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Kindergarten academy suggested for Berkeley

January 06, 1998

Kindergarten academy suggested for Berkeley

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A kindergarten academy in Martinsburg was one idea aired Monday by three Berkeley County Board of Education members who announced their plans to run for re-election.

Board President Bill Sonnik and members Berniece Collis and Todd M. Beckwith said full-day kindergarten and dealing with a rapidly growing school population would be priorities if they are re-elected in the May 12 primary.

"We have to find room for all these children that keep arriving, unexpectedly, each year," Sonnik said Monday at the Holiday Inn Martinsburg. He noted the population of the school system grew by more than 300 students this year.

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"We grow by an elementary school every two years," he said of the population explosion.

Full-day kindergarten is in all West Virginia counties except Berkeley and Jefferson, according to Sonnik. He said the opening of the Potomack Middle School in the 1998-99 school year should make enough room in the elementary schools of northern Berkeley County for full-day kindergarten.

The new Musselman Middle School should open up classroom space for full-day kindergarten in the southern part of the county the following year, he said. That, however, doesn't address the city schools.

Sonnik, 51, a Bell Atlantic engineer, said the board is looking into renting space in or near the city for a school that would serve only kindergarten students.

"We don't want to take these children far out of the city," said Collis, 43, a former Hedgesville Middle School teacher.

"That seems to be the best solution right now," said Beckwith, 49, a Blue Ridge Bank vice president.

According to Sonnik, the school system could use a fourth high school, a fifth middle school and another large elementary school "right now."

The board members said they hope to convince the West Virginia School Building Authority that the county should get more funding for new schools and improvements to existing ones.

All three said they also support renewing the excess levy next year. The levy, now at 98 percent of the regular levy, has been renewed every four years for 52 years, according to Beckwith.

Sonnik said it is used to supplement employee salaries, and provides for textbooks, supplies and maintenance. All three intend to support its renewal, he said.

The board has to make a decision by March on the excess levy in order to get it on the primary ballot.

Collis said the school system has "taken a real aggressive role in implementing Schools to Work," a state law requiring school curriculums that prepare students for the workplace.

Collis said businesspeople will work with educators to create programs to fulfill the work education requirement. When implemented, students will no longer receive general diplomas, but declare a career interest and take some courses related to that field.

Sonnik, Beckwith and Collis are finishing their first terms. Theirs are the only seats on the five-member board up for election. The period for candidates to file runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 7.

School board elections are nonpartisan and are decided in the primary.

Despite the joint announcement, Beckwith said, "we are not running as a slate ... but we plan to support each other in the upcoming election."

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