WHEELING - Ohio County Schools believes it is at the head of the class among other districts across West Virginia.
"We have the finest school system in West Virginia," said Superintendent George Krelis. "It's not easy, but it's a goal we've established, and it's one we've achieved. The teachers, principals and service personnel work tirelessly to prepare the children for rigorous academic challenges, and that's why they succeed."
In Marshall County, administrators there have been working on a new approach to the length of the school year, and also making other changes to the school calendar.
The steel is set at the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School. The center is set to open later this year.
In an effort to help students apply lessons from the classroom to the real world, students at John Marshall and Cameron high schools are spending two days a week doing hands-on application.
"Three days a week we will have a traditional schedule," said Marshall County Schools Superintendent Fred Renzella. "Two days a week, we will have a modified block that gives teachers 90 minutes to do project-based learning."
That learning, Renzella said, is similar to what career and technical students do on a daily basis.
What is the state of our local school districts?
In West Virginia, Ohio County Schools does a very good job at preparing students for the future, boasting a high graduation rate and high post-secondary education rate among its graduates. Marshall County Schools is experimenting with a year-round calendar for its students, and also additional planning time. In Hancock County, fourth-grade students have started to use iPads in the classroom, thus enhancing their educational experience.
"Essentially, after a lesson is taught, the students will go into a lab and apply that lesson," he said, adding that 90-minute blocks will help teachers affirm students are learning the lessons.
Marshall County Schools also is constructing a new Cameron High and Middle School complex.
And in Hancock County, educators used a $100,000 federal grant to allow about 160 students at two Hancock County elementary schools to use iPads in the classroom.
About 75 fourth-graders at Weirton Heights Elementary School and 85 at Allen T. Allison Elementary School in Chester have an iPad for his or her own use during the school day, though the devices don't leave the building.
Ohio County Schools
Krelis said he is most proud of the fact that each of his system's 14 schools earned "Adequate Yearly Progress" in the most recent round of the West Virginia WESTEST. He said those results are the "litmus test" in determining schools that achieve and those that do not. This is the second consecutive year all the district's schools earned "Adequate Yearly Progress" recognition.
WESTEST is not the barometer by which the public schools of Ohio County are judged. In 2010, Bridge Street Middle School and Woodsdale Elementary School became two of only 16 schools in the state deemed "Schools of Excellence" by former West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine.
Also in 2010, Ohio County was the lone Northern Panhandle school system to have schools named "Exemplary" by the West Virginia Board of Education. The board cited Bethlehem, Steenrod, West Liberty and Woodsdale elementaries, as well as Triadelphia Middle and Warwood Middle schools, with achieving the designation.
Wheeling Park High, Bridge Street Middle and West Liberty and Middle Creek Elementaries were listed as "Distinguished."
Krelis said hundreds of students are benefiting from summer school programs. More than 400 students enrolled in the program last year at two locations. The program is designed to enhance students' skills in math and reading. It includes pre-K through 11th grade students.
"We averaged 87 percent attendance at Bridge Street Middle and 88 percent attendance at Middle Creek Elementary," Krelis said. "In 2009, 140 students took part in the program."
The superintendent credits all employees for the district's success.
"It takes everyone," he said. "The cooks, bus drivers, teachers, and nurses. They're all important in providing the best education for Ohio County children, and we want them to know it."
School officials are also excited about the anticipated opening of the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School.
Deputy Superintendent Dianna Vargo said the center will be a "premier, state-of-the-art facility" available to students of all Ohio County schools for assemblies, concerts and theater productions, as well as for community use.
A construction milestone was reached Dec. 9 when the last of the structural steel was set in place. To mark that occasion, and to follow the construction tradition, an American flag was proudly placed at the top of the structure. The project remains on schedule with a fall 2011 opening planned.
Marshall County Schools
Renzella said the new project-based learning program in his district allows teachers to make adjustments and accommodate students who need additional work on a subject to master the material. Additionally, the school start time is an hour later each Wednesday to allow teachers to meet, discuss progress and make adjustments in their professional learning community.
"This program will allow them to access where students are and pinpoint what lessons need further work," he said.
The first-year program also is the first of its kind in West Virginia, being adapted from a high school in New Albany, Ohio. Renzella said the program has received the full support of the staffs at each school.
"The teachers at Cameron were surveyed about the program, and 100 percent of them supported it," he said. "I've never seen 100 percent of anything in my 45 years as an educator."
Renzella said the main advantage of the program is determining what students need help before it is too late.
"We can't wait nine weeks for grade reports to find out," he said. "We need to have the tools and time integrated into our day to produce the results we expect."
Hancock County Schools
Weirton Heights Principal Frank Carey said one of the iPad's main advantages over a laptop computer is a longer battery life - the iPads can be used throughout an entire school day without needing to be recharged.
Carey said the whole idea started with his school asking for six to eight iPads, to be used mainly for children who need remedial help. The program quickly expanded to the entire fourth grade.
Principal Linda Robinson at Allen T. Allison Elementary said today's educators understand that some students learn better through audio and visual stimuli - and the iPads make those differences less challenging.