Challenger among incumbent school board field

NEW CUMBERLAND – In the past four years, the Hancock County Board of Education has handled two levies, $56 million in renovations and construction, and the sale of two football stadium properties.

That’s not to mention all the changes brought on by West Virginia’s 2013 education reform law, a mandate for a new school calendar, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the switch to a trimester schedule and the Affordable Care Act.

Three school board incumbents whose terms are expiring say they’re ready for four more years, while a challenger insists she deserves a chance to make a difference.

Running for re-election in Tuesday’s West Virginia primary are board members Laura Greathouse, 69, of New Cumberland, Toni Hinerman, of Weirton, and John Manypenny, 63, of Chester. Running for a school board seat for the second time is Michelle Chappell, 49, of New Cumberland.

The three top vote-getters Tuesday will win election in the nonpartisan four-way race.

Chappell, the mother of two Oak Glen High School students, lost to incumbents Jerry Durante and Patsy Brancazio in May 2012, although she garnered 3,020 votes in a close race.

Chappell said being on the board would be an extension of her volunteer service on several committees, including one that studied the school district’s facility needs prior to the bond levy’s passage in November 2010.

“I think it was one of the best volunteer experiences I’ve had because it brought a vast group of people together. Things were disseminated really well,” she said.

If elected, Chappell said she would focus on improving communication between the board and parents, students and faculty. She believes parents sometimes are kept in the dark, such as when the board was studying new state-imposed requirements for the 2014-2015 school calendar.

Although the district conducted a survey and held two public hearings, Chappell wonders how many people actually responded to the survey or attended the hearings.

“I don’t think there were hundreds of surveys turned in. I don’t feel there was a great representation from parents and families. Most of the people who attended the hearings were teachers,” she said.

Chappell said the district’s website is partly to blame for the lack of information and transparency. “The website is not user-friendly,” she said. “If people are kept apprised of what’s going on, parents will be less dissatisfied. There won’t be so much dissension and questioning.”

A graduate of the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, Chappell said she also would focus on improving student achievement and retaining teachers.

Greathouse, who is finishing her second term, said she would like to continue to be on a board “whose sole focus is the system that serves our children, and the children served by that system.”

Greathouse said she believes the board has exercised good stewardship over the projects funded by the $37 million bond levy and the $19 million West Virginia School Building Authority grant.

The projects include two new multi-sports stadiums at Oak Glen High and Weir High schools, the Oak Glen Field of Dreams, extensive renovations to Allison Elementary and New Manchester Elementary schools, new science labs and renovated bathrooms for Oak Glen and Weir High, a new wrestling room for Oak Glen Middle School, and new heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems for the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.

The bond call also funded the construction of the new Weirton Elementary School, which will replace the aging Weirton Heights, Liberty and Broadview Elementary schools. The $26 million project is nearing completion and will be ready for the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

“I had taught in all three of those schools, and I knew they weren’t fit for the children,” Greathouse said. “I wanted to be part of that legacy … of leaving that new school for the people. I wanted to work to make that happen.”

A teacher’s aide for 17 years and a teacher for 20 years, Greathouse first ran for election in 2006. “I brought no agenda with me to my service on the board. I did not expect to get elected,” she said. “I told my friends, ‘My name will be on the ballot, but please don’t vote for me.'”

This time around, Greathouse said she would welcome the opportunity to be on the board another four years.

Hinerman, who is finishing her first term, said she feels good about the accomplishments of the past four years, including the sale in December 2012 of the Newell Memorial Field and old Jimmy Carey Stadium properties.

“It really was not a pleasant time. The fact that the (Hancock County) commissioners came through and bought the stadiums from us was a blessing. I think they helped us out a lot,” she said. “We’re not in the business of selling properties.”

Hinerman said she, too, believes the completion of the bond call projects was the biggest board accomplishment of the past four years. “We’ve checked every box,” she said.

All that remains is the demolition of the three elementary schools, which likely will happen in the fall.

The completion of the bond call projects will allow the board to tackle some new issues, including how to retain students and improve graduation rates. She said one thing the board is exploring is the startup of an online school.

“We are losing so many students who have decided to quit school and go online,” she said.

A retired teacher with 30 years’ experience in Hancock County, Hinerman said she ran for office to learn about a different side of the education system.

“I feel knowledgeable. I feel like I know what’s going on because I’ve been there,” she said.

Manypenny, a Weirton Steel retiree who put in 33 years, said he’s ready for a fourth term on the board. “I still have the strong interest and enthusiasm that I had the first time I ran (in 2002),” he said.

Manypenny said he tried to chart an independent path on the stadium sale issue. “I still have reservations about it,” he said. “It was my personal thought that the community would have been better served if we got (Newell Memorial Field) into the hands of Chester City Council.”

Manypenny said city council could have worked out a deal with the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, which wanted to use the stadium property for its annual Fall Bash and other community purposes.

Being on the school board, he said, is about more than attending meetings and approving the superintendent’s recommendations.

“I think I’m proactive as a board member,” he said. “I think I’ve always been transparent. I don’t try to hide anything. If someone calls me with a question or concern, I make it point to respond.”

About the bond levy projects, Manypenny said, “I’m a taxpayer; I want to see my money well spent. … I think the public’s gotten the biggest bang they could for their buck. If something wasn’t done right, they were made to do it over again.”