Extra Credit

School board election 2014

An off-year primary election seldom stirs up the interest a presidential election does — school board elections even more so.

But, the school board election is one of the most important ones a voter can participate in according to Pete Thaw, a five-term member of the Kanawha County Board of Education and its current president.

“The board of education is kind of left behind, and people forget we spend 70 percent of every tax dollar in Kanawha County,” Thaw said in an interview about the many issues the school board is facing and could face in the future.

While Thaw consistently is the lead vote-getter, he faces several newcomers who have the potential to unseat him and inject the board with new ideas.

Ryan White, Vic Sprouse, Tracy White and Curtis Robinson are all parents of children in the school system and want to see positive changes made for the betterment of all students. Calvin McKinney also seeks to make improvements, but is by far the most experienced of the new candidates with 40 years as a teacher and principal.

Also running is Becky Jordon, a three-term board member seeking re-election. While her attempt to enact a teacher dress code policy this year was met with heated opposition, she expects excellence from students and teachers alike.

The school board sets the school calendar as well as policies that affect more than students and teachers. While its five members do oversee the school system, they are also the most powerful policy makers at the local level.

In the words of Thaw himself: Voters should have an interest in the board and get involved “regardless of who gets elected.”

There’s still a few hours left until we know which of the seven candidates will take the three open seats. For live coverage of the school board election, follow @charleywest and @wvschools on Twitter.

Follow along for coverage of Kanawha and Putnam school board elections, as well as other local races:

Are students having problems taking the Westest?

As many know, this is the first year the Westest will be delivered completely online.

Sounds like a good idea. West Virginia schools need to embrace technology to be able to compete with schools across the country and world.

But, as can be expected with anything new, there have been some issues with the transition.

Capitol High principal Clinton Giles and John Adams Middle principal John Moyers said some students have had problems logging into the test website. There have also been problems with exceeding network bandwidth and website crashes.

The two principals said these problems were only a factor Monday and have been corrected, and they are prepared to deal with any other glitches.

So, how has this affected students? These tests can be stressful in and of themselves, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to have “will my computer crash in the middle of my test” in the back of my head.

So, I ask parents and students alike, aside from a frustrating start, has the transition been smooth? Are the tests easier to take? Or is it too much too soon?

Feel free to let me know by sending an email to sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com, or commenting on the Daily Mail’s Facebook page.

Kanawha County School Board Candidates

Sometimes, technology advances journalism. Today was not one of those days.

I intended to do a live blog of the Daily Mail editorial board meeting with Kanawha County school board candidates like I did for Putnam County yesterday, but our Wi-Fi was not working.

Go figure.

Even though we were unable to do a live stream, my editor, Brad, still recorded the meeting so those who are interested could watch it later.

Seated left to right: Ryan White (District 1), Vic Sprouse (District 1), Calvin McKinney (District 4), Pete Thaw (District 2), Tracy White (District 3), Curtis Robinson (District 1) and Becky Jordan (District 2).

Live Blog: Putnam County School Board candidates

The Daily Mail editorial board met with candidates for the Putnam County school board today.

There are four non-partisan candidates vying for three seats, but two are running unopposed.

Diana McCallister and Craig Spicer are running in the contested third magisterial district.

Rob Cunningham of the second district and Butch Legg of the first district are the unopposed candidates.

Whoever wins in the primary election on May 13 will automatically join the school board because non-partisan elections are not part of the general election.

Hello, My Name Is…

As the education reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, I have my fair share of “Hello, My Name Is…” stickers.

Each time I go into a school, I sign a clipboard cluttered with names and am promptly given a sticker to wear.

I keep these things like skiers do lift tickets. They remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

The sticker — while I find it tacky and often mismatched with whatever shirt I am wearing at the time — serves a purpose. It lets everyone know who I am and my reason for being there.

My editor, Brad, already introduced me when I came to the Daily Mail in February, but I thought it would be appropriate to do so myself when I restarted this blog, which has been dormant since my predecessor left.

