WHEELING, W.Va. — Ohio County Board of Education President Shane Mallett told a hostile crowd at Monday night’s board meeting that low standardized test scores at some schools are the reason he believes the school system needs to move in a “new direction” with a new superintendent.
Mallett and board members Gary Kestner and Tim Birch Monday rejected board member Christine Carder’s request to revisit their actions of Dec. 29, when those same three members voted not to renew current Superintendent Dianna Vargo’s contract when it expires June 30. Carder – who along with member Sarah Koegler voted to keep Vargo – believed a revote necessary based upon support voiced by the community for Vargo.
But Kestner made a motion Monday to not entertain the agenda request when it came up for discussion, and it was seconded by Birch. The agenda item went down by an identical 3-2 vote.
“Obviously, we don’t listen to the constituents of our community,” Carder said. “I think regardless of how destructive you think this (revote) might be, there has not been one person who has addressed this board and been in favor of this decision, or said they think it is a great move for Ohio County Schools. …
I do think if we’re not going to reconsider, or even have the opportunity to even move in that direction, I think the three of you will be the ones responsible for what happens in Ohio County Schools.”
Mallett, Kestner and Birch had not publicly stated a reason for not renewing Vargo’s contract, but Mallett offered some explanation Monday.
“Unfortunately the issues surrounding Dianna Vargo’s non-renewal have created a division among the people in our community,” he said. “That was never my intention, nor do I think it was the intention of any member choosing not to renew the contract.”
Mallett’s comments then were interrupted when one man in attendance began to shout out against Mallett, and Wheeling Park High School teacher Jackie Shriner began to argue with the man.
Mallett called for order – at one point threatening to have police remove spectators if they refused to calm down – before resuming.
“As you may know, Miss Vargo did not elect to have a public hearing that would have enabled us to move to set forth reasons for our decision,” Mallett said. “That was her right and her choice, and we honored it. … The duty of each school board member is to do what we believe is in the best interest of the students – regardless of favoritism, partisanship or public outcry. The agenda item … will only prolong what remains a controversial decision. We must do what we believe is in the best interest of Ohio County Schools, and that decision has been made by this board. The majority has spoken.”
Mallett said nothing new had been presented that would give him reason to change his vote. He said the students of Ohio County Schools need to be able to compete globally.
“We cannot prepare ourselves to be satisfied that we have higher test scores than other counties in the state,” he said. “Our children deserve better.”
According to Mallett, the proficiency rating achieved last year by Ohio County students taking the West Virginia General Summative Assessment at Wheeling Park High School ranged from 24 to 32 percent; at the middle schools, 24 to 47 percent; and at the elementary schools, from 20 percent to 86 percent.
Carder took issue with Mallett’s statement that Vargo chose not to have a public hearing. She said a superintendent is entitled to a public hearing only when they are terminated, and Vargo wasn’t fired.
Koegler, meanwhile, said she understood from Mallett’s comments test scores were his reason for not wanting to renew Vargo’s contract.
“If test scores are the reason we are choosing not to renew Dr. Vargo’s contract, I’m hoping we’re not considering any West Virginia public education employee for this position,” Koegler said. “No one’s scores went up this year – county by county in this state. If we look principal by principal in this state at the state’s high schools, we would also see that trend. To me we’re already ruling out any current West Virginia superintendents, assistant superintendents or high school principals.”
After the discussion, the board voted 4-1 to go into executive session to review the applications submitted for the superintendent job, with Carder voting against. The deadline for application was Feb. 3.
Nearly an hour later, members returned to open session and voted 5-0 to interview the six applicants who had doctoral degrees. It was not revealed how many candidates in total applied for the job.
The board will interview the six applicants this week during sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Near the end of the meeting, two teachers addressed the board to say they supported the decision not to renew Vargo’s contract. They added some staff have remained silent because they fear repercussions.
Speaking first was Bridge Street Middle School teacher Jessica Birch, the daughter-in-law of Tim Birch. She said the three board members voting against Vargo “have displayed class” amid the controversy despite personal criticism.
Shriner said teachers need more support from administration in holding students accountable, and backing teachers who seek to hold students responsible for their actions.
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