Legislative News

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October 18, 2016 - Volume 36 Issue 10

By Jim Wallace

Many legislators in recent years have been interested in finding ways to cut down on the costs of public education by finding ways for county school districts to share services and personnel, possibly by working through their Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). But there also have been various proposals for changing RESAs or eliminating them, and views about how RESAs should be governed have changed over the years.

As a result of a series of regional and statewide meetings, county board members, superintendents and RESA representatives have reached some consensus on what should be done, but that consensus is still somewhat tentative and does not cover all the issues. Nevertheless, Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, faces the challenge of presenting a report on the findings to the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and state Board of Education, probably in December.

Much of that report will be based on comments made by a “writing team” of county board members, superintendents and RESA representatives that met this fall to make sense of what came out of all of the previous meetings. Participants broke into four groups to discuss different sets of issues, and then all of them came together to find common ground. Among their points of agreement was that the current system for governance of the RESAs – with county districts rather than the state in control – should continue but be reviewed periodically. They also agreed that county school boards should be able to determine the programmatic direction of the RESAs.

The process began in 2013 with the legislature’s passage of House Bill 2940, which called for meetings of all county board members and superintendents within each RESA to determine what services might be shared across district lines. Those meetings were held in 2013, 2014 and 2016. The report that now is being prepared is to provide a cumulative view of the results from all of those meetings, as well as report on insights and trends in regard to shared services. In addition, it is to evaluate the effectiveness, structure and importance of the regional meetings.

“Why don’t we have a super-RESA meeting, where every year all the RESA directors and their councils would get together at least once a year to share ideas right before the fall or the winter conference, so you would be all ready to tell us what you’re doing and what could be done?” — Howard O’Cull

On that last point, the consensus of participants in the writing team meeting was that the required regional meetings should be eliminated. They said one of the best results of this year’s regional meetings was learning about what other RESAs were doing, but having the large regional meetings were not the best way to share such information. One suggestion was for the WVSBA to include meetings for participants based on regions at its statewide conferences.

“Why don’t we have a super-RESA meeting, where every year all the RESA directors and their councils would get together at least once a year to share ideas right before the fall or the winter conference, so you would be all ready to tell us what you’re doing and what could be done?” O’Cull asked.

Other suggestions that came out of one of the subgroups at the writing team meeting included:

  • Having regional councils for each RESA do better at communicating what the RESAs do and coordinating their services;
  • Putting shared services on the agendas of regional councils each month;
  • Having RESA directors share such information at the meetings they hold with each other; and
  • Having regional councils direct RESAs on what services they should provide.

Participants in the writing team meeting also suggested that districts should be encouraged to share services across RESA lines and that districts of similar sizes across the state might consider sharing certain services.

Nick Zervos, executive director of RESA 6, noted that one RESA already has a food cooperative that extends to other RESAs, while another RESA has a different type of purchasing cooperative. However, he said, many county school board members don’t realize what’s going on because there is frequent turnover among board members.

O’Cull said a clearinghouse is needed to explain what RESAs are doing. He suggested the WVSBA’s website might be used for that purpose.

RESAs could do more.

Another subgroup determined that RESAs have the capacity to provide additional services to county boards, but it depends on funding, the services requested and the return on investment. Members agreed that the RESAs work to meet districts’ collective needs, but not all of them are fulfilled. Regional needs are determined by districts through their regional councils, so the regional councils must work to meet those needs, they said.

The subgroup suggested that RESA services could be prorated based on number of students affected or number of schools. Members found consistency in how services are delivered, but the services depend on what the needs are. For example, one RESA might have a greater need for Medicaid services, while another might have greater need for child nutrition services.

To ensure quality of services, the subgroup suggested using a best-of-class model in which each service would have a set of standards according to the results expected. The service would use proven practices with known results for both large and small counties and cost per pupil. Regional councils would decide on cost-benefit analyses and would need enough information to do that. Regional councils and districts’ central offices would determine which services are most important based on their cost-effectiveness.

The subgroup acknowledged that RESAs would have to displace some current services to provide greater administrative services to county boards. This would affect grant-based services particularly. This could prove difficult because many of the grant-based services, in fact, are largely constituted by state Board of Education “flow-through dollars.” The upshot, according to the working group, is that something must go if something else is to be added for the same money. Each RESA would have to look at its capacity and the correlation of needs and costs for each county.

More than central office services could be shared.

A third subgroup expressed concern that not enough attention has been devoted to implementing the recommendations of past reports from the regional meetings about shared services. Members noted that some districts already are very involved in sharing services, such as a child nutrition director, but those efforts have received little attention.

The subgroup said there was a theme in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s 2013 State of the State address about the correlation between a declining population and the ability to combine services. But members said it is important to understand that the population left in some counties is extremely needy, so the amount of services needed would not necessarily decline with the population, and in some cases, the need for services could increase. Such districts are left with a greater proportion of low-socioeconomic people and special-needs children.

One suggestion from the subgroup was for state code to be expanded from considering only central office administration for shared services to considering all services, including instructional staff, heating-ventilation workers, electricians and legal services.

Further, the subgroup found that the intent of the law is good because it is about cost-saving, but saving money doesn’t necessarily mean that children get best practices. Those two things don’t always go together. In addition, members said, it is more difficult for larger counties to share services.

Formula could have incentives.

A fourth subgroup considered innovation. Members talked about a regional pilot through various regions that would test legal and financial issues infused with technology. It would be data-driven and look primarily at core services. However, the subgroup recognized that switching to shared services becomes difficult when it costs the jobs of some people. But members said it would be important to define core services, such as legal, financial and payroll services. From a business person’s perspective, the subgroup said, there is a lot of unnecessary complexity, much of it dealing with personnel laws.

