Gilmer superintendent says many
factors make county schools work
by Gail Marsh
STAFF WRITER
 

    Richard Butler's eyes light up when he talks about his students- all 1,188 of them. "In 1994-95, our county posted the highest college going rate for seniors for any county in the state. And the following year we had the lowest dropout rate," the Gilmer County superintendent of schools said.
    Gilmer County has the second smallest public school population of West Virginia's 55 counties, with only Wirt County having fewer students. The county lost 73 students last year and may become the state's smallest school system when enrollment is counted again in the fall, Butler said.
    Gilmer has one high school, Gilmer County High School in Glenville, for 550 students in grades seven  through 12. The county has four elementary schools located in Glenville, Normantown, Sand Fork and Troy, ranging in size from 135 students up to 200 students. In comparison, Harrison County has nearly 12,000 students in 25 schools.
    Butler said heading up a small, rural school system can have both advantages and disadvantages. "With a small system, it's easy to develop good working relationships and to have a handle on what is happening throughout the system. But it's also a challenge to try to deliver big system services on a small-system budget," he said.
    One of the 27 counties in the state with the highest poverty level, Gilmer County students have managed to rank third on standardized test scores. The county has one of the state's most successful "High Schools that Work" programs, where a majority of the school's seniors leave campus during the school day to gain on-the-job experience.
    "We've been doing most of the requirements of Senate Bill 300 (a bill passed by the state Legislature in the mid-90s to give students on-the-job training) long before the school-to-work concept ever existed. Our students can get 90 days of work-based experience at a number of locations," Butler said.
    Butler gives his staff and the community credit for the success of the small school system. "We have a community that supports education, proven by the fact that they have approved an excess levy twice since 1990 to help supplement our programs," he said.
    "And many of our teachers and staff are like me; they were raised in this county and they have children in the school system. They care what happens here because it affects them personally," he said.
    Butler also credits the system's success with the presence of Glenville State College. The college provides student teachers for the schools, and high school juniors and seniors can go on campus to take advanced courses that the high school cannot afford to offer, Butler said.
    "We can be somewhat culturally isolated in a rural community, and the college has been a big help in expanding our children's horizons. Along with the classes, they bring in such events as the Wheeling Symphony," he said.
    To help to maintain a quality program, the school system has applied for and received state and federal funds above its normal budget. The money has allowed school officials to improve facilities and offer after-school programs, Butler said.
Gilmer County High School is currently undergoing a $4 million renovation that will bring the 1950s school up to date, thanks to state School Building Authority funding. A three-year federal grant worth nearly $300,000 a year is allowing the system to offer quality after-school programs, such as tutoring, computer literacy and recreational activities.
    State and federal grants have helped Gilmer to be a technology leader among rural counties, with a fiber optics network at the high school that is state-of-the-art. New labs will be installed at each elementary school this spring. "We hope to continue to expand our programs to allow the kids to use technology as an integrated part of the classroom," he said.
    Butler said the biggest challenge for a small, rural school system will continue to be having the money to maintain facilities while ensuring that quality programs continue.
    Gilmer will cut 3.5 teachers and 2.5 service personnel this year out of a staff of 165 because of the drop in population. Because the school system is so small, the cuts were more difficult, Butler said.
    "It's hard to lay off people who you go to church with or who live in your community. It's difficult to make those kinds of decisions in a small system because these people are your friends," he said.
    The county is set to begin the construction of a new, $100 million federal corrections facility near Glenville in June. Butler hopes the 300-400 jobs that the facility brings will act as a stabilizing factor for the school system.
    "I'm hoping that the economic spin-off and possible population increase will reverse the downward trend we've experienced for years. An increase in the county's economy could make it easier for us to plan for the future," he said.



Police agencies working together
to solve crimes, collar criminals
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER
 

