Clinton Visit
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President Bill Clinton
will visit Harrison County on May 22
and will hold a national town meeting on education

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RCB preparing for presidential visit


There's an excitement in the air when you enter the halls of Robert C. Byrd High School _ and it's not just about graduation. The school is preparing for President Bill Clinton's visit next Thursday.

"We've been having some meetings but right now we are looking for direction from the White House staff and agencies charged with security details," said Leon Pilewski, principal of the state-of-the-art high school.

Plans remain sketchy at this point, but the town hall-type meeting is to be held in the afternoon and will include 150 to 200 students, parents, educators and other officials.

"An advance team toured the school Tuesday and we weren't even aware at that time that the president was coming. I didn't really find out until yesterday," Pilewski said Thursday.

Several members of the student body were having a hard time believing that President Clinton was really coming to Clarksburg.

"I was so excited when I heard it that I called the principal at home last night to make sure," said junior Emily Hill. "I'm determined to meet him," she said.

Senior Nicole Washington hopes that the voices of the students will be heard.

"This is a wonderful facility, but it's the students that count. I hope he takes some time to hear from us," she said.

When asked what question they would ask the president if given the chance, the subject matters varied.

Trina Brown, who was preparing to play the witch in the play "Hansel and Gretel", brought up the subject of education.

"I want to know his plans for education in West Virginia and the country, and how he's planning to improve the system," the senior said. Brown was dressed in a costume she had made that took second place at the West Virginia State Thespian Festival in April.

Another costumed character, Alissa Wyatt, who is playing the dream witch, would question the president about the arts.

"I would like to know if he has any plans to do anything about building up the arts in his education plan," the junior said. "It needs to be added to instead of taken away from," Wyatt said.

None of the students were afraid to bring up some tough subjects, including welfare. Senior Andrew D. Fulton wanted to know the president's future ideas on the system.

"So many are taking advantage of the welfare system. But what is he going to do about those who really need it? Will they be taken care of?" he asked.

Nichole Washington also touched on this continually troublesome subject.

"I would like to know if he is planning any practical steps to stop welfare abuse and to find some solutions," she said.

Emily Hill was not willing to dismiss another tough issue.

"I would like to ask him why he vetoed the partial-birth abortion bill," said Hill. "Was there a lot of pressure from the parties or is this his personal opinion?" she asked.

Most of the students said they would just like to talk to him "as a real person."

For once I would like to get over the political issues and just meet with him as a person," one student said.

Details of the Clinton visit will continue to unfold during the coming week.

Updated May 16, 1997
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Keeping the big news a
secret was
not easy


When word of a possible visit by President Clinton to Clarksburg reached the newsroom of the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram it seemed like an easy enough tip to follow.

A phone call here, a phone call there and the problem seemed easy to solve. But it began a near hour-long search that finally proved successful.

Just before 2 p.m., more than one official confirmed, anonymously, that President Clinton was, in fact, coming to Clarksburg for a visit to Robert C. Byrd High School. Many of the officials were the same ones, who minutes before, were completely unaware of his visit.

Oddly enough, it appears that hardly anyone knew what was transpiring. According to Lane Bailey, chief of staff for Senator Jay Rockefeller, only an exclusive group of people was privileged in sharing the information.

"There were talks with various groups last week on policies regarding West Virginia's education," said Bailey. "But the specifics as to where the President would be going were limited to just a few groups."

Along with Rockefeller's office, Bailey said Gov. Cecil Underwood's office, White House staff, Harrison County School Superintendent Robert Kittle and Robert C. Byrd High Principal Leon Pilewski knew of the president's planned appearance before Wednesday's official announcement.

Although the preliminary seeds were planted last week, Kittle became aware of what was going on Tuesday.

"Our office contacted Mr. Kittle and we told him that we had someone from the White House we'd like to bring by," said Bailey. "That's all we said.

"When they arrived and toured the schools, he became aware of what was taking place," Bailey continued. "Mr. Kittle then kept quiet about it. It may not sound like much, but to know that this is coming in a week and he was wondering what to do about so many different things is a credit to Bob Kittle that he was quiet."

Kittle didn't spread the word. In fact, Pete Conley, school board president, was unaware of the situation when contacted by this newspaper on Wednesday.

For Kittle, keeping mum was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.

"This started on Tuesday and, believe me, it came right out of the blue," said Kittle. "When I found out what the advance staff was here for, it floored me.

"There were a lot of emotions because this is big. Let me assure you, it was very difficult to keep this under my hat," he joked. "I've never been so overwhelmed in all my years as a superintendent with that type of information. The emotions were so high that I was just floating and wanted to tell somebody."

Obviously, he didn't.

Along with staffers at the Board of Education, Clarksburg and Harrison County officials were also unaware as to what was about to be announced. One person, however, was informed for obvious reasons.

