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Wood County BOE members respond to ‘absent parents’ comment

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Board of Education members say a principal’s comments of the board being “absent parents” due to a lack of school visits were uncalled for and unfair.

At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, Van Devender Middle School Principal Darlene Parsons said her staff and students felt neglected by the school board because members did not come to the school to tour classrooms and shadow staff. Parsons compared it to a divorce where one parent must explain to a child why the other parent is not there.

“I feel like you guys are absent parents. Like you’re there for photo ops and the big events, but you really don’t know us because you don’t spend any time with us,” she said.

Board President Rick Olcott said Wednesday he considered the comments “inappropriate” and was “disappointed” the principal chose that time to criticize the board.

“I thought it was very inappropriate to be scolded by an administrator,” he said. “It was not the appropriate venue to express her concerns.”

Olcott said he also felt Parsons’ comments reflected a lack of understanding in the board’s role in the school system.

“We’re not their parent,” Olcott said. “While we like to spend time in the schools, that’s not typically the role of a board member. That’s the role of the administration, and they report back to us.”

Olcott said in more recent months as the county worked on a school consolidation plan, board members were meeting with parent and teacher groups as well as touring and holding meetings at affected schools.

” ‘Absent parent’ was a little harsh considering what we’ve just gone through,” he said “People are accountable for the words they choose. I’m hoping people make better decisions in the future about that.”

“Those sort of comments, that was not the right time or place,” said board Vice President Justin Raber. “We as school board members are not there to oversee and directly monitor what goes on in our schools on a daily basis. That is the job of the superintendent and his staff. Those are the people that need to be there, and they are.”

Raber, a practicing attorney and guardian ad litem, said he often visits schools to work with clients, but does not visit every room or meet with the principal every time.

“I’m more often in the schools than people realize because I’m there to see the kids I represent,” he said.

Raber also pointed out four of the five board members have full-time jobs in addition to their board duties, but all still make time to attend events and speak with groups.

“In my opinion, we’re out there,” he said.

Board member Rick Tennant said he agreed the comments were out of line, especially considering Parsons’ request for board members to shadow her for a day.

“That’s not part of my job as a board member. There’s no way I could spend a whole day with her,” Tennant said. “We hire the superintendent to oversee the operations of all the schools in the county. They bring it to us if there is an issue, either to make us aware or if they need guidance.”

Board member Ron Tice said he planned to visit Vandy next week, but declined to discuss Parsons’ comments.

“There’s no problem with her,” he said. “I have no problem at all.”

While Superintendent Will Hosaflook did not comment directly on Tuesday’s meeting or Parsons’ comments, he did say Wednesday he and central office staff are tasked with visiting and monitoring the schools, then reporting to the board.

“The way the system is set up, in terms of board member responsibility, visits are made regularly to all schools by myself and my team,” he said. “We report out to the board what is going on in the schools.”

Hosaflook also said board members do regularly visit schools for events and programs when time allows.

Board member Debbie Hendershot could not be reached for comment.

Michael Erb can be reached at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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