CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A state Department of Education review team described Martinsburg North Middle School during a recent visit as chaotic with students going largely unchecked.

Paul Hardesty

After reviewing that report, the state Board of Education voted Wednesday to place Berkeley County Schools under a state of emergency in direct relation to Martinsburg North Middle.

“This is pathetic,” state BOE President Paul Hardesty said. “This should not happen. We are under attack in public education in this state on numerous fronts, incidents like this are like pouring gasoline on the fire we fight back every day.”

State Department of Education Accountability Officer Jeff Kelley delivered the report to the board. He described the on-site visit that took place last month.

“In the majority of classroom observations the team described the environment chaotic, disruptive and occasionally hostile,” Kelley said. “Most classrooms were observed to have a large number of students off-task in an environment that was not conducive to learning.”

Kelley said students were also in the hallways at all times of the day and refused to go to class when directed by teachers.

Jeff Kelley

And that’s just the start.

“The team observed staff members pervasively ignoring student misbehavior, this included a student smacking another student with no redirection from the teacher. Students were observed to be in classes that they did not belong but were allowed to stay,” Kelley said. “At one point a student was observed lying on top of a table with three students sitting under the table, total disengagement with no redirection from the teacher.”

There have been 160 physical fights at North Middle this school year and 23 Title IX violations. A survey of students shows only half of them feel safe.

The school’s student achievement results have been a concern for several years. The most recent numbers show only 24% of students proficient in English and only 6% proficient in math.

MORE Read report here 

Kelley said one parent told them her daughter receives straight A’s but she has trouble reading and writing.

Ron Stephens

“We want this fixed and we want this fixed now,” Hardesty said. “This cannot be tolerated in a public school system in West Virginia. It just can’t be.”

Hardesty told Berkeley County School Superintendent Ron Stephens that he doesn’t blame the longtime principal at the school but he blames the county school superintendent’s office and local school board because the school principal received good evaluations for more than a dozen years.

“Where I’m placing the blame is on you and your board. If a person has been there 13 years and got stellar evaluations, you, your secondary curriculum director, yall have not done your job and your board hasn’t done its job in holding you accountable,” Hardesty said.

Stephens, who is in his first full year on the job, said the principal at the school has recently been removed and a former principal in another part of the county is now in charge. He said they’ve started to see some improvements but he said he welcomes the state’s help.

“My plan is to continue to work with the state Department of Education, utilizing our resources and to clean-up North Middle School so the students do feel safe,” Stephens said.

State School Superintendent Michele Blatt said the state of emergency will include Berkeley County Schools hiring an on-site school improvement specialist who will work the rest of the school year and into the summer months. A team will come up with an action plan for the state Board of Education to consider for approval at its June meeting.

Story by Jeff Jenkins, WVMetronews