Principal of Charleston West Side elementary school addresses poverty, drugs; low test scores

By Matt Maccaro in News

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The new principal of Mary C Snow Elementary School on Charleston’s West Side says low test scores are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems the school is experiencing.

Cheryl Plear gave about a 45 minute presentation to the Kanawha School Board at its meeting Monday. She admitted the school’s scores are among the worst in the state.

“Not only are we considered not proficient, our level of proficiency is so low that we know we have to do something different in order to help these children be more successful at the next level.”

Drug use is a huge issue on the West Side, and Plear said the violence that often results has trickled down to negatively impact MCS students. When asked by school board member Ryan White how many of her students were affected by drugs in some way, Plear estimated 80 percent.

“The violent acts that occur in the community that our children are exposed to bothers me more than anything,” she said. “Because when kids see that and they feel that kind of fear, then they react to it.”

But Plear felt most students aren’t honest about their home lives, trying to defend their parents or guardians to keep their situations stable.

“They’ve learned how to answer those questions so that it won’t interfere with what’s going on their lives, because they want to keep the people who are living with them with them. So they’re going to be very protective of those people.”

When presenting to the board, Plear pointed out the differences between urban and rural poverty, saying that many of her students don’t have enough to eat or heat in their homes, but come to school wearing “the latest tennis shoes.”

“This is how people in urban communities handle poverty,” Plear explained. “If you look at rural poverty, it’s handled totally different. Those people are more inclined to worry about not how they look or anything, but how they’re going to get through the next day.”

Plear hoped the school board would learn from her presentation, noting that the school has the resources and funding to turn around. She said its a matter of finding the right teachers, counselors and therapists.

“We have the money, we have the support, but it’s not quantity all the time. It’s quality.”

Plear, 66, has worked in Kanawha County Schools for over 30 years, but assumed the role of the MCS principal for the beginning of the current school year, replacing Johnny Ferrara.