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Community speaks out

Posted on Friday, April 18, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Several employees of Westmoreland County Public Schools recently got a surprise notification that they were being transferred to other schools in the county for the next school year. The explanation given on these notices was simply that central office had the right to move any 12-month employee to another school.  However, those being transferred, as well as members of the community, are yearning for an explanation.  Secretaries, nurses, physical education teachers and other unconfirmed positions are among those being transferred.wmcps

School Board Chairman Iris Lane explained that transfers are made based on needs; those needs could be budget, greater need for a certain position, functional, operational, etc. Lane said that Dr. Lowry was looking at ways to improve the school system and switching members has been a possibility. Lane explained that the School Board is a governing body and is not involved with the day-to-day duties of the schools and employee decisions. Employee decisions, such as transfers, are made by the Superintendent, based on the advice and recommendations from the assistant superintendents, namely those responsible for human resources and personnel. Lane stated that they cannot discuss specific personnel issues, but can comment on policies and processes: Policy GCI states “Upon recommendation of the superintendent, the Westmoreland County School Board shall place all employees within the various schools and facilities located in the school division.”  The superintendent has the authority to transfer (reassign) personnel.  Policy CBA addresses this under major duties and states he/she “oversees staff personnel management.”

Dr. Lowry stated and discussed that transfers are based on identified needs within the school system with the ultimate goal being to have an effectively and efficiently functioning school system to address student academics.

With the large number and array of employees being moved, it is not clear to the community what needs these transfers were based on or how the move improves the school system.

Lowry has responded by saying that these transfer decisions were based upon the request of some employees, comprehensive social and academic needs of students and the overall needs of the school division. “I will go on to say that some transfer decisions came directly out of student and parent requests that we offer an increased variety of extra-curricular and elective offerings for students,” Lowry stated. She also noted, “I have just completed some extensive focus groups with high school students and have direct and very honest requests from them that we offer more electives across a range of topics.” To follow up on these answers, The Westmoreland News has asked Lowry a number of additional questions, but as of this publication she has not responded.

As far as the transfers go, community members are publicly voicing their opinions. Many are disgruntled by the sudden notification and concerned about the success of taking over one another’s positions. While one secretary may be moving to another secretary position, the two positions in differing schools have different duties, which some may have no prior experience with. Also, they are concerned that uprooting these employees from positions they have worked in for many years will disrupt the relationships they built with students, staff and parents as well as their knowledge and skill in those specific duties at that specific school. They are also upset that some of the most revered teachers and mentors are being taken from the students who need them most. Several comments have also been made expressing concern over why action is being taken to transfer teachers who are good role models, but there has yet to be any action taken over the two employees who were arrested for driving while intoxicated.

One particular transfer has caused an intense uproar throughout the community. The decision was made to transfer W&L High School PE teacher Cole Vanover to the Middle School next year, and the community is not standing for it.

Not long after the news got out, a W&L student created a Facebook page titled “Vanover is W&L” expressing what an iconic teacher Vanover is and asking the community to rally together and fight this transfer at the School Board meeting on April 28.

Since the page was created, floods of comments have come from students, former students, teachers, friends and community members in support of Vanover.

On this page, Vanover has been described as iconic, a reason for wanting to go to school, a born teacher and coach, community leader, selfless, a positive influence, a mentor, an inspiration, dedicated, supportive, a role model and the glue that holds W&L together. These are only a few of the positive comments about Vanover.

Apart from the community’s comments, Vanover has done many other things that show his dedication to W&L.

He has previously been named one of the Northern Neck District Coaches of the Year after capturing the District championship for cross-country. In July 2011, he became the high school assistant athletic director. In an article about this announcement Vanover stated, “I love my job. Now that I have more responsibility, I have another opportunity to help the youth out in Westmoreland and get them involved in athletics and activities.”

In 2010, Vanover donated his $2,000 track stipend to the athletic department to fix up the weight room. At the time, the President of the Washington and Lee Golden Eagles Club said, “Cole wants all the best for Washington and Lee High School and his actions speak louder than words. I wish more people would feel that same urgency to give as Cole did. He is a tribute to the school and the community.”

This donation had a domino effect and spurred many people’s generosity. The Golden Eagles Booster Club matched Vanover’s donation, the local Zumba workout group held a fundraiser that added $1,500, bake sales, weight loss pledge projects and Facebook challenges were held and a Challenge grant from Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Organization took part in donating money to W&L.

Vanover also has a certificate in Drivers Ed and serves as the Driver’s Education instructor, which is crucial for the students at W&L.  Vanover has also coached cross-country, track and field and girls soccer.

Another transfer that concerns this community is guidance secretary Stefanie Payne’s transfer from W&L. A number of people have publicly applauded her for her dedication in helping high school students with college applications, scholarships and the like and that as a secondary guidance specialist, many of her skills would go under utilized at MMS.

Lane said she is a firm believer in people voicing their opinions, stating that people in positions, such as central office, don’t always know what people want until they let it be known. “There should be an uproar when people disagree or agree with what is happening. If people agree or disagree with something, let the board know.” The Facebook page supporting Vanover is a clear example of the community putting their opinion out there and it remains to be seen if people will follow through and further express their opinions at the next board meeting. However, perhaps the most important question remains: Will their voices be heard?