Everyone can learn from Berkeley County's sense of community

August 07, 2013
  • Bill Kohler
Bill Kohler

There is a tremendous sense of community in Berkeley County — and especially when it comes to its schools.

On Wednesday, that sentiment was on full display as local, county and West Virginia officials joined with members of the community to celebrate the dedication of Spring Mills High School in the county’s north end.

Including media, organizers and staff members of Berkeley County’s fourth high school, the crowd numbered about 400 people.

The speakers numbered only a few — including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and emcee Dr. Bill Queen, president of the Berkeley County Board of Education — but their points of emphasis and focus were as clear as the glass windows outside the school’s pristine media center.

It’s about instruction of the community’s kids, not construction.

Now don’t get me wrong. Construction and buildings have been a big part of the educational atmosphere in Berkeley County for years — in the whole Eastern Panhandle for that matter.

Berkeley and Jefferson counties have grown by leaps and bounds since the late 1990s. Berkeley County has more than 17,000 students and has built nine new schools since 1996 to accommodate that growth.

Spring Mills is the 31st school in the district, and a new middle school in Gerrardstown, W.Va., is set to open next year.

Nine new schools. Think about that for a second.

You don’t do that alone.

You need a village, no wait, you need a community to raise nine children, with a 10th on the way.

A sign at the entrance to the school grounds summed up the sentiment that longtime Superintendent Manny Arvon expressed when it was his turn to speak Wednesday: Thank you citizens of Berkeley County.

The voters of Berkeley County have continuously supported the school system through the obvious means such as mandated property taxes, but also by approving bond measures to build new schools, and pay their teachers better salaries and benefits.

This commitment from residents of the county translates into the classrooms in Anytown, USA, but not everybody gets the message. Some people think we should cut corners in schools, for teachers, for technology that will help our Tri-State area kids compete not just on a state level, but also on a national and global stage.

“This building is more than just bricks and mortar. It’s about the children inside,” Mark A. Manchin, director of the state’s School Building Authority, said Wednesday.

A lot of what makes Berkeley County Schools a community is Manny Arvon. He won’t tell you that, but others will.

“He has brought such class to this district,” said Queen, who has been on the county board of education for 18 years, one more than Arvon has served as superintendent.

“He displays great leadership and he knows what it takes to get things done,” Queen added.

“He takes things to the community and the board so they know what’s going on,” Queen said.

“I’ve never heard him talk about (himself),” Queen said. “It’s all about the team. Even in private and personal discussions, he values that so much.”

Arvon said the community aspect could be because he and the county “grew up together,” meaning that Arvon, Queen and the board helped shepherd the county through its major growth cycle that necessitated new buildings and more teachers for the community’s thousands of students.

Arvon also think there’s a trust issue at work.

“When they pass bond calls, they entrust you with additional tax dollars, which creates great pressure to deliver.

“And we’ve been able to handle this growth early on and stay on course,” he said.

Arvon displayed another aspect of the community involvement by taking an oversized key and passing it from himself to former and current board members to School Building Authority members and architects to citizens and finally to his brother, Marc Arvon, the school’s first principal.

“You are the architects of the school now,” he said to his brother and the cardinal red-clad teachers and staff sitting in the auditorium.

The community taking care of the community’s kids. Trust. Responsibility. Commitment. Planning for the future. I think we all can learn a lesson from that.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. Reach him at or 301-791-7281.


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