    After people robbed a convenience store in Bridgeport twice in about a week in February, Bridgeport police worked to solve the case. As the days stretched into a week, police were unable to develop a strong case against any suspects.
Then a break in the case came from an unusual place- a trailer in Stonewood.
    Stonewood Police Capt. Rick Miller responded to a report that a lot of people were frequenting a particular trailer in Stonewood. As he was standing at the front door of the trailer, he saw several men inside the home playing cards and allegedly smoking marijuana.
    When he knocked on the door, the men let him in and he detained them and called for back-up from another department. Anmoore Police Chief Christopher Cogar, then a patrol officer, responded and searched the trailer while Miller detained the men.
    Under a mattress in a back bedroom, Cogar made a discovery- a Halloween mask that fit the description of a disguise used in the Bridgeport robbery several days before.
    Bridgeport Police Sgt. Carl Springer was contacted and went to the Stonewood trailer to interview the suspects. Police took the mask into evidence and a short time later one of the men confessed to the crime.
Case closed.
    Local law enforcement officials this year have begun a concentrated effort to share information and work together to increase the rate of solved crimes. Now local police agencies are in the process of determining the feasibility of forming an investigations task force, similar to the Harrison County Drug Task Force. The idea is that detectives not bound by jurisdictional constraints will be able to more freely investigate crimes across the county.
    "It's like with breaking and enterings," said Bridgeport Chief Jack Clayton. "A lot of times you have the same people committing crimes across the county and all the different departments are trying to do follow-ups.
    "What we'll have is four or five officers following each other around, interviewing the same people," he said. "By virtue of sharing this information about the different crimes, we get a broader picture of what's going on."
    Without the investigators' meetings, which are held once per month, police in several different towns could be investigating the same person for different crimes and not realize it, said Shinnston Police Chief Jim Terango. "It's absolutely unbelievable," he said. "We're solving these crimes. We solve a crime every meeting."
    With so many communities centered around a major thoroughfare like Interstate 79, access from one community to another is easy and criminals also travel, said Clarksburg Police Chief Raymond Mazza. A robbery in Clarksburg, which is similar to a robbery in Bridgeport or Anmoore, could be committed by a person in Stonewood, West Milford or even out of the county.
    "We've been very successful as of late, but this is something that I hope law enforcement continues to do communicate with each other," Mazza said. "There are benefits too numerous to count from this exchange of information. Just talking to someone from another department, they may have information you don't."
    The multi-agency cooperation proved its worth in late January when eight county residents were arrested in connection with several breaking and enterings and armed robberies. Officers from Clarksburg, Shinnston and Stonewood, as well as the county sheriff's department and state police combined to make the busts. During the sweep, police arrested three people who allegedly held up the Junction BP near Shinnston.
    Then two days later, police conducted a large-scale sweep that netted six arrests on drug-related charges. "We've all been very successful throughout this year," Mazza said.
    While law enforcement officials say it is too early to tell if the cooperation is acting as a deterrent and actually lowering the crime rate, they agree that more cases are being solved.
    "This is just so efficient," Clayton said. "In the past, officers maybe didn't communicate as well with each other, but criminals don't work in a vacuum. Officers shouldn't either."



Thornton is good town for
business-but not too much

by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    THORNTON-Five women sit in a room of ceramic statues, bowls and figurines. The dust falling from their ceramic brushes adds an artist's touch to the floor and tables as the women paint and smooth the plaster snowmen, Indians and pillars.
    Three sit at a table. The two others sit in chairs nearby, all working contently. They occasionally stop for a little chatter or laughter.
It's the way Rose Gragg wants her life. A small town. A small store.
    She started Rose's Ceramics in Thornton 10 years ago in a former gas station and convenience store that her mother-in-law owned along U.S. Route 50.
    Even the toes of her porcelain dolls are painted with a pink color even though they will be covered with shoes and never seen. Gragg designs and sews the dresses and shoes for the dolls. She offers classes, but she doesn't put her collection of dolls on the market.
    She knows the dolls would bring thousands of orders and a huge sum of money- two things she doesn't want. She wants to keep doing the business her way; a way that makes enough money for her to survive but doesn't add to the stress that takes away the love, the pride and the enjoyment.
    She adds 20 hours worth of detail to each doll. "That's what made my business what it is," Gragg said. "I'm proud of what I do." Gragg works mostly as a wholesaler for ceramic stores in several states.
    She has between 15,000 to 20,000 molds and a huge kiln in her basement. She also makes her own formula of plaster slip. It's called Velvet Rose Slip and is a big seller.
    She likes being able to do all aspects of the ceramics business. And, the Thornton area makes the business thrive even more. "I have a lot of people who come here because it isn't congested," Gragg said.
    Orville Mason, owner of Debbie's Pantry on the opposite end of town, keeps the reins held back on his business, as well. Mason's store is more than a gas station and convenience store. He has a pool room and a small video rental.
Mason, a former Michigan resident, found the store while thumbing through a real estate guide in search of a campground. It had been a restaurant, a furniture store and now a gas station. "We saw the potential," Mason said.
    That potential, however, exploded as karaoke on Friday and Saturday and good food all the time kept the restaurant packed and Mason pressed for free time. He closed the restaurant and focuses more on the store now.
    He likes to chat with his customers and follow a slower pace. He often sits in one of two white, plastic lawn chairs that sit on a slightly slanted, black and white checkered floor. Between the chairs is a small wooden table piled high with newspapers, a telephone, an ash tray, a coffee cup and, on this day, a bowl of cooked sweet potatoes and onions.
"I'm known by two-thirds of the people that come here," Mason said.
    The biggest attraction in Thornton is the Pumpkin Festival every October sponsored by the 29 members of the Thornton Volunteer Fire Department. The fire hall is in the old public school building constructed in 1901 and closed in 1971.
Fire Chief Bob Gable went to the three-classroom school for 8 years in the 1940s and is trying to keep the building preserved. It still has the original blackboards and wooden floor.
    Sometimes, Gable said, a small community and an old school are worth keeping the way they are.



