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A failing grade for a West Virginia middle school

The Martinsburg North Middle School website gives the impression of a successful academic environment where the 750 students can excel. It describes “a safe and positive atmosphere of high expectations, professionalism, and enthusiasm for lifelong learning.”

The Mission Statement sets a high bar: “We at North Middle School are committed to doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to ensure that all students reach their highest potential.”

Lofty goals indeed, and ones that a community should reasonably expect from their school. However, a report by the State Department of Education Accountability Office released last week told a much different story.

The report, which was made public at the State Board of Education meeting, chronicled chaotic and violent conditions at the school:

There have been 160 physical fights this school year. Only half of the students feel safe at school. State DOE officials who visited the school last month saw “threatening and hostile behaviors” by students that were “ineffectively addressed by teachers and other staff members or not addressed at all.”

The inspectors described conditions at the school as “chaotic, destructive, and occasionally hostile to the learning environment.”  Students roamed the halls and wandered in and out of classrooms, often with little or no redirection from teachers.

Just six percent of the students are proficient in math and only 24 percent are proficient in English language arts. Inspectors say lessons “were frequently below grade level standards and not relevant and engaging to students.” And those outcomes have been on a downward trajectory for the last decade.

One of the inspectors said a parent told them her daughter receives straight A’s, but she has trouble reading and writing, a classic example of social promotion of a child who will likely struggle in high school.

State School Board President Paul Hardesty called the situation at Martinsburg North Middle School “pathetic.” Hardesty put the blame on the Berkeley County School Board and the County Superintendent, since the school principal received good evaluations for more than a dozen years.

The Board responded by voting unanimously to issue a State of Emergency for the school. The school principal has been replaced by Holly Kleppner, Executive Director of the Department of Secondary Leadership. County Superintendent Ron Stephens, in a letter to the school community, said, “Ms. Kleppner, along with other administrators, is fully committed to ensuring a meaningful finish to the school year despite the challenges we are faced with.”

Kleppner, Stephens, the staff at Martinsburg North Middle and that community now must follow the credo highlighted on the school website to straighten out this mess and provide a thorough and efficient education for the children by doing…

…“Whatever it takes.”


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