The subgroup suggested that the School Aid Formula should have incentives and consider what the state could recoup from shared services and what could school districts could benefit from them. For example, if 20 percent is saved, perhaps the state could get 10 percent and the counties could get the other 10 percent.

Other suggestions from the subgroup included:

  • Using learning management system technology in the delivery of professional development to reduce labor costs, perhaps beginning in pilot projects in one or two regions;
  • Having a clearinghouse for information about how various districts are sharing services;
  • Developing a scorecard for RESAs, county boards and Education Department; and
  • Considering a blurred lines concept for county boards, especially for back office services, although territorialism and resistance to change could be problems for such a concept.

The subgroup decided there are opportunities for RESAs to create niches and develop talent. Each RESA could specialize in something so not all RESAs would have to have the same skill sets. For example, perhaps one RESA could do payroll.

Zervos said that RESAs do specialize in certain core services. For example, one trains substitute teachers and another developed an alternative certification model for the state.

But Zervos said RESAs are hampered in being effective because they must compete for employees with county districts that can pay $10,000 to $20,000 more per year. Legislators treat RESA employees as second class citizens, he said, because they don’t get pay raises when teachers get pay raises.

“If county boards aren’t willing to pick up the tab for those people, they get no pay raise,” Zervos said, adding that RESAs have had to freeze their pay scales because of state budget cuts. “We had more money coming into the RESAs eight years ago than we have coming in now, significantly less. We only get about $5 million now in the State Aid Formula. That’s all been cut. So if you talk about a competitive edge, we have no competitive edge.”

RESA employees also have no seniority, he said. All of them are will-and-pleasure employees, Zervos said, and there is a lack of stability because legislators talk every year about whether to discontinue the RESAs. That keeps people from applying for RESA jobs, he said. Nevertheless, he said, RESAs provide a high return on investment.

O’Cull said that, if districts want services from RESAs, they should hold the regional councils and regional directors responsible. The districts need to have leverage to make sure RESAs meet their needs, he said. “There may be some things that have to be displaced if they don’t really meet the needs of the region,” he said.

Zervos noted that federal and state dollars support the local dollars going into RESAs. He said counties save a lot of money and get a lot of services through the RESAs.

“We had more money coming into the RESAs eight years ago than we have coming in now…. So if you talk about a competitive edge, we have no competitive edge.” — Nick Zervos

In regard to the whole set of discussions about RESAs, O’Cull said, “These meetings were never set up to discuss RESAs. This year, they got turned into that, and as a result of that, we’ve had this discussion, which I think is very healthy. But these meetings were originally set up to discuss sharing of central office administrative services.”

However, he added, “This is one of the best discussions we’ve had because it really points out some of the inequities we have in the state, some of the variance of opinion we have in the state about educational services, declining enrollments, and we’re all in here to do the right thing. I think RESAs do a lot of right things. County boards do a lot of right things. We got to have the right mix because there are people that feel like there should be fewer school districts and fewer central offices.”

“We have an infrastructure here that we can use. We can enhance it. We may even want to rearrange it, but the fact is it is of great value to us. But people don’t know what that is.” — Barbara Parsons

Speaking in support of the RESA system, Barbara Parsons, president-elect of the WVSBA and president of the Monongalia County school board, said, “We have an infrastructure here that we can use. We can enhance it. We may even want to rearrange it, but the fact is it is of great value to us. But people don’t know what that is.”

O’Cull suggested that the WVSBA could feature one RESA each month on the association’s website. It could tell about the services that RESA provides with a link to the RESA’s website, he said.

Toward the end of the writing team meeting, O’Cull said, “The issue here is leverage, accountability, and then more important than any of that is communications about what you do as agencies.”

Editor’s Note: As required by HB2940, WVSBA is to present the report of the 2016 regional meetings to both the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability and the state Board of Education. The 62-page report, which also includes results of the table working groups meeting in July and August, is readied for presentation in December as stated above.

 

By Jim Wallace

Editor’s Note: The West Virginia Board of Education, meeting October 12, approved “cut scores” which determine school grades. For more information visit http://wvde.state.wv.us/a-f/

County school board members and superintendents around West Virginia are likely to face many tough questions in November, after the state school board releases the first set of grades on the A-through-F system to schools across the state. Many of them received the opportunity to prepare for that by participating in a session at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Conference ’16.

The session was designed both to be informative and to give participants the chance to try out potential responses to questions from different groups of people.

Doug Lambert, superintendent of the Grant County schools, explained that the state board’s Policy 2320 on the grading system resulted from Senate Bill 359, the big education reform legislation from 2013. One requirement of that bill was for a full 180 instructional days in the school calendar. Another was to implement accountability and accreditation standards, including the grading system.

“There is some merit in this that the inputs are not equaling the outputs. I think we can be better. We will be better.” — Doug Lambert

“There is some merit in this that the inputs are not equaling the outputs,” Lambert said. “I think we can be better. We will be better.”

Under that policy, he said, A represents “a school of distinctive performance,” B is “commendable,” C is “acceptable,” D is “unacceptable,” and F is “lowest student performance.” There is a chart for how points are to be tabulated for each type of school. Lambert said there is an emphasis on third-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

An important feature of the system is that schools will be graded on a Bell Curve. “The majority of schools will be in the middle – the majority,” Lambert said. “You’ll have an equal number of A’s and F’s, equal number of B’s and D’s, and then you have C’s.” To illustrate how the grade will be distributed, he had all of the board members and superintendents from Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) 3, 7 and 8 stand up. With 128 people in the room at the time, he said, those people represented the proportion of schools that will receive C’s.

The grades won’t stay with that same distribution in future years, Lambert said, because a data point has been put into the system for improvement. That could reduce the number of F’s and increase the number of schools getting higher grades in the years ahead, but it would not decrease their grades, he said.

