By Stephen Smoot
The first regular June meeting of the Harrison County Board of Education opened with recognition of student excellence in sports and skills development.
First, the Board called up the coaches of the inaugural South Harrison Middle School baseball squad. The team won every game from the opener to the Central West Virginia Athletic Conference.
Jeff Richards coached for his 27th season leading youth baseball squads. He explained that “we had an awful lot of help and the grace of God.” He thanked the athletic director and principal, then turned to his assistant, Nathan Radcliffe.
“He started out at the same age as I did as a coach and I have been at this 52 years,” Richard said, then joked that the tenure might provide a glimpse into his age as well. “The young men we had on this team were simply amazing. The team had mostly seventh and eighth graders with only one representing the sixth grade. He explained that the mandated use of high school bats prevented many sixth graders from playing due to their size.
Richards told the board, “we appreciate the county’s support.”
Next the board honored Harrison County’s 2023 edition of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. This award honors those who demonstrated excellence in knowledge of West Virginia history.
From Lincoln Middle School, Seth Nay earned the award. Other county winners include Eric Alvarez, Bridgeport Middle School Micah Brittain, Bridgeport Middle School Henry Smith, Bridgeport Middle School Leroy Song, Bridgeport Middle School Nathaniel Linger, South Harrison Middle School Owen Curtis, Ravenswood Middle School.
After history came aeronautics as Rafel Snell, aviation engineering teacher at Bridgeport High School, introduced the winners of the “Let’s Fly West Virginia” competition. The contest links participants to “the legacy of flight in West Virginia,” as Snell described. He took pains to explain that the contest featured more than pilots. It also emphasizes other aspects of aviation, such as mechanics, the various companies in the region that engage in aviation.
Participants had to create a fully functioning aircraft from “dollar store” materials. Aircraft had to take off from the ground on a set of wheels, fly, then land safely. They created videos to explain their process, as well as an after action production to explain “what went well and what didn’t go well.”
Snell explained that “I couldn’t do it without the support of the Board of Education.”
Tracy Miller, whom Snell called “a giant cheerleader for aviation in West Virginia,” praised Snell’s work. She shared that there is “a natural crisis for getting pilots and mechanics right now.” Fewer young people engaging in meaningful work plus a number of skilled employees reaching retirement age has opened tremendous opportunities in the field of aviation.
After student recognitions came a lengthy presentation by the Verkada company. They specialize in environmental sensors and security infrastructure. Their representative stated that “the core of what we deliver is protecting assets and privacy.”
The presentation explained Verkada’s vaping detection systems which can detect vapors and connect them with cameras and other equipment in real time. Principals and security officials can have alerts sent directly to their phones. The representative cited the fact that in May, several North Marion High School students vaping street purchased vapes had to go to the hospital. Street vape dealers can put anything from deadly drugs to dangerous chemicals in the devices.
Before the board left for executive session, Jan Phillips shared with the board a Salem Elementary School project that she said “saved a life.” Phillips had brought in a malnourished and orphaned kitten and the school transformed it into a heartwarming, but still educational, project.
After administrative and unanimous parent approval, the cat found a home in a safe container provided to the school. Students not only learned feline biology, but even wrote a book about the cat. Grant funding paid for the cat and related project materials. Students wrote the book, chose the photographs and illustrations, and, as Phillips said, “learned through play.”
She said “I wanted you to see something positive coming out of Harrison County.”
Board members then entered executive session for the superintendent’s evaluation, which cannot be shared with the media under the law.
After executive session, the board heard an update for United Technical Center. A team placed second in a recent competition, constructing a “knighting chair.” Although they did not win, Governor Jim Justice was impressed to the point that his office ordered two podiums from the team. Concerns were expressed about the completion program conditions, resulting in the proposal to move the ceremony to Robert C. Byrd High School next year. Ample parking and air conditioning in the gym should help to make attendees more comfortable.
Finally, the board heard that enrollment had expanded to 385, “which is very good,” one member noted.