Pocahontas Board of Education votes to save math teaching position 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Students, teachers, and citizens spoke, and the Pocahontas County Board of Education listened.

Following weeks of speculation over proposed academic cuts to make up for a budget shortfall, the Pocahontas County Board of Education voted on Monday night to save a math position which had been slated for reduction. Students staged protests in opposition to the cut in recent weeks, citing their desire to receive a well-rounded education.

Monday’s special board meeting began with a personnel hearing for Casey Griffith, a math teacher at Pocahontas County High School. 

Casey Griffith, math teacher at Pocahontas County High School, was the subject of a reduction in force hearing on Monday night. The board ultimately voted to save her position. Photo by RealWV

Griffith is a graduate of Pocahontas County High School who came home to teach, after being recruited by the school’s faculty. 

RealWV readers may remember Griffith as the faculty member who stepped up to be a sponsor for the students who directed their own marching band this past fall when they lost their instructor. 

Griffith’s math position was slated for a “reduction in force,” which is the terminology used in state law to signify positions which are being eliminated. It is commonly referred to by its acronym, “RIF.” 

“Ms. Griffith asked for a hearing,” board attorney Jason Long said. “She’s here to advocate for her job.” 

Superintendent Lynne Bostic and teacher Chris Sutton. Photo by RealWV

Pocahontas County Schools Superintendent Lynne Bostic explained, “This position is being recommended to be cut due to a lack of need, and this employee is the least senior.”

Griffith then called witnesses to testify on her behalf. 

Chris Sutton, chair of the Math Department, said, “Anything I’ve ever asked Ms. Griffith to do, she’s delivered.” He went on to describe his department’s plan to begin a computer science study track this fall as a career and technical education program, but he said if Griffith’s position then the plan would be untenable. He argued that preserving the position is in the best interest of the students as well as the entire school system, which would benefit academically and financially from the new program. 

Joe Riley, center. Photo by RealWV

Griffith’s principal, Joe Riley, was next to speak. “Casey goes the extra mile. I’d hate to lose her. She catches kids. She pays attention. She inspires kids I didn’t think we could get to graduation.” 

Joanna Burt-Kinderman. Photo by RealWV

Next, Joanna Burt-Kinderman (a math colleague of Griffith), told the board, “I’m building the best rural math program in the nation. You guys invested in me and this program. Casey is doing something really complex and creative. You’ve invested in her too.”

Then, Griffith was given time to speak. She said, “I don’t have a good relationship with these kids on accident. I show up for their sports, not because I’m sporty, but because it matters to them. We have something special.” She then looked at the students present, who participated in the walkout opposing the cuts and said, “I apologize our kids had to yell so loudly for us to hear them.” 

A lengthy discussion among board members and those in the audience ensued, as the board worked through the implications of what they’d been told. 

Board member Morgan McComb expressed interest in the computer science program, saying he advocated for that kind of career and technical education program years ago. 

Members of the Board of Education discuss math class configurations. Photo by RealWV

Laurel Dilley, a teacher, said, “We’ve been trying. This is a relatively new program track which the WV Department of Education hasn’t always been supportive of, but they are now.”

Board member Rebecca Campbell said, “Sometimes the WVDE changes their mind.” 

As discussion continued, board member Jarrett McLaughlin spoke up, “I’m all for this, but my question is if all this is legal and can really be done?”

Shortly thereafter, the board went into executive session to discuss personnel, as required by law, and excused the public from the meeting. 

Citizens packed the board office again Monday night, as they have the past few meetings, to advocate for maintaining strong academic programs. Photo by RealWV

Approximately an hour later, the board meeting resumed. 

Morgan McComb spoke on behalf of the board, saying, “We’ve decided to keep the fourth math position.” He made the motion with a second by McLaughlin, with all members voting in favor. 

In addition to the math position being preserved, a history position RIF at the high school was also rescinded within the last week. 

A science position which is currently being filled by a long-term substitute will continue as is, according to Board President Sue Hollandsworth. “The position won’t be filled at this time,” she said following the meeting. “We can post it anytime once the WV Department of Education looks at what we are doing.” 

During the executive session, RealWV spoke with Pocahontas County Schools Treasurer Sherry Radcliff about the financial pressures facing counties such as Pocahontas which led to the need for RIFs. She described a multitude of factors at play including: 

  • National Forest Funds (which were $300,000 from the federal government this year but are budgeted for $0 next year)
  • Special education costs (additional aide and teaching positions needed)
  • Rising food and utility costs
  • Third Grade Success Act (passed by the WV Legislature, which requires an extended year program for children but does not provide funding) 
  • Match funds for building projects and secure entrances
  • Capital projects on aging buildings

“We’d like to keep all the academic positions,” she said, “but we have to make tough decisions.” 

Riley Pollack. Photo by RealWV.

Following the vote, student leader Riley Pollack–who helped organize the student protest and sits as a student representative on the Board–said she was encouraged. “We’re finding common ground. I wasn’t hopeful when we walked in tonight. But I think they all saw how important Ms. Griffith is here tonight.”

Following the meeting, Griffith shared a warm embrace with Superintendent Bostic and thanked each board member individually for allowing her to be heard. But most of all, she was relieved that they listened to her students. 

 “Kids spoke up,” she said. “This vote today told them they were heard.”

Students, teachers, and community members celebrate following the board’s decision not to cut a math position from Pocahontas County High School. Photo by RealWV.

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