“Wetzel County needs more schools like Paden City High School, not less,” commented Rodney McWilliams, president of the Paden City Foundation, during a public hearing held on March 25.
The purpose of the gathering was to save Paden City High School from possible closure as called for in the Wetzel County Board of Education’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP). As part of this 10-year plan, the school district’s preferred plan is to close the school and send the students to Magnolia. Since PCHS serves grades 7-12, the seventh and eighth grade students would go to New Martinsville Elementary.
But Paden City residents are not taking the plan lightly and refuse to go down without a fight.
More than a thousand PCHS supporters lined the bleachers Thursday evening – teachers, mom and dads, grandparents, students, alumni, friends and neighbors. One after another, they stepped out of the sea of “Wildcat” green to speak from the heart on behalf of a school they hold dear.
Eric Croasmun, a graduate of PCHS, said, “For six years, Paden City High School was my life. It still is. I would not be excelling today if not for the education I received here.”
Mayor Bill Fox said, “If they close this school, it will devastate our community. I hope the school board makes the right decision.”
“Remove this black cloud. Paden City High School is the heart of Paden City. Help us keep that heart beating,” stated Van Slider.
Sophomore Dominique Craft said, “If the school closes, I will spend my junior year worrying about where I will graduate.”
But aside from the hometown crowd, PCHS garnered support from other school systems. “You have a real gem here in Paden City, said Delmas Moore, athletic director for Beallsville School in Monroe County, Ohio.
The Wetzel County school board consists of President Michael Blair and Vice President Robert Patterson, as well as members Willie Baker, Amy Jo Dieffenbauch and Linda Sue Ritz. All five members make New Martinsville their home, a fact that has raised suspicions of favoritism for Magnolia.
“How much of this is being pushed through so Magnolia can get a new cafeteria?” Matt Ferrebee asked. “And why do they even need a new cafeteria when they only use 56 percent of their facilities?”
The 56 percent utilization figure for Magnolia is listed in the 10-year plan. The utilization figure for PCHS is 35 percent, according to the plan.
The anticipation that enrollment at PCHS will continue to decline is one of the reasons school board officials cited the need to close the school. However, Principal Warren Grace said the school gained 17 students this year, advancing enrollment from 142 to 159.
PCHS Athletic Director Fred King voiced his concern that some students who are able to participate in sports at PCHS will not get to play at Magnolia.
“I hope we can hang 50 more of these wonderful banners in here,” he said as he pointed to flags hanging in the school’s gymnasium symbolizing conference championships claimed by PCHS.
King said, “The kids are what we are all about – and the kids need us more than ever,” he said. “Let’s provide more opportunities, not less. Isn’t that what we are here for?”
Studies indicate that GPA and students’ feelings of connectedness are related to participation in extracurricular activities. At PCHS, the average participation rate over the past 5 years is 72 percent with many students participating in multiple organizations and activities simultaneously.
Other speakers presented facts and figures in an effort to persuade the board members to take PCHS out of the 10-year CEFP.
“The amount of money spent is not the only piece of the puzzle,” commented Dr. Richard Stender.
According to data presented by Stender on behalf of the Cornerstone project, Paden City High School and Paden City Elementary account for only a small portion of the county’s expenditures for 2009, with Magnolia and New Martinsville School accounting for the highest amounts.
“Closing one high school will not solve the problem,” Stender said. “The outcome will be a weakened school system.”
With a huge round of applause, McWilliams brought the data and the sentiments together, “We believe in the three r’s. We are rich in history; ready for today; and reaching for the future.”
Superintendent William Jones said he and the board would not answer questions during the public hearing. The board will vote on the possible closure at a later meeting. Regular meetings have been scheduled at 7 p.m. April 5 and April 19 at the administration office located at 333 Foundry Street, New Martinsville.
If Wetzel County officially accept the plan as it has been written the West Virginia Board of Education will also have to agree to the closure of PCHS.
While the school is on the chopping block, the 10-year plan calls for the renovation of Magnolia High School, with additional upgrades planned at Valley High School and Hundred High School.