“Our present reality, as you well know, is a grade will be given to each school based primarily on academic performance, approximately 83 percent on one test,” Lambert said. “That’s high school.” Grade schools will be graded on only language arts, math and attendance with language arts and math test results accounting for 93 percent of the grades.

Lambert said the grades are currently being determined, and the plan is to make them public after the state school board meeting in November.

“It is what it is, and we will deal with it in the appropriate manner,” he said. “Folks, we’re going to have a lot of C’s…. Just remember, C is acceptable. Sure, we’d like to have all A’s and B’s. I would, and I’m sure every superintendent and board member in this audience would. Our reality is it’s not going to happen.”

Robin Daquilante, superintendent of Tyler County schools, said school board members and superintendents need to prepare to talk about the grades with stakeholders. Students are the biggest group, followed by teachers, parents, the business community and the general public, she said.

“We know that no one score or grade tells the whole story of any school.” — Robin Daquilante

“We know that no one score or grade tells the whole story of any school,” Daquilante said. “There are a lot of things that go on in the day-to-day business of school with our learners that is not reflected in an achievement test score. We also need to remember that a school receiving a low grade may have many great things going on at that school, while a school receiving a high grade may have some areas that need improvement.”

Board members figure out how to respond.

Blaine Hess, superintendent of the Jackson County schools, began the session by having attendees work in groups organized by RESAs come up with descriptions for each grade. These were among the suggestions:

  • F: “failing school,” “failing our kids,” “nowhere to go but up,” “we’re not doing the job”
  • D: “poor performance,” “need more effort in some areas,” “disappointment,” “loss of confidence,” “troubled school”
  • C: “average,” “adequate,” “competent,” “not very good,” “just getting by,” “better than failing,” “needs improvement”
  • B: “not the best but doing OK,” “good, above average,” “doing well but not quite good enough,” “on the right track,” “good but not an A”
  • A: “great school,” “best school,” “exceeds standards,” “outstanding”

Later, after hearing from Lambert and Daquilante, the board members and superintendents again worked within their RESA groups to come up with suggestions for explaining grades to certain segments of the population. Here is what they came up with:

In regard to speaking to the business community, Daquilante said she heard one good comment that a business does not base its success just on sales during Christmas week but instead considers the whole year.

At the end of the session, Marion County Supt. Gary Price said the question came up about whether a school board should provide leadership or be an administrative body. He said the answer is: both.

“Sometimes you’re given an opportunity for leadership; sometimes you’re faced with the responsibility of being an administrative body,” Price said. “I have always felt that every educational leader should commit the Serenity Prayer: God give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

“Regardless of what concerns we might have about how parents, the community and the press will react, it is here to stay and is not going away.” — Gary Price

Price added that board members and superintendents had better be prepared for difficult questions. “Regardless of what concerns we might have about how parents, the community and the press will react, it is here to stay and is not going away,” he said.

His advice was to think about dealing with that reality. “As a former teacher, I can assure you that grades don’t always match expectations,” Price said. “Students would be heard to say, ‘I earned an A,’ and might also be heard to say, ‘Mr. Price gave me a D.’ They never claimed that one. You won’t decide the grade, but you will be asked to explain it and even defend it. If you can keep your head when those around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, I would simply say at this point, good luck. Stay positive. Take the high road, and develop a plan to improve.”

  • General public:
    • RESA 8: Because they are based on a Bell Curve, the grades are different than the grades students receive in a classroom. One strategy is to capitalize on the information the state has put out to educate the public, although that might be hit or miss as some people understand it better than others. Explain that the grade is one assessment and does not reflect the continuum of instruction and achievement that goes on in the schools. Help people understand that a C is not bad. Emphasize that kids are more than just a test score.
    • RESA 1: People need to understand what the Bell Curve means. Explain that the scores are largely based on results of one test. Explain that schools are more than academics, and other good things go on there. Recognize that D and F schools have challenges and put plans in place to address them proactively. Ask for specific help, such as for improving attendance. Remind them that a C represents an acceptable level of student proficiency.
  • Parents:
    • RESA 7: For D and F schools, help parents understand the grade is only one measure. Boards need to be prepared to give them ideas to help them grow. Help them understand that we’re all in this together. For a C school, let parents know that’s the grade a majority of schools will get.
    • RESA 6: Give them succinct explanations of what the grades mean. Talk at PTA meetings and local school improvement council meetings. Remind them the grade is only one criterion for a school.
  • Business community:
    • RESA 5: Most schools will receive C’s, so that is an acceptable grade. The whole idea is to push achievement. This will be the first grade. What matters is how schools will move beyond that first grade. The grade is just one measure of a school. It was more of a struggle to come up with what to say about a D school.
    • RESA 2: Explain the Bell Curve and how a grade of C is acceptable. Ask the business community how to work together to make schools better.
  • Teachers
    • RESA 4: This is a difficult group to develop talking points for because teachers own the grades. The system doesn’t necessarily show a school’s performance accurately. An A school shows proficiency, but don’t over-glorify it because the school can fall easily to a lower grade. Don’t over-glorify the A’s or undervalue the F’s. When speaking with teachers, be sure not to chastise. Look at what is good in a school. Support the self-esteem of the school. This is a flawed system because if all schools would perform at the same level, they still would have to be spread out across the Bell Curve.
  • Students
    • RESA 3: At an A school, let students know they have done well. Ask them how to build on it and sustain it in the future. Ask them how to celebrate it as a student body. Discuss the factors that led to the grade. If a school receives a D, explain the grading system thoroughly. Celebrate the strengths within the grade. Let students know you will focus on the strengths and have a course of action to address the weaknesses. Don’t place the blame on students.

     

    By Jim Wallace

    The vice president of the state school board and the state superintendent of schools are expecting West Virginia’s public education system will benefit from the grades that schools will start to receive this year.

