SPENCER - Roane County Schools strives to enable students to achieve in the classroom so they will achieve when they leave.
''Our focus is on the achievement of our students and the development of our teachers,'' said Superintendent Mickey Blackwell, who took over the district in 2011.
Roane County has six schools with a total student enrollment of 2,474. The schools include Geary Elementary/Middle (322), Reedy Elementary (119), Spencer Middle School (432), Spencer Elementary School (493), Walton Elementary-Middle School (382) and Roane County High School (703). There are also 51 students in the district's pre-school program.
Students in Roane Countyy Schools work with technology to expand their learning opportunities. As part of the RCS five-year plan, all students have access to a variety of technologies, such as Internet research, electronic readers and music programs.
Before the school year began, each building was painted and "brightened up" by parents and staff. Spencer Elementary repainted all of its hallways, and every school painted the school entryways and stairwells.
The district has shown progress in student work with test scores going up across the district in reading, math and language arts with schools improving their standing in the state.
''They are showing improvements in literacy and comprehension plus they are showing they communicate well,'' Blackwell said. ''We are proud of the work the students are doing.''
Blackwell came to the district after spending the last 10 years as the principal of Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston. He has advanced degrees in Public School Curriculum and Public School Leadership, and a doctorate in public school administration. He has served as principal in rural, urban and alternative school settings.
''Everything has been very positive,'' Blackwell said. ''I have found everyone is focused on getting better.
''The community has been positive and supportive of what we are doing. I am thrilled to be a part of it.''
The former superintendent, Steve Goffreda, had stepped down to return to his former position as director of student services and attendance. Goffreda had been the superintendent since July 1998.
With Goffreda back in his former position, the district now has someone who is working on attendance full-time.
The district has been focused on improving attendance with Goffreda making regular home visits to have students and parents understanding on why it is important for students to come to school.
''We have a goal of reaching 95 percent attendance,'' Blackwell said.
Schools have been competitive with schools receiving awards for attendance, like Walton and Reedy.
''Our goal is to get the students there and exposed to a wide variety of programs,'' Blackwell said. ''In each class, we see something positive going on everyday.
''That is what we want.''
Blackwell and Spencer Middle School Principal David Gaul went to Washington, D.C., in September to meet with President Barack Obama and federal education officials.
The two were among 25 administrators and educators nationwide to sit down with federal officials and discuss the challenges, concerns and needs of schools.
Blackwell and Gaul concentrated on rural education and sought to offer opinions beyond the borders of Roane County.
"They were looking for forward-thinking organizations that were trying new ways to help their children succeed," Blackwell said. "Roane County Schools was such an organization."
The district wants to focus on academics, arts and athletics to give students a well rounded education.
''As students achieve, they can become lifelong learners,'' Blackwell said.
The district has made gains with the ACT Explorer Test with their middle school students.
The test covers English, Mathematics, Reading, Science and a composite score.
Spencer Middle School posted gains of 1.7, 1.5, 1.7, 1.3 and 1.6 respectively and Walton Elementary/Middle was above state and national standards in all five areas, "which is outstanding," Blackwell said.
The high school band has grown by forty new members this year.
''Through the efforts of middle and high school music teachers, many middle schoolers stayed in the band program as they transitioned to high school,'' Blackwell said.
Roane County's third to fifth graders recently went to the Clay Center auditorium for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's Young People's Concert Series with music based on the story of "Rumpelstiltskin." The kids did around 10 hours of class work related to the story before going.
The theater program at Roane County High School performed a production of "A Christmas Carol." The high school's show choir performed at the Clay Center in December as part of "The First Lady's Festival of Songs," a performance hosted by First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin.
In athletics, Roane County High School recently hosted its first football playoff in 17 years.
The district completed construction on a $5.8 million construction project at Geary. The project, which is being mostly funded through the School Building Authority of West Virginia, includes four additional classrooms, a computer lab, a new gym and the installation of an elevator as well as a new sewage treatment facility.
Geary was able to have a girl's volleyball team for the first time as they were able to accommodate games in their new gym.
The school was originally designed as only an elementary school when it opened in the early 1980's and has had to accommodate over 100 middle school students since a consolidation in 1985-86. Classrooms were too small to accommodate middle school students.
Work began in June 2010 and was completed last summer in time for the 2011-12 school year.
''The kids are all in their own area of the building by grades and groups,'' Blackwell said. ''The new classrooms were built specifically for them and the new gym is beautiful.
''We are still tweaking a few things, but overall the reaction from the community has been very positive.''
At the 2011 Black Walnut Festival, educators-past and present, were the grand marshals of the festival parade. In the town square, the teachers gathered and led a crowd of 30,000-40,000 people there in the Pledge of Allegiance.
''It really shows the dedication to education in this community,'' Blackwell said. ''It also show the level of importance people place on education.
"This has been an outstanding year for students and teachers of Roane County Schools. We have seen marked improvements in achievement and attendance," Blackwell said. Our staff has reached out to every student to build positive school climates and promote student success. We are building a bright future every day we are together."