feel excluded, specifically lacking that one-on-one quality of in-person instruction.

“We’ve never even attempted to take a step in a forward motion. And that is exceptionally frustrating. You know, we have counties in West Virginia that are going five days a week. And their counties, their staff, and students could potentially make up our entire population. Yet with a county so small, we are still struggling,” Dillon said. “Why are we struggling so hard to get on the same track and meet the same goals, we are such a small county, and I know not everybody agrees with me but stand up and say something; that is exactly what I am doing.”

Superintendent Cochran stated to 12 News that he feels confident that The Webster County Board of Education will discuss expanding their current blended instructional model to include more days of face-to-face instruction soon with the guidance from the Webster County Health Department.

“First, the number one priority of the Webster County Board of Education since March 13, 2020, has been the health and safety of our students and our staff,” Cochran said. “We have navigated this Pandemic well with the safety protocols and practices that have been implemented in our schools without having to completely shut down our schools since we returned this past September. There have been challenges for sure along the way, but we have kept our students at the center of our focus. I commend our parents and guardians for all their cooperation throughout this past year, as well as commending the Webster County Board of Education staff for all their hard work and dedication. But most importantly, I commend our students who continue to also navigate the Pandemic that they have experienced.”

Webster County Board of Education officials said internet access for all families is an issue not only in Webster County but statewide when it comes to virtual teaching. Officials added that Webster County Schools work closely with those students and families who do not have internet access within their households.

“A couple things we have done locally here in Webster County is in incorporate a One-To-One Device initiative for all our students countywide, this platform allows our staff to upload assignments, videos, instructional content to the student’s device prior to leaving school then the assignments can be completed without internet access and then the assignments automatically upload back to the teacher once the device gains internet connectivity later,” said Cochran. “Secondly, we have taken advantage of the Statewide Kids-Connect Initiative in which WIFI access was placed at all our local libraries, all our schools, and state parks. We also collaborated with local businesses and church facilities to install additional WI-FI extenders to reach their parking lots for internet access. The above-mentioned steps are not the perfect answers to the lack of available internet access for all but will help to make it available to some who may not have access.”

Officials also said Individual schools would continue to work closely with students who may not have internet access to attend scheduled teams’ meetings with their teachers. Officials said that students would not be counted absent if the issue is centered around lack of internet access.

“As a parent of a Webster County High School Senior student, I understand the concerns as it relates to the reduced amount of face-to-face instruction. We all know that nothing can replace what our students gain when they attend our schools daily, not only academically but socially and emotionally,” Cochran said. “I also understand, the concerns from parents and guardians centered around the safety of their children moving forward. I also understand, the concerns from our elderly staff or staff members with underlying health conditions. There is no perfect answer to the situation that we have been placed in with this worldwide Pandemic, but we must continue to do the best we can to provide educational opportunities for our students.”

Superintendent Cochran also added he understands these times are trying, but hopefully, students and staff are close to getting back to a sense of normalcy.

The next Board meeting for Webster County BOE is scheduled for Monday, February 22, at 6 p.m.

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