    “I think for the first time in the history of the state, we will actually accredit our schools based on what our students are doing in the classroom.” — Lloyd Jackson

    “I think for the first time in the history of the state, we will actually accredit our schools based on what our students are doing in the classroom,” Lloyd Jackson, vice president of the state board, told legislators at the latest meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Education.

    In a few months, he said, schools will be awarded grades based on this system:

    • A = distinctive student performance • B = commendable student performance • C = acceptable student performance • D= unacceptable student performance • F = lowest student performance

    County school districts also will receive accreditation. “A county will receive full accreditation if all their schools receive a C or above or if their schools that have less than a C are making acceptable annual improvement,” Jackson said.

    School grades, at least on the high school level, will be based roughly 83 percent on student performance, he said, so the schools will be judged based on what students do in the classroom. The other 17 percent will be based on non-performance items, such as attendance, graduation rates, and passage of advanced-placement and dual-credit courses, he said. Of the 83 percent based on student performance, roughly 55 percent will be based on growth and 45 percent on student proficiency, he said.

    “That means if our schools are growing, if they are improving and their students are improving, they can do very well in our A through F system, even if they don’t have quite the proficiency rates of some other schools,” Jackson said, adding it was designed that way because proficiency tends to correlate with socioeconomic conditions. “We want to be sure that every school has a chance to do what it can do, and that is grow and improve their scores.”

    Jackson said the state board will determine what scores will be needed for each grade using the 2015-2016 school year as the baseline. Those scoring levels will remain the same for the foreseeable future or at least until 65 percent of the schools reach grades of A or B, he said.

    “That means the schools will know what their targets are to improve,” Jackson said. “We won’t change the scale on them every year, and they will know where they need to be.”

    Consistency is necessary, he said. “For us to do this year in and year out and fairly award grades to schools, we can’t constantly be changing our standards,” Jackson said. “Our assessments need to be aligned, and they need to be consistent. Our accountability system has to operate over a number of years to be a kind of indicator of growth we want to see. And yes, we have to build capacity in those schools, but in order to know where to do that, it’s dependent on the results of our system.”

    “The state board has no intention of stepping in the first year when a school isn’t as successful as they should be.” — Lloyd Jackson

    When schools lack the capacity to assist their students to meet the standards, those who oversee the schools must help them to build that capacity, he said. “Counties have the first opportunity to do this,” Jackson said. “The state board has no intention of stepping in the first year when a school isn’t as successful as they should be.”

    But if the county districts don’t do their jobs, the state board has a constitutional duty to see that it happens, he said. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money, Jackson said, because the two top elements in improving schools are leadership and teacher effectiveness.

    Jackson noted that the federal government now requires every state to have a standards-based accountability system for public education. The requirements include: standards, assessments, accountability and capacity-building.

    Urging legislators not to confuse standards with curriculum, Jackson said that standards are what students are expected to know and be able to do, while curriculum is the instructional methods used to accomplish that. The state board of education is responsible for the standards, while county school boards, administrators and teachers are responsible for curriculum, he said. Last year, the state board and the Education Department reviewed the standards and collected about 250,000 comments from more than 5,000 people, which Jackson said led to the adoption of the current standards.

    For assessments to be valid, they must be aligned with the standards, he said. Those assessments are given to students from grades three through 11. Jackson said students spend less than 1 percent of the school year taking the annual statewide test.

    Federal law guides state actions.

    State Supt. Michael Martirano explained further that the state now is following the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That is the federal government’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was rooted in civil rights, he said.

    ESSA provides for flexibility among the states, he said, but certain elements are non-negotiable. For example, Martirano said, every state must have high academic standards to prepare students for college or careers. West Virginia updated its standards to do that, he said, and many other states are working to catch up on that. He said teachers have pleaded for standards to remain consistent and not be changed every year.

    West Virginia has met the federal government’s required level of accountability, Martirano said, and that is a non-negotiable requirement of the federal law. The state’s initial plans for accountability lacked the metrics needed to provide feedback for improvements, he said, but the new system has multiple measures, including graduation rate, attendance and student growth.

    “We want to say, ‘If your graduation rate is 65 percent, you’d better improve that.’” — Supt. Michael Martirano

    “We want to say, ‘If your graduation rate is 65 percent, you’d better improve that, ’Martirano said. “I firmly believe that the number one indicator of the success of a quality educational system in the state or at the local level is the graduation rate.”

    In the last couple of years, West Virginia’s average graduation rate has increased from 81 percent to 86.5 percent, which is higher than the national average.

    “I’m smiling right now,” Martirano told legislators. Hinting at a report that had not yet been released, he said the graduation rate for the last graduating class “may be a little higher than what it currently is.”

    The goal is to have all schools in the state with at least a 90 percent graduation rate, which only one state has achieved. “I’m convinced that West Virginia is going to be the second state to do it,” Martirano said.

    The federal government considers any school with a graduation rate of lower than 67 percent to be a failure, he said. “I’m pleased to tell you that there’s not one high school in West Virginia below that threshold,” Martirano said. “And that is a huge accomplishment when many schools in America are way below that and down into the abysmal levels of 20 and 30 percent and sometimes in the teens.”

    Many people, including legislators, have expressed consternation about the requirement for 180 days of instruction, he said, but he believes that children are better off with more time on task.

    Martirano also said that West Virginia is one of six states meeting all the national standards for early childhood education. “We are in a state that values front-loading the information, indicating that we want all children reading by grade three,” he said. “If a child can’t read by grade three, how can they read to learn?”

