Berkeley County prepares for start of 2013-14 school year

August 17, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Berkeley Heights Elementary School First Grade Teacher Courtney Staubs unpacks a late-arriving box of supplies Friday afternoon in her classroom while preparing for the first day of school for students on Monday. Staubs is expecting to have 25 students in her class at the Martinsburg school.
By Matthew Umstead

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Motorists traveling Monday in Berkeley County will have more than 18,000 reasons to take a little extra precaution as public schools open for the first day of classes.

Exactly how many students will be enrolled for the 2013-14 school year will take a number of weeks to tally, but Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon expects an enrollment increase over last year.

All indicators point to more significant enrollment growth, especially in southern Berkeley County, Arvon said.

Two or three teachers hired last week were hired due to class sizes, and Arvon said administrators also have noted enrollment “overages” at most of the elementary schools.

What the school district doesn’t know yet is how many students might have moved out of the county since the last school year ended in June, Arvon said.

In his 17-year tenure as superintendent, Arvon said he has seen student enrollment increase every year.

Even when the housing market collapsed, the school system still picked up close to 200 students per year, Arvon said. Before the downturn, the district experienced enrollment increases of more than 500 students per year for at least five consecutive years.

With the continued growth has come new schools and a burgeoning number of teachers. Five elementary schools will open the school year with new principals.

“We have a lot of young, excellent administrators,” said Arvon, who added he is excited about the quality of the teachers the school district has recruited and been able to hire. 

As of Friday at noon, the school district hired 197 new teachers for the new school year, with 23 of them assigned to the new Spring Mills (W.Va.) High School, according to human resources officials.

Another 45 teachers who are staffing the county’s fourth public high school are transfers from other county schools, according to the school district. 

The new hires, along with a total of 189 transfers across the school district, primarily are linked to the opening of the new high school and more than 70 retirements since the last school year, Arvon said.

The school district experienced a substantial jump in the number of retirements this year over previous years, when little more than 30 professional staff retired, Arvon said.

School officials, however, still were able to fill most of the job openings with certified teachers due to “outstanding work” by human resources staff, Arvon said.

As of Friday morning, the school district had hired eight “permanent” substitute teachers, but might have to hire as many as a dozen given a few late resignations and retirements by current staff, according to school officials.

A permanent substitute teacher, for example, could be a professional who has a master’s degree in reading and several years of experience, but isn’t certified to teach students with learning disabilities, Arvon said.

The vast majority of the new teachers hired so far come from West Virginia (110), followed by Pennsylvania (55), Virginia (13), Maryland (eight), North Carolina (three), New York (three) and Ohio (two). Two teachers are from China and one is from Spain.

Arvon said much of the excitement about the start of the school year is centered around the opening of the new high school.

An open house Monday attracted hundreds of people from the community, filling the parking lots at the high school and beyond, Arvon said.

Arvon said the number of people who traveled from Maryland to see the school was surprising. The new high school is about eight miles from both Martinsburg and Williamsport (Md.) high schools, and a little more than six miles from the West Virginia-Maryland state line.

Spring Mills High School is the first public high school to open in the county since Musselman High School opened in the county’s south end in 1949.

Arvon said he expects a number of Spring Mills students will be able to walk to school, but also said some traffic congestion might trigger the need to make some adjustments.

Overall, Arvon hopes motorists will watch out for students, particularly the district’s estimated 1,500 kindergartners and 1,000 4-year-olds in pre-kindergarten programs.

Aside from having new teachers, students at each of the high schools will have the option to take advantage of “grab-and-go” breakfasts this year following a successful pilot program last year at Musselman High School, Arvon said.

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