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Best interest of the children

February 20, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series featuring blacks who are making a difference in their communities.

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

From the time she was an adviser to a group of budding young cheerleaders in Paw Paw, W.Va., to her tenure on the West Virginia Board of Education, Sheila Hamilton has observed public education in West Virginia from many perspectives.

"I enjoyed being around children. It's been a wonderful experience," the 57-year-old Jefferson County woman said as she reflected on her educational experiences.

In her current role as a state Board of Education member, Hamilton pushed for the board to make a trip to Jefferson County two years ago.

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Hamilton, the mother of two grown daughters, Dina and Trista, said she believed it was important for the state Board of Education to see firsthand the growth that is occurring here and how it is affecting schools.

State Board of Education members traveled to the county in October 2003 to observe classes being held in converted break rooms and storage areas, see hallways that were flooded with students, and portable classrooms that were needed because there no longer was any room left in the schools.

"I'm a visual person," Hamilton said, describing her interest in having the board come to the area.

"I just wanted them to see different times of the day (and) what the students had to go through," said Hamilton, who also works at the General Motors plant in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Hamilton's first encounters with public education came when her husband, Roland, was teaching school in Morgan County. At that time, Hamilton began volunteering as a chaperone on class trips, and she was an adviser to a cheerleading group in Paw Paw, a small town on the western edge of Morgan County.

"My parents instilled in me that you have been blessed and that you give back (to your community)," said Hamilton, who lives with her husband in Mecklenburg Heights along W.Va. 45.

Hamilton's appointment to the state Board of Education came as a result of her job at GM.

Bill Sanders, the former plant manager, asked Hamilton if she would be interested in serving on the board.

Sanders was active in community service at the time and was knowledgeable about the state Board of Education, Hamilton said.

Hamilton agreed to be placed on a list of potential candidates for the board, "never thinking I would be selected."

It happened.

Former Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed Hamilton to a nine-year term on the board and former Gov. Bob Wise reappointed her to an unexpired four-year term.

While Eastern Panhandle school districts grapple with student growth, the exact opposite is the case in southern parts of the state, where communities are losing students.

As a result, school systems are forced to consider closing smaller schools and consolidating students in new facilities, Hamilton said.

The consolidations often are not looked on favorably by parents, said Hamilton, who with other state Board of Education members often reviews plans for consolidation.

Parents often feel they have ownership to existing schools, she said.

Besides being more economical to operate, other advantages to the consolidated schools are that they offer a wider range of courses to students and give them new social experiences, Hamilton said.

"You have to remember that you're looking out for the best interests of the children," Hamilton said.

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