    Education Week’s Quality Counts publication ranks West Virginia 33rd now, Martirano said, and the state continues to move up in terms of all the benchmarks for improvement. For example, he said, more students are taking advanced-placement and dual-credit courses. Also, he said, West Virginia was the only state to see an increase in eighth-grade reading scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

    In the state’s annual summative assessment, scores in English/language arts showed growth in proficiency at all grade levels, Martirano said. The data can be used for interventions, he said.

    “This is the first time that I can stand with a level of enthusiasm and say we’re using that data now, combined with other assessment pieces, to make instructional decisions to reallocate resources because equity and access are critical.” — Supt. Michael Martirano

    “This is the first time that I can stand with a level of enthusiasm and say we’re using that data now, combined with other assessment pieces, to make instructional decisions to reallocate resources because equity and access are critical,” Martirano said. “Equal distribution of funding and resources is not equity, so we need that data to provide different interventions.”

    Martirano expressed pride that students showed a six-point gain in one year in third grade math with 50 percent of them at the higher levels of proficiency. But he is concerned that the scores taper off in higher grades. Test time comparison by grade shows students in higher grades are spending less time on the tests, he said. The estimated time to complete the tests is 240 minutes, but eleventh-graders gave only 118 minutes on average. He said he was “very chagrined” that students take less time on the tests as they get older and wants to find ways to change that.

    “I’m greatly concerned that our young people at the high school level aren’t giving us the time that they need to show us what they can truly do in terms of demonstrated skills,” Martirano said.

    Some legislators and others have suggested getting rid of the Smarter Balanced test and using the ACT instead, but Jackson said that would not be a smart move. “The state board is not against people taking the ACT test,” he said. “That’s not the issue. The state board doesn’t support substituting the ACT test for what we do today. The ACT test isn’t particularly aligned with our standards.”

    Only about half of West Virginia students go to college, Jackson added, so the ACT would not be meaningful to them and thus not an incentive for doing well on the test. Also, he said, if schools would not assess students in ninth and 10th grades and just wait until 11th grade to give the ACT, teachers in 10th and 11th grades would not get the value of knowing how their students are doing when they get them.

    Martirano said that time on task matters, and that applies to test-taking. He knows that some students draw Christmas trees on the tests or select every other answer because they don’t care, so he wants to find ways to give them incentives to do well.

    Jackson added, “I think every parent ought to know what their kids are doing when they take that test.” He said the Education Alliance is in the middle of a study of assessments. Something must be done to improve students’ efforts on the tests, he said, because the scores don’t reflect the students’ knowledge.

    Year-round school might be needed.

    Delegate Denise Campbell, R-Randolph, complained that the requirement for schools to have 180 days of instruction is difficult for rural counties to meet. Jackson responded that most countries the United States competes with require students to go to school for 200 or more days each year.

    “If our kids miss 10 or 11 days a year, compared to them, our kids are getting two to three years less education,” he said. “We’re trying to compete with those people internationally.”

    “We’re well past the time in this state when we ought to looking at year-round school.” — Lloyd Jackson

    Districts now have total flexibility on how to get the 180 days in, Jackson said. “We’re well past the time in this state when we ought to looking at year-round school,” he added. “We all know that.”

    Year-round classes would allow schools to get 180 days in and keep students safe in the winter, Jackson said. “We hope that would percolate up from the county level,” he said, because the legislature doesn’t want to pass such a law and the state board doesn’t want to require it. Nevertheless, he said, somebody needs to take a serious look at it.

    Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, said he read that the average student misses 13 days a year of school, so he wondered what is the average number of days that teachers miss each year?

    Martirano said he is greatly concerned about the number of days that teachers miss. One problem is that West Virginia ranks 47th in teacher salaries, he said, so many teachers in the Eastern Panhandle travel out of state for jobs that pay more.

    Another problem he cited is that teachers have 15 sick days and personal days built into their contracts. He is concerned about the adjustment to the retirement system the legislature made a few years ago that prohibited employees from banking leave days and using them for credit for retirement.

    “That move created a mass concern for me because young teachers who come into the profession, who don’t see longevity in terms of that 30 years, are now using their sick days and their personal days as days off,” Martirano said. They use the days because they have no incentive to save them, he said, adding that he is very disappointed in the rate of absences of teachers.

    Further progress on education audit findings is up to legislators.

    At another meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Education, a representative of the West Virginia Board of Education told legislators that they will have to take action if many more recommendations of the education efficiency audit released in 2012 are to be implemented. A legislative analyst has suggested that more savings in the education system might be obtained at the local level.

    Donna Peduto, director of operations for the board, told the Joint Standing Committee on Education that about 70 percent of the recommendations of the audit produced by Public Works, LLC, have been implemented or are in progress. Most of the rest require legislative action, she said. The audit, which made 160 recommendations, has served as a guide for the state board and the Education Department in examining programs and operations, she said.

    “The overarching theme that I see is driving decision-making authority to the local level.” — Donna Peduto

    “The overarching theme that I see is driving decision-making authority to the local level,” Peduto said.

    From fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2016, the Department of Education has experienced 11 budget reductions, six beginning-year and five mid-year cuts, she said. The most recent cuts took away $11.5 million from state aid directly to the county school districts, Peduto said, adding that about 82 percent of the funding the department receives goes directly to the districts. Federal money accounts for 14 percent, she said.

    The department has followed the audit’s suggestion to reduce staffing, Peduto said. It has been reorganized and streamlined around major goals and functions rather than funding sources, she said. That has saved $1.7 million, she said.

    Hiring policy was changed in 2013 so that faculty senates have authority to choose whom to hire without having seniority as the primary factor, Peduto said. Grievances have decreased because of that, she said.

    Another change Peduto mentioned is the streamlining of professional development.

    “This has been a huge effort, and I feel, one that’s been successful,” she said. “It’s being driven at the local level. The department has pushed out quite a bit of funding to the RESAs and to the counties, so that they can determine their own needs as far as professional development.”

