Choices Differ On Band Teacher

WHEELING – The Ohio County Board of Education named David Alfred band director of Wheeling Park High School on Monday, despite opposition from a crowd that filled the board room and spilled into the lobby.

Band members carried signs outside the building prior to the meeting, expressing their support for hiring Jason Birch. He worked as band director during the 2012-13 school year following the departure of longtime director Pat Garrett, who left WPHS to accept a position with West Liberty University.

Many band members’ parents also threw their support behind Birch, who recently completed his one-year contract in the position, speaking highly of Birch’s accomplishments.

Prior to Monday’s board meeting, band parent Jamie Jaquay said Birch was able to pull the band students together and create new field shows, serving as a mentor to the students. Jaquay said if the board opted not to hire Birch, her son planned to leave the band and she would stop working to support the band boosters.

“I don’t raise my child to quit,” Jaquay said. “He’s not in band because he has to be. He’s there because he wants to be.”

Jaquay said her son is also involved with Ohio County Strings, the district’s strings ensemble. She expects him to continue his musical studies with that group while leaving the band behind. She said she had spoken with other band parents who said their children planned to leave the band if Birch was replaced.

“You have the responsibility to put our students’ interests first,” band boosters Vice President Jennifer Wetzel told board members prior to their decision to hire Alfred Monday. “The future of the Wheeling Park Band Department is in your hands.”

She alleged that the board and administration failed to follow state law regarding the hiring process. She claimed that administrators recommended the board hire Alfred without any input from Wheeling Park’s faculty senate.

She pointed to Senate Bill 359, approved by the Legislature this year and effective June 20, in making those allegations. The bill does reduce the importance of seniority in the hiring process and adds input from principals and faculty senates.

Booster Secretary Annette Gantz said she was concerned the board chose Alfred for the post only because he has more seniority than Birch.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced the bill during the regular legislative session. He said seniority is just one of 14 factors to be weighed in hiring teachers – and some factors, such as teacher evaluations, are to receive more weight than others. Seniority is not “double-weighted,” according to Kessler.

“Seniority is a factor – but it is not the only factor,” he said when contacted after the meeting. “The weight given to seniority actually has been diluted in the legislation that was passed.”

An emergency rule distributed by the Administrative Law Division of the Secretary of State’s Office on June 14 acknowledges that the education bill changes West Virginia law to give local schools a voice in hiring decisions and points to the need for faculty senate members to be trained in proper interviewing techniques so they can participate in the process.

Superintendent Dianna Vargo declined to comment on whether the school’s faculty senate had any role in the decision to hire Alfred.

Before voting unanimously to transfer Alfred to WPHS, board members Sarah Koegler, Christine Carder, Shane Mallett, Gary Kestner and President James Jorden met behind closed doors for a few minutes to discuss personnel. The executive session was held at the request of Kestner, who expressed concern over changes to the law.

Board of education members and other administrators also refused to comment on any aspects of the hiring process, but Jorden said the board acted in accordance with the law. He said board members worked with their legal counsel, Dinsmore and Shohl LLP of Wheeling, before and after the education bill took effect.

Alfred’s experience in teaching music goes back more than 20 years. Before Monday’s appointment, he served as music teacher and band director at Triadelphia Middle School and 10 years ago became one of fewer than 50 band directors in the country to hold National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Alfred said he has faith in Ohio County Schools students and looks forward to working with them at Wheeling Park High School.

“The students have been the success of Ohio County Schools,” Alfred said. “And students will continue to be the excellence in Ohio County Schools.”