So, if you will:

Hello, my name is Samuel Speciale .

Because I write about education, it’s only fair I reveal a little about my own schooling. I am a graduate of the Marshall University College of Arts and Media with a degree in print journalism. Before that, I studied English at West Virginia State University.

While I write about public schools and policy, I came into this job not knowing anything about either because I went to a private Christian school. My first experience with public schools was a 10-hour state school board  meeting. I was overwhelmed.

Sure, policies can be difficult to understand at times, but they make the world go round.

The beautiful thing about the education beat is that it’s not just about policy making. There are many interesting people doing incredibly eventful things in West Virginia, and they have stories worth telling.

I’ve only been here for two months, but I’ve been fortunate to tell some great stories about iPads revolutionizing schools in Raleigh County and a retired accountant turning a Christian school around.

I look forward to telling many more.

This week in Education


  • Head Start programs in West Virginia are facing budget cuts, just like they are across the country, but students here shouldn’t lose access to preschool — just the services that go along with it, the ones that cater to low-income kids and their families.
  • A local coach is appealing to the Kanawha County School board.  He wants to be allowed to volunteer with George Washington High School’s football team. (And in case you were wondering: high school football season starts Thursday, y’all.)
  • Officials are trying to expand a popular reading program to schools in all 55 counties. Wanna help?
  • Over at the Gazette, Mackenzie Mays has something about the dip in college enrollment in West Virginia and the way that’s tied to the economy — the better the economy, the less people who decide to go to college.
  • Also, in case you missed it, check out our gallery of first-day-of-school photos. Pretty. Cute.

From a Parent’s Mouth

Allow me to direct your attention to the Daily Mail’s Mommyhood blog, where Karan Ireland, a blogger/mom with a kids in Kanawha County school system, wrote Friday about feeling ripped off by this year’s school calendar — which made for a shorter-than-usual summer by about two weeks.

The clock ran out on us before I had the chance to dip-dye my daughter’s hair pink on the ends; before I had the chance to implement a “prepare for school” study regimen; before we even had the chance to get to the beach, or Ikea, or a major league baseball game!

School board: I NEED MORE TIME!

She’s putting into words on the Internet a sentiment that school board members have been considering for months: They decided last year to start school two weeks earlier than usual so the first semester will be over before Christmas break (no more cramming during winter vacation, kids!) but not without worries about the reaction from kids and parents.

If the next academic calendar looks like this one does, that means the summer will be back to its normal length, just shifted back by two weeks — but it’s still not clear if that’s what will happen. At the school board meeting last week board member Becky Jordon asked to have the issue placed on the agenda for next month’s meeting, so we’ll have to wait to see how that pans out.

Happy first day of school!

Kanawha County students are back in school today. In today’s paper I have a story about the rush to get the heating and cooling systems up and running in all the county’s schools before today’s early start date — and the fact that some schools still aren’t quite ready. There’s also a piece on school safety and the beefed up police presence parents will see when they drop their kids off at school today, and kids will continue to see in their classrooms and hallways throughout the year.

Watching “The Teacher”

It was released last month, but I’m just getting a look at The Teacher, the new documentary about legendary Charleston educator Mary C. Snow, produced by former public broadcasting director Mike Youngren. A cut of the full-length film materialized in our office last week and I nabbed it. The full film isn’t available online, but there’s a trailer on vimeo:

Snow worked as an educator in Charleston for decades and was Kanawha County”s first black principal of a desegregated school. She served as principal of Glenwood Elementary for many years, eventually retiring in her 90s, and was a near-legendary community figure on Charleston’s West Side.

Last year the naming of the West Side’s newest elementary school roused public outcry on behalf of Snow — the school board initially voted against naming the school after Snow, in favor of the more generic West Side Elementary, but reconsidered in the face of  the uproar from the West Side community.  (The name they settled on combines the two. The school is now called Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary. )