    All of the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) now have learning schools in which teachers and principals determine what professional development they need, Peduto said.

    The audit called for expanding the RESAs, she said. That has resulted in changing the RESAs to get back to a primary focus on school improvement, Peduto said, and the department has funded a school improvement coordinator in each RESA.

    Another change that has occurred is the removal of almost all limits on county school boards in developing school calendars. Peduto said schools still are required to have 180 separate days of instruction, but they are given almost unlimited authority in determining how to achieve that.

    “Policy 2510 now allows schools to apply to the state board for a waiver of almost any time requirement that they feel inhibits or is a detriment to the collaboration and what they’re trying to do in their schools.” — Donna Peduto

    “Policy 2510 now allows schools to apply to the state board for a waiver of almost any time requirement that they feel inhibits or is a detriment to the collaboration and what they’re trying to do in their schools,” she said.

    Also, House Bill 2377 allows schools to reallocate instructional time among courses to assure that time is provided as needed, Peduto said, and the state board has granted many waivers that allow out-of-school time to be considered instructional time when weather closes schools.

    A big section of the audit was on the recruitment and retention of teachers. That’s a big focus of state Supt. Michael Martirano because of a shortage of about 600 teachers statewide, Peduto said. The audit recommended compensation based on teachers’ effectiveness or differential pay for those willing to teach in hard-to-staff areas. Peduto said the state board agrees that could be an option but believes strongly that the priority should be providing raises for all teachers.

    Another focus of the audit was strengthening school leadership. It said principals should get more authority over personnel and budgetary matters. A bill passed in this year’s legislative session focuses on that, Peduto said, and the board and department are working to make that happen.

    In addition, the audit recommended a purchasing plan for obtaining commonly used goods and services to achieve economy of scale. Peduto said that has been put into place through cooperative purchasing that RESAs and districts have been developing. She said that is working very well. It has saved $4 million so far this year, she said. The audit projected it could save $5 million.

    Another efficiency move in progress is implementing cross-county initiatives to avoid duplication of services, which Peduto said was addressed in House Bill 2940. In that regard, she said, the West Virginia School Board Association held shared-services meetings in each region of the state this summer.

    One other recommendation of the audit was for the Cedar Lakes Conference Center to be removed from the jurisdiction of the state board and Education Department. House Bill 4351 provided for it to be turned over from the Department of Agriculture. The audit estimated that would save $1.7 million over five years.

    Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said about $18 million in savings has been achieved at the local level, about 45 percent of which was state-level funding. He said that, although the department has cut its staff, the audit did not look at what level of staffing is needed on the local level. But he said it would be hard to determine the county-level savings without carefully examining school districts’ budgets.

    Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked whether consolidation of county-level administration would save money. Mohr said the districts and the RESAs are looking into that. But in terms of consolidating school boards, he said, there are issues with taxing jurisdictions, excess levies and assessment rates.

    Peduto added that, at the governor’s request, the state board appointed a commission to look into the structure of the 55 county boards. That was the Commission on School District Governance and Administration. The commission did not reach a conclusion on whether school districts should be consolidated, Peduto said. But she suggested that the state board, the department and the chairmen of the legislature’s education committees could look at what comes out of the regional meetings conducted over the summer by the WVSBA.

    Romano replied, “I think we’ve got to start looking structurally how we squeeze better dollars out of the system we’ve got.”

     

    By Jim Wallace

    Improving school leadership is a big focus in an effort to ensure that West Virginia schools have the capacity to provide high-quality education and meet standards established by the state school board. That came out in a few reports presented to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. The legislators also heard about revised policies addressing the handling of student data, school innovation waivers, coping with drug overdoses in schools and other matters.

    Susan O’Brien, executive director of the Office of Education Performance Audits, presented one of those reports on the effects and effectiveness of the accreditation system for schools during the past two school years. Those two years are to be used as a baseline for measuring schools’ performance in the years ahead.

    Asked what stands out in the report, O’Brien said the greatest concern is with the capacity needs for high-quality schools.

    “That doesn’t mean that people aren’t actively engaged,” she said. “It means that people are at various stages of learning, becoming internalized and proficient with everything that makes up, for instance, a principal as leader. So a principal moving from a manager to an instruction leader, that takes time and it takes support so that people know how to do it.”

    House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, noted that the legislature passed a transformational leadership bill in the last legislative session. O’Brien said that could work with proper supports.

    The report’s analysis includes consolidated data from 702 schools with a focus on factors affecting student achievement. Those factors include:

    • Principal leadership
    • Teacher leadership
    • Classroom learning environment
    • Standards-focused curriculum
    • Instructional planning]
    • Instructional delivery
    • Teacher collaboration
    • Focused and cohesive planning
    • Processes and strategies
    • Monitoring for results

    Asked how much it cost OEPA to evaluate all schools over two years, O’Brien said her agency inspected about 350 schools per year. She said the cost was more than $400,000.

    Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he would like legislators at a future meeting delve into career-tech education. He said many students cannot get into the classes they need for their career pathways until the 11th or 12th grade. He wants legislators to get a better idea of what it means to complete a career-tech pathway. The Southern Regional Education Board calls for higher rigor and more of a team approach, he said.

    Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, indicated the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability would deal with that issue, if time permits.

    Principals face meeting new standards.

    On a related matter, Christy Miller, executive director of Division of Student and School Support, reported that the state board had changed Policy 5800 on standards of professional practice for superintendents, principals and teachers. She said the only thing that changed was related to standards for principals to bring them into line with national standards.

    Jill Newman, chief of staff at Department of Education, added that the department has been working on a comprehensive review of all policies. She said the intention is to put them into a cycle for review.

