Extra Credit

Live from the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Charleston Daily Mail reporter Samuel Speciale will provide updates from the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C.

varunThe speller sponsored by the Gazette-Mail is Varun Kukkillaya, a John Adams Middle School 8th grader who is making a repeat appearance at the national bee. Go Varun!

Other West Virginia spellers include Andrew Gould, a sixth-grader from Weston, and Marleah Knight, an eighth-grader from Morgantown.

Varun will get most of the Daily Mail’s attention, but we’ll try to keep you updated on the other WV spellers as well.

Follow along below for updates:

Live Blog Live from the National Spelling Bee

Just a dab will do

Facing cuts to the custodial supplies budget, one Kanawha County school officials offered a handy money-saving technique. He sent the following email to teachers across the county:

The Purchasing Department and Maintenance have been working together in an effort to reduce our custodial cost for the coming year. One of our biggest cost is hand soap.

Have you noticed the pump on our hand soap dispensers, if you push the pump down all the way you get a considerable amount of soap. I am a large sized adult and one full pump on that dispenser, and I can almost take a bath. I know a five year old would be able to take a bath with that much soap and some left over in his ears. Our children are wired to grab hold of that pump and push all the way down and maybe twice. If we could reduce the amount of soap being dispense we could cut our cost by a third or half.

My wife is a small person and she always fills her hands with two pumps of soap. I am smart enough not to take on that discussion. She can use whatever amount of soap she deems necessary.

A retired custodian from Pratt Elementary shared her secret with me about reducing hand soap cost. She would take a rubber band and wrap around and around the pump mechanism to restrict its travel. Thus a smaller amount would be put in their hands, and children being wired to use the full stroke of the pump would get a smaller amount of soap, still enough to thoroughly wash their hands, but not enough to scrub their ears.

I encourage each of you to try this in your schools, experiment on yourself. Simply press out a dab of soap on your hands and wash as you normally would. See if you get the benefits of a nice soapy hand with much less soap. If you are comfortable with this and want to save your custodial budget: give it a try.

We have asked the soap supplier to see if they can shorten the stroke on the pump. We have to remember they are in the business of selling soap, they sell less if we use less and they are not readily agreeable to shorten these pumps. They want you to use more than you need.

Just a dab will do.


As part of the national Teacher Appreciation Week, the West Virginia Department of Education on Monday launched a year-long campaign asking citizens to thank their favorite teacher by posting messages and sharing photos on social media websites.

By using the hashtag #wvteachersrule, all posts will be cataloged and easy to view on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In a press release, state Superintendent Michael Martirano had the following to say:

As Teacher Appreciation Week is kicked off on May 4, I wanted to say thank you for what you do each and every day. These words are not said often enough to teachers.

Every one of us can think of a teacher who really made a difference. It’s this special teacher that made us want to become teachers ourselves. I come from a long line of teachers so it was a natural career choice. My family was driven to make a difference and serve our community. I always say that I am a teacher first and foremost who just happens to be the state superintendent of schools.

As educators you face both joys and challenges in the classroom. When you decided to become teachers, you chose a profession unlike any other. On a daily basis you wear many hats: educator, disciplinarian, advocate, psychologist, conflict manager, classroom manager, community organizer, recruiter, fund raiser, mentor and more. It is precisely the multifaceted roles that we take on that make teaching both challenging and rewarding.

As part of the One Voice, One Focus: All Students Achieving Vision Plan we shine a light on the importance of recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers in every West Virginia classroom. Research tells us that you are the single most important factor in how much a child learns at school. Your role in the classroom is ever more critical as we increase the graduation rate, eradicate the dropout crisis and ensure that every child is in school every day.

As teachers today, you must do more than teach basic skills. You must use quality teaching techniques to push students beyond mastery of basic skills to become tomorrow’s better educated worker, who can manage complexity, solve problems and think critically. Your charge is not just to ensure that your students can live in the world as it is, but to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge that will enable them to succeed in the world that awaits them.

Thank you for your daily efforts to meet this challenge. We, as a state, must make sure that we celebrate outstanding educators like you — not just during Teacher Appreciation Week — but every day for the important work you do with our children.

We are launching a year-long social media campaign to thank teachers titled WV Teachers Rule. As part of the social media campaign, we are asking that every citizen send out a message or share a picture using #wvteachersrule to thank their favorite teachers. I am looking forward to reviewing all of the tweets, posts and pictures.


