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Special education program, staff receive praise

WVEA official raises concerns

May 2, 2012
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - A Follansbee family on Monday expressed thanks to staff members in Brooke County Schools' special education program for going beyond the classroom to help, and an official with the West Virginia Education expressed a complaint about the school district's administration.

Ernie and Tracey Gambellin, the parents of Lexi, a child with autism, told the Brooke County Board of Education they have been impressed with the various services the school district has provided their daughter, from the free developmental screenings offered through its Lil Bear Fair to her classroom instruction at Jefferson Primary School.

"You guys have hit a home run in every aspect of what parents of a handicapped child could hope for," he said, adding he would recommend that other school districts model their special education programs after Brooke's.

The Gambellins also thanked special education staff members and others for organizing a golf scramble at the Indian Run Golf Course in Avella in Lexi's name that raised $8,100 for Autism Speaks, an organization that promotes awareness of autism and raises funds for research into its causes, prevention and treatment.

The Gambellins participate regularly in the Walk Now for Autism event held each year by Autism Speaks in Wheeling. This year's event will be held May 19 on the Warwood Trail.

On hand to accept thanks from the family were special education staff members Jami Dantry, Cherie Fullerton, Penny Phillips and Jodi Pollice, Dantry's sister, who also was involved with the golf scramble.

The Gambellins also thanked Tabitha Board, a special needs teacher at Jefferson Primary School, and Dantry's husband, Harry, who also was involved in the golf event.

In related business, Joyce Rea, the school district's special education director, introduced James Ball, a consultant hired by the school board to train teachers of various subjects in instructing children with autism.

Ball said one in 88 children in the U.S. are born with various forms of autism, and school districts must provide them with as much assistance as possible to prepare them for adulthood.

The school board also heard from Owens Brown, regional representative of the West Virginia Education Association, who said many Brooke County teachers surveyed by him said lack of communication and transparency from the school board office has led to a lack of trust in the administration by the teachers.

He cited, as an example, what he said was a delay in school officials reporting to staff at Colliers Primary School on a mold problem there.

Brown also said many teachers told him they avoid meeting individually with some administrators because they fear being bullied or retaliated against. He declined to comment on whom the teachers were speaking of.

Board President Jim Piccirillo refuted that claim, saying school staff members know they can call board members with concerns or speak freely at board meetings.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder said the allegation comes as a surprise. She said she believed primary concerns voiced in the survey were the need for staff to provide training in new technology and make repairs to computers in the schools and mold at the Colliers school, all issues the board has addressed or is working to address.

Assistant Superintendent Marty Bartz didn't attend Monday's meeting because of a death in his family. He said Tuesday Owens' comments are lies and slanderous and he intends to meet with him, with a representative of the state Department of Education present.

Bartz earlier told the board the school has been tested by two independent groups in response to reports of a mold problem there and found none but allergens were found.

He said dampness is an issue and a few trees that blocked sunlight into the rooms were cut back, custodians are following new vacuuming procedures and a device for measuring humidity in the rooms has been installed.

In other business:

Piccirillo said the board has received 17 applications for head football coach at Brooke High School. They came from within the school district, local OVAC schools, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa and Florida.

He said head Principal Toni Shute and Athletic Director Rob Robinson will review the applications, set up and conduct interviews and make a recommendation to Kidder and the board.

"We hope to have a coach in place by mid-May," he said.

The board approved the hiring of Ryan Garbin, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Follansbee Middle School, and Lauren Brindley as a lifeguard at the wellness center; transfer of Christine Warco from a teaching position at Follansbee Middle School to a technology specialist position at Wellsburg Primary School; and the resignations of Monica Hunter, a school bus driver; Cara Griffin, a substitute teacher; and John Mester, a school bus driver who is retiring and also was rehired as a substitute bus driver.

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