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Cabell sees highest graduation rates in county history

HUNTINGTON — In 2019, Cabell County experienced its highest high school graduation rates since rates started being recorded by the West Virginia Department of Education, said Superintendent Ryan Saxe.

At the same time, Saxe said overall student enrollment continues to decline, which is on trend with a decades-long loss in students statewide. This trend will likely result in less money for the county as the state school aid funding formula is largely based on enrollment.

Saxe made the announcements during a Cabell County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Graduation rates are certified by the State Department of Education in the October following students’ graduation to ensure spring and summer are included in the data. The most recently released data reflects the 2018-19 school year.

In Cabell County, 88.9% of students graduated within four years, which is the highest rate in nearly a decade. For comparison, that rate was 71.9% in the 2011-12 school year.

“The rate increases represent numerous struggling students who have found success by completing their required credits and earning a diploma,” Saxe said. “I’m beyond proud of our students, of our district, our school administrators, and each school’s teaching and counseling staff for their relentless work to ensure more students are successful and they graduated last school year.”

Those results also reflect record-setting rates for both Cabell Midland High School and Huntington High School, he said.

Huntington High saw graduation rates in 2019 at 82%. This is an increase from the 2017-18 school year, when rates were recorded at 74.5%. Cabell Midland finished 2019 with a gradation rate of 95%, an increase from 2017-18 rates of 89%.

“Those represent the highest graduation rates for both high schools in their history and since graduation rates have been recorded by the West Virginia Department of Education,” he said.

The special education graduation rate also increased by 9% over the previous school year, Saxe said.

With the positive graduation rate news, Saxe also delivered news that the county lost 323 students in 2019, finishing the year with 12,111 students.

This is a decrease from the 2014-15 school year, which was the year with the highest enrollment ever recorded at 13,204 students.

Statewide, those enrollment numbers reflect about a 1.6% decrease, with a vast majority of counties losing students. The statewide school aid formula is largely tied to enrollment numbers, determining how much money each county will be allocated for that school year.

Saxe said it’s still too early to consider how the county’s budget might be affected, but he warned board members that less money is to be expected by the 2020-21 school year.

In West Virginia, buck hunting looms large

CHARLESTON — So much for the preliminaries. All over West Virginia, hunters are waiting for the Big Kahuna.

That’s the term state wildlife chief Paul Johansen uses to describe the firearm season for buck deer, and it fits. When the season opens Monday, Nov. 25, more than 250,000 hunters will take to the woods in pursuit of their favorite game animal. By the time the season ends, those hunters will have pumped roughly $230 million into the Mountain State economy.

“It’s huge,” said Johansen, chief of the Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife section. “Year in and year out, it’s our most significant hunting season. It’s what draws people to the woods, and it cannot be overstated or exaggerated.”

For 13 days, the state experiences what can only be described as “buck fever.” Schools close. Employees take leave or go on vacation. Some businesses go as far as to close their doors for a few days.

But not all. Out in the countryside, where people go to hunt, business booms.

“The best thing about the season’s economic impact is that the money flows out of the cities and into the rural areas,” Johansen said. “Hunters are in the mom-and-pop stores, buying ice, gasoline, Beanie Weenies — you name it.”

If the season goes as expected, those hunters will bag 40,000 to 45,000 antlered bucks and as many as 30,000 antlerless deer. An average deer yields about 40 pounds of venison. So, by the time the season closes Dec. 7, hunters will have added 2.8 million to 3 million pounds of low-fat red meat to their families’ food reserves.

Wildlife officials time the season to begin near the peak of the whitetail mating season.

“Mating behavior has a significant impact on deer behavior,” Johansen said. “Bucks have their minds on something other than eating, and that makes them more vulnerable to the gun.”

The length of the mating season, or rut, can vary a bit from year to year. Due to variations in the calendar, the season’s opening day can hit the peak of the rut or miss it slightly.

Johansen said this year’s opening day should be ideal.

“We’re talking prime time,” he added. “The rut should be in absolute full swing. Hunters should expect to see a lot of movement related to mating activity during the first week of the season.”

That should be good news to hunters, who focus their efforts heavily on the season’s first three days. Traditionally, those days account for more than 50% of the harvest.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. With so much activity focused on those first three days, weather becomes an important factor in hunters’ success. In 2015, for example, hunters enjoyed near-perfect weather — cold and clear, with a light coating of snow on the ground. The buck kill, which had averaged a little more than 50,000 in the previous three years, jumped to nearly 61,000. In 2017 and 2018, with less-than-ideal conditions on at least one of the three days, the harvest stayed near 44,000.

The buck firearm season used to focus exclusively on antlered bucks, but since 1999 properly licensed hunters have also been allowed to take antlerless deer.

