Brooke board hears of alternative program

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Board of Education was asked Monday to consider participating in a new program designed to keep potential dropouts in school by offering them preparation for a GED exam.

Linda Berlin of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Department of Optional Pathways, said the Optional Pathways program was begun because GED instructors were seeing a high number of teens who were able to pass the 90-minute comprehensive exam with high scores.

The discovery was surprising because 40 percent of high school seniors aren’t able to pass the test, said Berlin, who is a former director of the Marshall County Adult Basic Education program.

Often GED preparation classes are offered through ABE programs supported by local school districts.

Berlin said it was found that teens were dropping out for various reasons, ranging from lack of interest to homelessness. Many performed well in vocational classes at their schools but not in the core subjects, she said.

Berlin said in the program’s first year, 77 percent of 1,322 who participated passed the GED exam. Currently 32 West Virginia counties are participating, she said.

She said the program is not for all dropouts as participants must be motivated and not have discipline problems. Each is required to complete a pre-test gauging their potential to pass the GED exam, she added.

Berlin said reducing the number of high school dropouts is a major concern because they frequently go on to depend on federal assistance. She added keeping students in school also has a financial benefit to school districts because each receives $6,000 in state funds for each student enrolled.

Joe Starcher, career technical education director for Brooke County Schools, said Berlin met with him and principals and guidance counselors to discuss the program and will return to the county with answers about the cost for the school district to participate and how the students would be scheduled.

Through its adult basic education program, Brooke County Schools will offer a free GED exam preparation class from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays or 9 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays at the Brooke County Public Library beginning Feb. 20.

For information, call (304) 527-1410, extension 3140.

Board members also heard from Mary Kay Wallace, Brooke County Public Library director, who said she and the library board have opted to seek e-books separately from the West Virginia Digital Entertainment Library Initiative, a service supported by 11 public libraries in West Virginia.

Wallace, who asked the board for financial support, said though participating in WVDELI would have made the library’s services compatible with the nearby Mary H. Weir and Ohio County public libraries, it’s more affordable for the Brooke library to deal directly with OverDrive, a Cleveland-based provider of e-books.

The cost to subscribe to WVDELI would have been about $13,720, while it will cost between $6,000 and $13,700 to obtain downloadable reading material from OverDrive, which has a representative in Wheeling.

She said 20,000 classic books would be available for free, and the service can provide a filter that would prevent students from accessing books intended for adults.

Wallace said students will be available to access many books available through OverDrive with a Brooke County Library card but will need their own e-readers, such as Nooks or Kindles, to read them.

Assistant Superintendent Marty Bartz said he and other school officials have been exploring ways to make e-books accessible to students.

The board hasn’t made a commitment yet to the effort. The Brooke Area AARP Chapter raised $2,000 for the project, and the library board has committed its own funds.

The board also accepted the resignations of Joan Baker, a kindergarten teacher at Wellsburg Primary School; and Carolyn Bruno, secretary at Colliers Primary School. Both are retiring after this school year.

It also approved the hiring of Amy Williams as a substitute custodian and Kelly Caparros and Lisa Stilgenbauer as substitute secretaries; and the transfer of Brad Stoner, a custodian at Lauretta B. Millsop Primary School, to the same position at Follansbee Middle School.