Brooke leaders gather for leadership social

TALKS SPECIAL SESSION — State Sen. William Ihlenfeld discussed the upcoming special legislative session during Thursday’s Brooke County Leadership Social. -- Taryn Linder

WEIRTON — Leaders from throughout Brooke County came together Thursday for a leadership social.

“It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together to support kids of the community,” said Stacy Hooper, vice president of the Brooke County Board of Education. “We need each other.”

Held at Williams Country and Golf Club, the event featured legislative updates from state Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Wheeling.

Ihlenfeld discussed the upcoming special legislative session and Senate Bill 451.

The topic for the upcoming session is “betterment of education,” noted Ihlenfeld.

While the date for the session has not been determined, it must be held before July 1.

Ihlenfeld said that while visiting counties of West Virginia, a few of the main requests for change dealt with mental health, nutrition and class size.

“We need to go down in size,” said Ihlenfeld. “I know that will cost money, but it’s transformational. We need incentives to maintain our teachers and recruit new teachers. This comes down to good compensation, good benefits, letting teachers bank their sick days – so many things we can help do to motivate people to be in education.”

Ihlenfeld hopes to address these issues at the session, along with simplifying college paperwork.

“Senate Bill 1 will provide free community college to anyone who wants to go down that path,” said Ihlenfeld. “We need to make sure that’s available and that navigating through all that paperwork is made easy for our students. It’s not a fun process and it’s complicated.”

The upcoming special legislative session comes after the House voted 53-45 on Feb. 19 to table Senate Bill 451.

Other speakers included Jeffrey Crook, interim superintendent for Brooke schools, and Corey Murphy, interim deputy superintendent, who offered insights about their plans and goals.

“We are reorganizing the central office,” said Crook. “There will be some growing pains that come with that in order to go forward.”

By law, Crook said he is not allowed to introduce his plans until April 22.

However, Crook was allowed to discuss his plans for academics, which include a focus on advanced placement classes in the high school.

“Thirty percent of our kids go on to college,” said Crook. “We really have to provide opportunities to our kids.”

Crook hopes to add Algebra I in the middle school, so that students can take more advanced classes in high school.

In addition, Crook discussed the 20 courses that are available now for students who are looking to focus on more career and technology based classes, such as automotive, medical terminology and, the most popular course, welding.

“In one year, we will be granted associate degrees in welding,” said Brooke High School Principal Tim Pannett.

Crook said working with businesses to figure out what they need from students is very important, along with working with local churches.

“In some cases, we aren’t just educating the kids, but we also help in raising them,” said Crook.

Nanci Walker, vice president of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the event.

“I hope the board knows how much support they have from the community,” said Walker.

Walker added that the chamber of commerce is also there for the students, and that the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce is getting involved with the school-to-work partnership.

“They will one day be leaders,” she said.

Laurie Labishak, marketing manager of Trinity Health System, said she attended the social because she believes community support is important for students to flourish.

“I believe community involvement is very important, even though we are across the river,” she said. “Trinity is also a ministry, so reaching out to our fellow man is part of our core values.”

State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, and Ihlenfeld will attend a public information forum from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Brooke High School.