    But at least a couple of legislators questioned the requirements for school leaders. Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said that, as he read the list of requirements for principals, he wondered who would want the job. Noting that his wife was a principal, he said, “By the time you go through this list of things…and check the boxes off, the school year would be over.”

    Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said about the policy, “It’s just crazy that they would spend the time and the state’s money doing this.”

    Several other policies are changing.

    Here is what various Education Department officials reported on other policy changes:

    • Policy 4350 on procedures for the collection, maintenance and disclosure of student data: Georgia Hughes-Webb, data governance manager with the Office of Research, Accountability and Data Governance, said the department determined it needed additional clarification. Districts will be asked to appoint a staff member as primary point of contact for all data privacy issues and data governance issues. One part clarifies that to enter or edit data in the system someone must be an adult who is not a student in the school system and must have a signed security agreement on file attesting to understanding responsibilities for protecting student data.

    • Policy 3236 on the Innovation in Education Act: Kathy Gillman, coordinator in the Office of Early Learning, said the policy was out for public comment. It is for innovations in STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics), community-school partnerships, entrepreneurship, career pathways and the arts. Applications for schools that intend to apply were to go out September 1. After board approval of the policy, full applications should go out. The review committee will make recommendations to the state board in early December.

    • Policy 2422.8 on medication administration: Becky King, coordinator in the Office of Special Education, said it is a result of legislative action after two counties asked for waivers to be able to stock naloxone. The Council of School Nurses then worked to revise the policy. “It is very rare that we have a drug overdose in the school system,” King said, but with the trend toward more drug abuse in communities, some nurses think this is necessary, although only two overdoses in schools have been reported in the past decade.
    • Policy 2446 on Mountaineer Challenge Academy: Amy Willard, executive director of Office of School Finance, said Senate Bill 459 added a requirement for county boards to pay tuition to Mountaineer Challenge Academy for each student who graduates from the academy with a high school diploma. The statute provides that tuition is 75 percent of what is allotted to a board through the School Aid Formula. The policy uses the statewide average, which now is $4,044.56. State aid ranges from zero for Doddridge County to $5,423.31 for Clay County.
    • Policy 2444.4 on the high school equivalency diploma: Debra Kimbler, assistant director in the Office of Adult Education, said changes in the policy are to conform to change in policy for career-technical education. Also, the Option Pathway is provided at the Anthony Correctional Center.

    Legislators also heard from Melanie Purkey, executive director of the Office of Federal Programs, about new requirements in the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. She said it requires the collection of data on student foster care status and military-connected status.

    Waiver requests are declining

    Three Education Department officials reported progress in different ways because of policy or legislative changes.

    Betty Jo Jordan, executive assistant to state Supt. Michael Martirano, told legislators that fewer school districts are requesting policy waivers from the state school board.

    “We have been seeing a declining trend in waiver requests, which is a good thing, because the purpose of waivers is to look at issues that schools have in terms of alternatives ways to deliver educational programs other than what might be in policy,” she said.

    When the state board gets an accumulation of the same types of waivers, the board takes that as a sign the policy needs to be changed, Jordan said. Officials expect even fewer waiver requests next year because of changes made to Policy 2510 in regard to instructional time and changes made in policy about administration of medication, she said.

    Jordan said the board approved all 23 waiver requests last year. They were about three specific policies, she said. Most of them were on implementation of instructional materials, followed by waivers of Policy 2510 on instruction and then two waivers for medication administration of naloxone.

    Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Office of Early Learning, told legislators that West Virginia has gone up from 47th in the nation to 41st in the nation for early literacy since 2013. She credited legislation from 2014 for establishing the principle that early literacy begins at birth. In the 2016 West Virginia general summative assessment for grade three, the state gained in proficiency, going from 46 percent proficiency to 48 percent.

    Kathi D’Antoni, chief career and technical education officer, said that all career-tech programs are moving toward project-based learning through simulated workplaces. She said the state has a 91 percent positive placement rate for students completing career-technical education programs. Among those students, 45 percent go on to post-secondary higher education, 10 percent go into the military and 36 percent go into the workforce.

    “We have an extreme high rate of success,” D’Antoni said. “The problem is we have only 19 percent of our students in career-tech, but 70 percent of the workforce requires technical skill sets, so we need a lot more of our students going on in career-tech fields.”

    Despite the low participation rate, she said, the state is getting attention for establishing simulated workplaces. Delegations from 10 states and Australia have come in to visit them, she said.

    “It is probably one of the most significant changes in students that I have seen in education,” D’Antoni said. “It has been phenomenal. It has not been a little change. It is a major change in the way students have become accountable for their education.”

    One problem with getting more students to participate is the stigma that career-tech education has had since the 1950s even though the whole environment and curriculum have changed, she said. Many people who influence students don’t realize that, she added. Another problem is that travel or scheduling doesn’t permit some students to go to career-tech programs at vocational schools. D’Antoni said. It is easier for them to participate at comprehensive high schools, she said.

    The biggest problem is not having clear communication on what is offered in career-tech, she said. The programs offer students the opportunity to earn many credentials. For example, she said, some students from Brooke County walked away with credentials that landed them six-figure jobs in the oilfields immediately after high school.

    D’Antoni said the state school board’s Policy 2520.13 is out for public comment. It deals with goals, standards and objectives for career-technical education.

    Fitnessgram’s worth is questioned.

    At other meetings, the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability considered getting rid of the Fitnessgram and learned about how the new system for grading schools will work.

    The notion to remove the state code and state school board policy requiring the Fitnessgram came up after Georgia Hughes Webb of the Office of Research, Accountability and Data Governance, explained that it assesses several aspects of students’ fitness. She said there was a proposal is to collect the information in an electronic format rather than various other ways.