Robert C. Byrd High School Principal Leon Pilewski was allowed into the circle on Tuesday. He, too, was told to keep it mum.

"I knew Tuesday, but I was sworn to secrecy," said Pilewski, who was out of his office Wednesday afternoon when contacted to confirm the visit. "In fact, I didn't even tell my wife that this was going to happen."

Following Tuesday's visit from White House personnel, Kittle was not given any guarantees of the visit. He received official word around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

But, he said he was "99.9 percent sure after Tuesday they were coming."

Bailey said it's paramount that the visits are kept quiet until the White House determines it's official. Often-times the trips don't take place, he said.

"It's difficult to keep quiet, but there's a reason the White House wants it that way," said Bailey. "The truth is that, often, the planned trips are explored by the White House and for one reason or another, the city is dropped from getting a visit. When that happens and people know about it, it's a letdown."

Updated May 16, 1997
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City prepares for visit by president
Will host town hall meeting on education


White House officials announced Wednesday that President Clinton has chosen Robert C. Byrd High School to host a national education town hall meeting on Thursday, May 22. It will be the president's first education town hall since unveiling his plan to improve America's schools during this year's State of the Union address.

"After the State of the Union address he said he wanted to take the education plan to the public to gain support," said White House spokeswoman Julie Green.

Clinton will arrive on May 22 for the early afternoon meeting, which will last 60 to 90 minutes, Green said. A public event is tentatively planned following the town hall, but the time and place have not yet been determined. The president will then return to Washington, she said.

During the RCB meeting, the president will field questions from a selected cross-section of 150 to 200 area students, parents and educators. The participants have not been chosen, and officials are not sure how they will be selected.

Among some of the probable topics for the meeting are Clinton's proposals for tax incentives for college students and Head Start funding increases, said White House spokesman Barry Toiv. Also, proposed national reading tests in the fourth grade and math tests in the eighth grade may be discussed.

"The national standards the president has proposed will help ensure that our young people gain the skills they need to compete in the global economy," said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia.

According to Green, President Clinton wants to highlight RCB as an example of a modern facility with excellent educational and technological opportunities.

"It's (RCB) one of the highest quality schools in one of the fastest growing areas," said Rockefeller spokeswoman Mindy Rossi.

"We're just pleased that he's coming to north central West Virginia," said RCB Principal Leon Pilewski. "We're very honored they have chosen to come to Robert C. Byrd."

The high school features computers in every classroom and several computer laboratories, with one lab dedicated to the Internet, Pilewski said. In addition, the ratio of students to terminals is around three to one, well above the national average, he added.

There is also an interactive classroom for teleconferencing, and there are plans for a television studio at RCB. The school also houses the Magnet Center, which offers dual credit college courses to its students.

"This is an excellent opportunity for West Virginia to showcase to the rest of the country a school system that is rapidly becoming a national model in utilizing technology and improving standards," Rockefeller said.

"This visit by the president will give West Virginians a chance to showcase to a national audience the progress we have made in improving education through technology," said Gov. Cecil Underwood.

According to Rockefeller's office, the town meeting will be fed via satellite to other West Virginia schools.

President Clinton will fly directly into Benedum Airport on Thursday, Green said.

Benedum Airport Manager James Griffith said a DC-9 which is part of the presidential fleet made a practice landing and take-off Wednesday. The regular Air Force One is too large to land at Benedum so the DC-9 will be used, he said.

Clinton's visit is bound to affect the entire community, as a large entourage of political delegates, security and press is expected.

Local law enforcement will most likely lend the Secret Service a hand, said Clarksburg Police Chief Gary Edgell.

"I imagine we'll be involved in some way, but we'll take the lead from them," he said.

Next Thursday's visit will be Clinton's fourth trip to the state since he was elected president in 1992. His last visit came in August, when he kicked off a whistlestop campaign tour in Huntington en route to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Updated May 15, 1997
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Kittle recalls meeting JFK
during 1960 campaign


Meeting a president is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Harrison School Superintendent Robert E. Kittle knows the feeling. He was still bubbling with excitement yesterday about President Clinton's May 22 visit to Robert C. Byrd High School.

Kittle was 25 and principal of Hepzibah grade school in Taylor County when he first met a president.

It was on West Main Street in Clarksburg 37 years ago.

"I was leaving a basketball referees' association meeting when I met John F. Kennedy on the sidewalk," said Kittle, now 62.

"I've never forgotten that meeting. He shook my hand and asked me to vote for him in the 1960 primary."

He wants as many students as possible to have the same thrill during Clinton's brief afternoon-long visit to Harrison County.

A White House staffer spent Tuesday with Kittle touring Bridgeport Middle School, Bridgeport High, Johnson Elementary, Liberty High, Nutter Fort Elementary and Byrd High.