“The antlerless component of the buck season is the primary tool we use to regulate deer populations,” Johansen said. “The buck season serves as a primary attractant for hunters who might not otherwise hunt for antlerless deer.”

The antlerless-deer option has accomplished what DNR officials wanted it to. Hunters still kill more bucks than does, but the ratio is not as extreme as it once was. In the 1990s, when whitetail populations were much higher, hunters routinely killed 15,000 to 25,000 more bucks than does. In recent seasons, the gap has narrowed to less than 15,000.

When biologists recommended antlerless-deer hunting in the buck season, they said giving hunters the option of taking a doe would make them less inclined to kill young bucks. They predicted that over time hunters would kill fewer yearling bucks and more in the 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old range.

That has happened.

Johansen said that, 30 years ago, as many as 70% of the bucks brought into game-checking stations were yearlings with spike or four-point antlers. In recent years, 38% of the bucks have been yearlings. An “average” buck is now slightly more than 2 1/2 years old with a six- to eight-point rack.

Many of the largest-antlered bucks taken over the past two to three decades have come from counties located south and west of Interstates 64 and 77. Johansen said there are still big bucks there, but he added that hunters shouldn’t hesitate to look elsewhere.

“One never knows,” he said. “We’re seeing some dandy bucks coming out of the Ohio River counties as well. There are also some big deer in the high eastern mountains, especially for hunters who are willing to hike into remote areas. Getting off the beaten track creates an opportunity to luck into an older-age deer simply because those areas receive less hunting pressure.”

Deer hunting with firearms is allowed in 51 of the state’s 55 counties. The closed counties — Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming — have been archery-only since the 1970s.

During firearm seasons, all deer hunters must wear at least 400 square inches worth of fluorescent orange clothing.

Middle-schoolers vie for chance at state robotics competition

HUNTINGTON — Clad in pink poodle skirts, pink ascots and rhinestone-studded T-shirts, the Putnam Pink Ladies worked together to move their Lego robot around a tabletop map, pushing blocks into spaces and other things to rack up points. By the end of two minutes, the ladies held a 150-point lead over everyone else in West Virginia participating in the FIRST Lego League Robotics qualifying rounds.

The Pink Ladies, comprising three eighth-graders from Hurricane Middle School, were joined by teams from all over the state Saturday at the Robert C. Byrd Institute in downtown Huntington, all vying for a chance to participate in the state robotics competition next month at Fairmont State University.

FIRST Lego League teams build a robot using a Lego Mindstorms kit as they work to research and solve a real-world problem in a challenge that is set each year.

RCBI, in coordination with the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, has put on the state-level qualifying competition for six years. The competition is for middle school students, ages 9-14.

The focus is getting kids engaged in STEM, but it also teaches them teamwork and communication skills.

Mike Friel, director of communications for RCBI, said the institute sees the competition as an opportunity to engage young people in STEM, which is becoming increasingly more important to manufacturing.

“We are here to support manufacturers, and one of the things that is needed is a highly skilled workforce that knows the types of things these kids are learning,” Friel said.

Along with building a robot, the teams must find a solution to a real-world problem and present it. The Warwood Elementary School team, located just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia, did their project on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. The bridge, built in 1847, has been closed by the state due to structural issues.

The students modeled their solution off the Veterans Memorial Bridge between Weirton, West Virginia, and Steubenville, Ohio — a cable-stayed bridge. They hypothesize that adding similar cables would make the suspension bridge stronger.

“It’s really neat to see middle-schoolers come up with ideas like this,” said Brad Joseph, a Warwood parent. “In my industry, I see adults that can’t work together like this. They all find their strengths. We have designers, builders, coders, speakers. Everyone gives something different.”

The Pink Ladies — Olivia Smith, Kaitlyn Gooch and Paisley Tabor — had success with their project last year, being one of 100 groups across the country to be honored with a Global Innovation Award. The year before that, the ladies won the state competition.

The girls started their team five years ago when they were in fourth grade. Tabor was on her 4-H club’s robotics team, but she wanted to start one with her closest friends, she said.

Gooch, who joined in sixth grade, said the programing and math behind it was what interested her. Smith said she’s stayed because it’s enjoyable and it’s been fun to travel the state.

While Tabor wouldn’t reveal their biggest secret to success, Smith said communication helps.

“We are good at getting along,” Smith said. “We have good compatibility.”

The Pink Ladies will age out of FIRST Lego League this year. They may move on to the Putnam Area Robotics Team, or PARTs. They said they will miss having their small, close-knit team and getting to compete with the friends from other schools they’ve made over the years.

RCBI will also host the high school-age robotics competition, VEX, on Jan. 25 at Marshall University.