By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
The News & Journal received word this week that an announcement had just been made regarding the ‘Top Five School Districts in West Virginia’ for 2018. Ranking in the top position was Putnam County Schools, followed by Monongalia County, then Ohio County, Jefferson County, and Harrison County in fifth place.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the Mountain State is unlike many states, in that all of its public school districts are divided exactly by the counties in which they are based. West Virginia ranks 18th in the nation in high school graduation rates.
While the state has long been known for its mining and logging industries, its thick forests and spectacular landscapes, it also has some educational achievements to its credit.
Putnam County Schools was named the best public school district in the state with numerous achievements, including being number one in the state in school attendance and outperforming state averages in all standardized tests.
Monongalia County Schools, named #2, is comprised of ten elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools. Morgantown High School was named the best high school in the state.
Ranked in third position, Ohio County Schools administers 13 schools and it was named the best place to teach in West Virginia as well as the district with the best teachers in the state.
Jefferson County Public Schools (#4) serves the state’s easternmost county, and Harrison County Schools (#5) was one of the larger districts in the state with 25 schools.
Student performance (math and reading test scores), dropout rates, school funding and area poverty rates were contributors to the ranking process. Similar rankings were announced for each state in the U.S. with data being collected from a total of 9,577 school districts nationwide.
Harrison County Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin said he was very pleased to learn that Harrison County had placed in the top five school districts in the state.
“Although I was raised in Marion County, we always regarded Harrison County as being very progressive and providers of quality education,” he said.
Marion County, by the way, was ranked just below Harrison County in the sixth position.
Dr. Manchin acknowledges that he felt there were several reasons for Harrison County’s landing in the top five school districts statewide – the hard work of its teachers, service personnel, students and parents.
“I can’t overstate the value of having the support of the parents,” he stated. “Our parents not only support their children but they are also supportive of the school system. That was one of the first things I noticed when I came to Harrison County … the tremendous support and interest of families in their children’s education. This ranking is in part a reflection of the support we have in our communities.”
Dr. Manchin emphasized that many differentials must be figured into the equation when running a school district.
“Every student is different. They have different interests and aptitudes; they have different levels of support at home; they perform better in different learning environments. All of these things have to be considered when we try to figure out how to be most effective for ALL of our students. A lot of people have to come together to meet these needs,” he continued.
He added that the central office staff and principals work very closely. “That is what drives our programs,” he added. “For example, a couple of years ago, our test scores in math were low and so we emphasized that and it has improved dramatically. Our graduation rates and attendance rates have risen as well. We work hard to fix what is wrong. When we all work together, it spells success, and certainly being ranked among the top five school districts in the state of West Virginia is evidence of our success. This accomplishment is a result of a team effort – from our administrators, our teachers, our students and their parents and communities. We feel a considerable amount of pride in having that kind of tremendous cooperation.”