The aide quizzed the superintendent intensely about the county's $62 million new school construction and renovation program, one of the largest in this part of the state in recent decades. County voters agreed to borrow $37.9 million alone in a 1991 school bond vote, with $22 million of that earmarked for the new Byrd High. The countywide school building program, spurred largely by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's landing of the FBI's new $200 million computerized fingerprint identification center, and the county and the state's emphasis on computer literacy, make the county a 'logical showcase' for the president's education plan, said Kittle and other officials contacted yesterday.

Details of the visit however are still sparse.

A White House advance team will meet today with Kittle and other officials to solve the hundreds of questions involved in taking the presidency on the road.

The new high school will be the site of a televised "town hall" meeting on the administration's education agenda.

A carefully-screened audience will be permitted to ask the president about his ideas for improving public education.

But the time and the location inside the school _ either in its 2,500-seat gymnasium or 650-seat auditorium _ still haven't been decided.

The meeting will look like last fall's presidential debates, a White House spokeswoman said yesterday. Clinton is expected to display his legendary mastery of policy issues and his ease before the television cameras.

Also undecided is how many state dignitaries will be on hand.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller is expected to attend. Sources say his friendship with the president and the First Lady is largely responsible for the state's role in the spotlight for his education reform campaign.

Also expected are U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Gov. Cecil Underwood and number of other top state officials and lawmakers.

Byrd could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But a spokeswoman said he was "clearly pleased and happy" that the president was going to push education at his namesake school.

"The senator believes education, particularly life-long education, is important for everyone. He knows how important it has been in his and the president's life," the Byrd staffer said.

Clinton is lobbying for national testing of every fourth-grader in reading and every eighth-grader in math and algebra by 2000.

The broad outlines of the recently-struck balanced budget agreement include his call that "every 8-year-old can read, every 12-year-old can log onto the Internet and every 18-year-old can go to college."

The agreement also includes funding for a $300 increase in Pell Grants for higher education (the largest hike in 20 years), a $10,000 tax deduction for any tuition after high school, family IRAs for tax-free savings for college tuition, and tax credits to help make the 13th and 14th years of education "as universal as high school."

Byrd is pleased the compromise _ which still faces tough scrutiny in Congress _ also calls for full funding of his decade-old federal 'Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship' program. The four-year college scholarships are awarded on academic merit.

Saying he's delighted with Clinton's visit, State School Superintendent Henry R. Marockie said it "recognizes the major educational improvements made in the state in recent years."

He, the state School Board and Gov. Underwood support the administration's voluntary national education goals '100 percent,' he said.

Harrison School Board President Peter J. Conley said he too is excited that Clinton selected the county.

He had just turned 18 when he saw President Gerald Ford at the 1976 Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, Conley recalled.

And he agrees with Kittle that "this is one of the biggest things to happen in Clarksburg in quite some time."

Updated May 15, 1997
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News of president's visit a big surprise


For 84-year-old Sam Ellis, the news nearly knocked him off his feet.

The lifelong resident of Clarksburg, like nearly everyone else, was elated over word of President Clinton's May 22 visit to Harrison County and Robert C. Byrd High School.

"It's almost unbelievable," said Ellis. "Disregarding whether you support him or not, he's an elected president. The fact that the President of the United States is coming here is a big, big honor."

Resident Tom Kupec was also caught off guard when told of the planned visit. But, he was more than happy about the announcement.

"I think it's great he would even consider coming to Clarksburg, West Virginia," said the 47-year-old Kupec, who has lived here for 20 years. "This is a fantastic opportunity for Clarksburg to show itself off and for the president to see what life is like in West Virginia."

Word of the president's visit stunned Clarksburg City Manager Percy Ashcraft. For Ashcraft, the visit will put a positive light on the city.

"I think this is an opportunity to show the country that the City of Clarksburg is on the move," Ashcraft said. "If the President of the United States can take the time to visit our city with his busy schedule, I think it says a lot about what's going on here."

What's been going on in north central West Virginia is economic recovery. With an influx of federal jobs, including thousands at the FBI facility, Clinton will be treading on optimistic ground.

He'll also be visiting one of the most modern high schools in the country in the Robert C. Byrd facility. The school will host Clinton's talk on education during his visit.

Ashcraft said Robert C. Byrd High School is the perfect setting for the president to talk about his education agenda.

"The idea when constructing the facility was to have one that would have national significance in high-tech terms and in terms of quality of education," said Ashcraft. "That's obviously being recognized by peers in the education system who pointed out the high school to the right people. This is a tribute to the county school system."

Ellis said it's also a chance to let everyone know of educational needs in the state and in the country.

"Education is very important," said Ellis. "If there's any failure we're having in this country it's education. We used to be first and today we're 14th in the world."

For Clarksburg Mayor Tom Flynn, the news of Clinton's educational town meeting was special.

"This is just great," Flynn stated. "This is something that will be memorable for everyone involved. It's not every day that the President of the United States comes to your home town."

Updated May 15, 1997
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