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Brooke superintendent’s contract renewed

Warren Scott DISCUSSION — Brooke Ohler, secretary of Brooke High School’s SkillsUSA chapter; and other student leaders of the group discussed its recent and upcoming activities at Monday’s Brooke County school board meeting. The board also heard from Jason Polgar, its president; and Kendrick Fish, its vice president.

WELLSBURG — Jeffrey Crook is set to serve as superintendent of Brooke County Schools for another four years after the county’s school board agreed to renew his contract on Monday.

Board President Ted Pauls noted in West Virginia, a county school board may employ a superintendent for one to four years.

“We gave him four, which reflects our trust in him and our satisfaction in what he has done,” said Pauls, who added the board met privately with Crook to discuss upcoming goals for the school district.

The contract calls for Crook to receive $128,000 in the first year, with a 2.5 percent raise for each of the following years.

In his third year with Brooke County Schools, Crook initially was appointed interim superintendent, following the departure of Toni Shute in 2019. With 27 years in education behind him, he served as superintendent of Hampshire County Schools for two and a half years and superintendent of Marshall County Schools for one and a half years.

Crook thanked the board for the new contract, saying, “I love this place. I love all of the kid. It’s a pleasure to work here.”

He added he’s enjoyed working with the board, who he said has made supporting student achievement a priority and with his staff at the board office, which he called “a great team.”

Crook said providing a more challenging curriculum for the county’s students, including more advanced placement courses, will be among his goals in the future.

The board also voted, 4-1, on 10 days’ leave for staff who must miss because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ordered to quarantine due to exposure to someone with the virus.

Retroactive to Jan. 1, the leave is in addition to sick days within staffs’ current contracts and a nod to the 14 days of leave approved for the first half of the school year under federal guidelines.

It was supported by board members Pauls, Antoinette Perkins, Stacy Hooper and Dr. E. Robert Marks.

Voting against was Chris Byers, who said he was concerned about the school district having sufficient funds to meet any future costs spurred by the pandemic. He said while cases appear to be declining, there’s been a report of a variant form of the virus surfacing in the state with no certainty that future federal relief funds will be awarded to school districts.

Hooper noted the school district has paid close to $72,000 for substitutes for absent teachers so far this year, with as much as about $17,000 paid for Friday alone.

Crook said that aside, the district has sufficient personal protective equipment, including masks and hand sanitizer, for students and staff to use next year and beyond.

In related business, Byers asked about measures to deter spread of the virus on school buses, noting as many as 65 children may ride in one bus.

Crook said while masks are worn, it’s challenging to space the passengers apart. But he said would discuss the matter with the transportation department, noting plexiglas dividers were provided for the middle school’s cafeteria tables at the request of staff there.

He and others noted this week is the first in which students are in classrooms for four days a week, as ordered by the state board of education.

The school year started with half of each school’s student bodies reporting for two days while receiving remote instruction on two others. The fifth was reserved for cleaning schools.

As a rise in cases elevated the county to the red level, all schools were closed, and students received remote instruction, usually by computer, only.

Gov. Jim Justice has said he will ask the state board to order a full return for students. Crook said he and other county school officials will participate in a teleconference on Wednesday and may know more afterward.

Crook said while students and staff have been adapting to the new schedules, visits to the schools showed them many were happy to return to their classrooms.

“It was just awesome to see the staff and the kids back. Everybody has had a smile on. Hopefully that can continue,” he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Jo-Ellen Connolly, principal of Brooke Primary North, who presented the school’s school improvement council report.

Connolly said her staff missed seeing the pupils, especially around holidays, but had been working hard to reach them virtually.

She said while many used virtual meeting apps to communicate with students, the kindergarten teacher posted lessons on YouTube so they could be viewed by parents also.

Connolly said since the school year began, cafeteria staff have packed more than 7,876 breakfasts and lunches for 922 students to consume on the days when they aren’t in school.

The board also heard from Jason Polgar, Kendrick Fish and Brooke Ohler, leaders of the Brooke High School SkillsUSA chapter, who discussed the group’s activities this year despite challenges presented by the pandemic.

They included collecting litter along Cross Creek Road with members of the school’s Technology Students of America chapter and collecting more than 1,300 nonperishable food items and toiletries for the Steubenville Urban Mission.

The group is preparing for a virtual state conference on March 25-27 and to conduct mock job interviews for students in various career courses at the school later this week.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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