Plans change for Upshur Co. jail
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    The bad news is that the plan to open the region's first juvenile detention center in the old Upshur County jail has been discarded.
    The good news is that the jail is now slated to become an adult transfer center for teen-aged offenders who have completed their education at juvenile centers but can't be moved to regular prisons.
    Earlier in the week the Legislature adjourned its budget sessions without appropriating funds that officials had been anticipating to open the juvenile center.
    Instead, 'tis Cox, the secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety, found money in his budget to open the transfer center.
Upshur County officials had been counting on converting the jail into a 25-bed juvenile center, which would have a staff of 25 employees and would save the jobs of nine jail guards.
    There will be "little or no difference in employees' now that the jail will become an adult transfer center, said Upshur County Administrator William Parker.
    Using the jail as a transfer center, which will be the first in West Virginia, also solves several problems for the state.
First of all, the state has been under a court order to create such a facility for some time, Cox said, and the new center will help alleviate some of the overcrowding in juvenile centers, he said.
    In addition, it would have been considerably more expensive to turn the jail into a juvenile center because it would have required classrooms and other facilities that the jail doesn't have, Cox said.
Upshur County officials have already secured a $400,000 federal grant to renovate the jail. That money can be used to turn the jail into the transfer center, Cox said.
    The new center should make life easier on inmates and officials in the juvenile system because it will make it possible to move older, disruptive inmates out of the juvenile centers.
    "That's where a lot of our problems come from, is mixing 11- and 12-year-olds with 17- and 18-year-olds," Cox said.
The center can be opened as soon as a new sprinkler system is installed to meet safety regulations, he said. "We know how we're going to do it, it's just a matter of compliance," Cox said. "It looks positive."
    Cox said there is enough money to run the center for six months, then lawmakers will have to appropriate funds to run the center for the rest of the year. Both House and Senate Finance Committee chairs have promised the money will be available, Cox said.
    Lawmakers will then fund the center in the state's budget next year, he said.



Woman who wanted fire
victims' memorial arrested
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    A Lewis County woman who last year set up a fund to raise money to build a memorial to five children killed in a house fire in Weston in 1997 was arrested last week in Harrison County and served with at least nine worthless check warrants.
    Caroline Coleman-Lattea, 32, who lists residences in Jane Lew, Weston, Good Hope and Lost Creek in Harrison County, was in the Harrison County Correctional Center from Tuesday until Friday morning. Lewis County deputies picked her up Friday and took her to Weston where she was served with at least five other worthless check warrants in that county, said Lewis County Sheriff's Department Sgt. John Blake.
    Coleman-Lattea is also wanted in Upshur County for worthless check warrants, according to Blake. He was unsure when Upshur County deputies would serve those warrants.
    Coleman-Lattea was arrested about 8 a.m. Tuesday by Bridgeport Police officer J.F. Petroski. According to the criminal complaint filed in magistrate court, Petroski had previously determined the inspection sticker on her car had expired in April 1998.
    She was stopped Tuesday on Center Street and Petroski found her driver's license was suspended for unpaid citations. She was also charged with having no proof of insurance and a registration violation.
    If convicted, Coleman-Lattea faces a fine of up to $100 and/or up to 10 days in jail for each worthless check warrant. She also faces a mandatory 48-hour jail term and a fine of between $50 and $500 for driving with a suspended license.
She also faces a fine of between $200 and $5,000 for not having insurance, a fine of up to $500 for the registration violation and a fine of up to $100 or up to 10 days in jail for the expired inspection sticker.
    In October 1998, Coleman-Lattea set up a savings account at Progressive Bank in Weston in the names of the children killed in the fire. At the time, she said she hoped to raise enough money to buy the land where the children lost their lives and erect a monument to commemorate their lives.
    However, a representative of Progressive Bank said Friday the bank closed the account "a long time ago" but would not comment about when the account was closed, if any money had ever been deposited, or why the bank chose to terminate the account. It is unknown if the check writing charges have anything to do with the account that Coleman-Lattea set up in October.
    The fund was intended to memorialize Seronica Castner, 10, Kimberly Castner, 9, and Brandon Castner, 8, along with Rayshell Ables, 5, and Jimmy Ables, 3.
    The children's parents, Barbara M. Brown, Ricky Lee Brown and Janette Ables are facing state and federal charges in connection with the fire, including arson relating in death. The trio's federal trial is slated to begin in September.
Paul Castner, Barbara Brown's ex-husband, was convicted Wednesday in federal court in Wheeling for lying to investigators about the fire.
    Federal prosecutors say the parents set the fire to cash in on insurance money on both the house and the children.



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