Gilmer Free Press
Breaking News: Dr. Phares’ New Beginning Commitments to Gilmer County
Dr. Phares, West Virginia’s superintendent of schools, was the featured presenter at the June 17, 2013 school board meeting.
Dr. William K. Simmons had invited him to Gilmer County to speak.
Dr. Phares initiated his presentation with high praise of Mr. Ron Blankenship’s performance as the State’s appointed superintendent of the County’s school system.
Following his presentation Dr. Phares opened the meeting to questions and comments from the audience to make it obvious that there were disagreements regarding Mr. Blankenship’s performance.
One criticism was that he had refused to keep the board and the public adequately informed of his achievements in making the school system better than it was before the State seized power.
Also, it became evident that Mr. Blankenship had imposed stiff constraints on the board to stifle its participation in decision-making processes after the State took over. The degree of restriction was exemplified when it was disclosed that the only actions the board could take during official meetings was to give the pledge of allegiance, and to vote on field trips.
The board had not been permitted to even designate agenda items for meetings or to bring up new business including important issues and concerns confronting the school system.
Another issue that surfaced was Mr. Blankenship’s decision to increase annual salaries by $3,000 for principals, assistant principals and program directors in the County’s central office while disallowing increases for classroom teachers and other school system employees.
After listening to citizens, Dr. Phares declared need for a fresh start to eventually enable the County to regain local control of its school system.
Audience members understood that he made the following commitments for the fresh start:
• Board members will be permitted to discuss issues and concerns at public meetings and be allowed to vote on motions although outcomes will be nonbinding to the State. State will review the board’s decisions made when reviewing the minutes of the meetings and then make decision whether to accept or refuse the Gilmer Board’s decisions.
• Mr. Blankenship will give scheduled oral reports of his specific progress in eliminating school system deficiencies to keep board members and the public properly informed.
• Program directors in the County’s central office should attend public school board meetings to present information related to their areas of responsibility.
• An expert on Dr. Phares’ staff will attend a board meeting to present statistical data indicative of the status of academic achievements in the County for use to designate opportunities for improving K-12 academic outcomes.
• Open meetings are encouraged to be scheduled to solicit public input for ideas regarding improved functioning of the school system and to promote public attendance and participation in school board meetings and decision processes.
• Scheduled meetings with teachers are encouraged to enable the board to learn of opportunities to aid teachers in performing their critically important duties.
• The board is encouraged to formalize goals to achieve for improved efficiency and performance of the County’s school system.
• Mr. Blankenship will be responsive to the public’s request for information including data subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Overall, the meeting’s outcome was that Dr. Phares advocated for better ways of doing business with commitments for an improved exchange of information at all levels in the County’s school system.