Two more W.Va. spellers headed to nationals

Andrew Gould, a sixth-grader from Weston, celebrates after winning the RESA 7 Regional Spelling Bee. (Photo by Exponent-Telegram photographer Kyle Jenkins)
Marleah Knight, an eighth-grader from Morgantown, poses after winning her regional spelling bee. (Photo by Dominion Post photographer Tyson Murray)

Andrew Gould, a sixth-grader from Weston, and Marleah Knight, an eighth-grader from Morgantown, will join Varun Kukkillaya, the 2015 Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee champion, in Washington, D.C. to compete in May’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Andrew and Marleah are the champions of their respective regional spelling bees.

By correctly spelling “batik” and “coloratura,” Andrew outlasted 33 other spellers to take home the RESA 7 Regional Spelling Bee trophy. Marleah correctly spelled “algorithm” to win her bee.

At nationals, Andrew and Marleah will represent portions of West Virginia’s northern counties.

Several regional spellers from West Virginia compete in the national spelling bee each year. At last year’s bee, Varun and three other spellers represented the Mountain State. While none advanced past the preliminary rounds, they all performed well in the bee’s televised spelling rounds.

Like Varun, Andrew and Marleah will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the national bee. Spellers arrive May 24 and begin preliminary testing on the 26th. The main spelling rounds are May 27-28. They are televised by ESPN.

For the full story on Andrew’s and Marleah’s spelling victories, visit the Exponent-Telegram website by clicking here and the Dominion-Post’s here.

Follow along: Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee

Some of the best young spellers in West Virginia will be gathered at Capital High School today for a chance to go to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Follow along here for updates on how they do:

Live Blog Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee

WV public hearing on charter schools

At 8 a.m. on Tuesday there will be a public hearing on SB 14, a bill that would create charter schools in the state.

Senate Bill 14 was the focus of a lot of debate in the Senate and passed last Monday on a vote of 18 to 16.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated and free from certain state and local regulations. While they have the freedom to set their own hiring policies, create a calendar and adopt a curriculum, they must still follow state-approved academic standards.

While charter schools are supported by many organizations for their success in improving student achievement in large suburban districts around the country, the state’s teachers unions argue it would create a disparity in public education spending and set up exclusive schools for privileged students.

Livestream below is from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. With running commentary below that from Daily Mail education writer Samuel Speciale and others:

Live Blog WV public hearing on charter schools

Charter schools bill amendment removes LGBT protection

Fairness West Virginia, an LGBT activist group, is reporting that the House Education Committee amended the charter schools bill Wednesday night by removing language that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from discrimination.

Those protections were included in the bill when it passed the Senate earlier this week. They also are consistent with state Department of Education policies that prohibit bullying or harassment in any public school regarding a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Not much is known of the amendment or who voted for it, but Fairness West Virginia says the change limits protections to classes already listed in state code, which currently does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

The group has asked supporters to call their delegate and demand the bill’s original protections be restored.

In a social media post, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, West Virginia’s first openly gay legislator, said the amendment was proposed by a Democrat and received bipartisan support. He also said education chairwoman Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, voted against the amendment and should be commended for standing up for LGBT students.

Calls to Skinner and the education committee office for more information have not been returned yet.

The committee took the bill up for the first time late Wednesday night after debate on a “forced pooling” bill on the House floor pushed back committee meetings several hours.

Preston superintendent announces snow day in song

Snow days may be fun for students, but they’re often a nightmare for school officials and parents to work around.

While Preston County Superintendent Steve Wotring has only canceled school a few times since taking the job in January, he’s already fed up with snow days. After seeing winter storms shut down school all week, driving through whiteout conditions on his way home Wednesday gave Wotring a little inspiration to change the way he’d announce yet another cancellation.

“I knew we would lose another day of school, and I knew I’d have to put another robocall out,” Wotring said, disdain in his voice. “I got tired of putting out the same old message.”

Wotring said teachers and parents are frustrated with so many cancellations. While robocalls are effective in getting messages out, they’re cold, unpersonable and, well, robotic.

“I thought to myself, I have to find another way to get the message out,” he said.

wotringThat’s when a song popped into Wotring’s head, and during his 25-minute commute, he got to work.

When he got home, Wotring set up a camera and started to sing.

“There’s no school,” Wotring began, holding out a note before sliding into the familiar tune of “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.”

“Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’s no school,” Wotring continued. “Just thinking about tomorrow fills my head with migraines and sad sorrow. That’s not cool.”

Wotring went out to sing several more lines before ending with, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I hope I’ll see you soon, cause we’ll still be here in June.”

School systems must make up missed school days if students do not get the required 180-days of instruction. Preston County, which was set to send students home for the summer on May 21, will likely go through the first week of June.

Once finishing the song, Wotring immediately shifted his tone and announced school would be closed again Friday.

And scene.

The video has gone viral, and many who have commented have praised Wotring’s singing ability.

“I haven’t done any of that,” Wotring laughed when asked if he had any music or theater training. “I’ve sung in church though.”

Wotring didn’t expect the video to be as well received as it has been or that reporters from around the state and as far north as Pittsburgh would be calling him for interviews.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “Shocking really.”

This is Wotring’s first time being an Internet sensation, but he said he’s likely to be a one-hit-wonder.

“I don’t think I have the repertoire of songs to do it again,” he said.

Wotring said he hopes to see his students on Monday.

WVU President Gee: Lower the drinking age

WVU President Gordon Gee

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, an outspoken critic of binge drinking on college campuses, wants the legal drinking age to be 18.

In an interview with The Dominion Post, Gee said if he were “king for a day,” he would change the laws that set the legal drinking age at 21. He also said doing so may fix binge-drinking problems at WVU.

“If we could work toward a responsible drinking age where the university would take much more responsibility, we could have a much better environment,” Gee told The Dominion Post.

Giving younger students the opportunity to legally drink may seem counterintuitive, but Gee and other supporters of lowering the drinking age say it would bring alcohol consumption among college students out in the open.

Binge drinking on college campuses has been tied to alcohol’s restricted access to minors, who often resort to going “underground” or have older students buy them drinks.

While underage drinking in other cultures around the world lacks the taboo allure it does in America because children often drink small amounts of wine at family meals, critics of lowering the drinking age are skeptical things would change. Some say it would just shift binge-drinking problems on college campuses to teens in high school.

This isn’t the first time Gee has suggested lowering the drinking age. Gee, a devout Mormon who claims to have never consumed alcohol, made similar comments in 2008 while he was president of Ohio State University.

State superintendent hires new chief of staff

Superintendent Michael Martirano has made a number of personnel changes to the West Virginia Department of Education since becoming the state’s schools chief in September 2014.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano has hired a chief of staff who will oversee the day-to-day operations of his office.

While the state Department of Education has not yet made an announcement, the hiring of Jill Newman is listed on the state Board of Education’s February meeting agenda in an attachment detailing personnel matters. According to that document, Newman will join the department on Feb. 23 and will be paid an annual salary of $125,000.

The department posted the job in December, and Martirano announced last month during a meeting with the state’s Senate Education Committee that he would soon fill the newly created position.

At that meeting, Martirano addressed concerns with the department’s staffing levels, but said the hiring and other personnel changes he has made since becoming superintendent in September will make his office more efficient and effective.

Legislators have been critical of the department’s staffing since 2012 when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin commissioned an audit that concluded the department had a bloated administration that wasted millions.

Martirano already has a number of executive assistants, hired by former superintendents, who have job duties similar to those of the chief of staff. They each receive salaries ranging from $60,000 to $95,000.

The chief of staff, however, will have a more specialized role and, in addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of Martirano’s office, will ensure there is effective communication and alignment between the department, the Board of Education and other education officials throughout the state.

The Daily Mail awaits more information on Newman’s hiring, including her education and professional experience and whether she is a local or out-of-state hire, but according to the department, qualifications for the position included a master’s degree in education or a related field and five years of experience working with superintendents or other executives.

Newman’s hiring is part of a larger reshuffling in Building 6 Martirano says will help the department better carry out his vision plan, “One Voice, Once Focus, All Students Achieving.”

In January, Martirano changed the organizational structure of his cabinet by reclassifying the titles of his senior administrators. The state’s four associate superintendents are now called chief officers. He also hired a legislative liaison.

The department incurred no costs by rebranding those job titles, and while the two new hires together will be paid about $215,000, department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said they will not be paid with new money. She said the new positions are funded with money leftover from not filling a number of vacancies within the department. Tomblin instituted a hiring freeze on new non-essential state employees late in 2013.