    Andy Whisman, director of research and accountability, further explained that school districts developed numerous ways to collect the information and the Education Department receives aggregate data. “We provide the information in these reports under legislative mandate,” he said, and the schools use the information to guide instructional practices. There is hardly any cost for the statewide reports, he added. But at least one legislator thought the Fitnessgram is a waste.

    “I think this has been in existence for about nine years,” Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said. “In my 35 years’ experience, 32 years as a middle school principal, this information isn’t used at all. It’s done at the end of the school year to comply with the OEPA [Office of Education Performance Audits] requirements or comply with the statute that we’ve created.”

    Perry suggested adopting legislation to get rid of it and offered a motion to have the legislature get rid of the mandate to use Fitnessgram.

    “It’s been clearly pointed out that this is actually a futility,” Perry said. “The more and more we’ve imposed on classrooms and teachers, the more and more time we’ve taken away from instruction. I think it’s very clear from personal experience the information isn’t used for anything other than a report.”

    The information is not shared with parents and is not used by physical education teachers, he said.

    “We sit here month after month and listen to report after report after report and do nothing,” Perry said. “I think it’s time that this committee take a position on some of these reports that we’re hearing, either yes or no, that we’re in favor of what’s happening or not in favor of what’s happening. I think this is an opportunity to do that.”

    However, that meeting was adjourned before action was taken on Perry’s motion.

    Legislators learn about new grading system for schools.

    On the matter of assigning grades to schools, Michele Blatt, chief accounting and performance officer, Division of School Effectiveness, explained that the state school board revised Policy 2320 – A Process for Improving Education: Performance-Based Accreditation System – in May 2014 after the governor asked the department to look at an A-F grading system for schools.

    The system also is affected by new federal legislation. Blatt said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA) includes a requirement to have multiple measures in the accountability system that are called student success standards. For elementary and middle schools, that could be an early warning system to identify students at risk and provide interventions, she said. That would be in addition to using attendance, she said. At the high school level, at-risk measures, attendance and college- and career-readiness indicators would be used, she said. The department held two stakeholder meetings to explain the changes, she added.

    On identifying at-risk students, Blatt said, “We have an early warning system in place that identifies students at risk of not graduating or at risk of dropping out. It looks at a variety of things, including attendance, grades, and course failures. It looks at demographics of students. It looks at mobility rates.”

    An algorithm calculates which students are at risk in categories of low, medium and high, she said, and the system also provides for interventions. The system is specific for each county and each school, she said.

    “So if we’re dealing with a rural school and attendance is an issue, then it’s going to customize the identification for that school to attendance, wherein at another school, it could be something around behavior,” Blatt said. “It could be around course failures.”

    Each school should be able to see which students are struggling and need additional supports, she said. Schools would get up to 50 points in that category. “Say you have 50 percent of your students in the high-risk category, and at the end of the year, 25 percent of those have dropped to medium risk,” Blatt said. “So they would get points for the percentage of their students that have dropped a risk level.”

    The information she provided to legislators included this chart for figuring out how to grade schools:

    Proposed West Virginia Accountability System Measures
    Elementary Schools Middle Schools High Schools
    Points Percent Points Percent Points Percent
    Student Proficiency – Math 200 17% 200 17% 250 19%
    Student Proficiency – ELA 200 17% 200 17% 250 19%
    Below Standard 3rd Grade Reading Rate 100 8%
    Below Standard 8th Grade Math Rate 100 8%
    Observed Growth – Math 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    Observed Growth – ELA 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    Adequate Growth – Math 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    Adequate Growth – ELA 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    Low-Performing Subgroup Reduction – Math 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    Low-Performing Subgroup Reduction – ELA 100 8% 100 8% 100 7%
    At-Risk Subgroup Reduction 50 4% 50 4% 50 4%
    Attendance 50 4% 50 4% 50 4%
    College-Ready Indicators 50 4%
    Career-Ready Indicators 50 4%
    Graduation Rate – 4-year cohort rate 50 4%
    Total 1,200 100% 1,200 100% 1,350 100%

    Another issue the legislators heard about is the way the state board’s policy on attendance, Policy 4110, has changed in three major sections. Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Education Department, said two of the changes to comply with statutory changes.

    One such change occurred in 2014 to clarify that jurisdiction to comply compulsory attendance resides both in the county in which a student resides and in the county of the school the student attends. “That was necessary because we sometimes have students that cross county lines to attend school,” Hutchins said. “They were previously in a gray area when some of those students became truant as to which county had jurisdiction to enforce truancy proceedings. Now the law clarifies, and our policy mirrors, that jurisdiction lies in either where the student resides or the county where the student goes to school.”

    The second group of changes reflects legislative changes from 2015, she said, and it primarily relates to definitions of unexcused absences, which did not change significantly.

    The third change is when contact with parents is made when students are accumulating too many unexcused absences, Hutchins said. Contact is made when there are three unexcused absences. At five days, the attendance director schedules a meeting with a parent. At 10 days, the attendance director makes a complaint to a magistrate and can begin truancy proceedings.

    Hutchins said the last change is to make sure accurate attendance rates are reported to reflect when students are in school. Previously, the policy allowed deductions for a number of reasons, including students with excused absences, she said. “A lot of kids stack up a whole lot of excused absences,” she said. Now, “seat time” is being measure, she said, so deductions for excused absences are no longer allowed.

     

    By Jim Wallace

    The West Virginia Board of Education faces a task in the next several months that members did not expect to have to address so soon: hiring a new state superintendent of schools.

    Supt. Michael Martirano surprised many people by announcing his resignation effective next June 30. His announcement came a little more than two years after he took over in September 2014.

    “This past year has been one of the most challenging of my adult life.” — Supt. Michael Martirano

    “This past year has been one of the most challenging of my adult life,” Martirano wrote in his September 20 resignation letter to Mike Green, president of the state school board. “With the prolonged illness of my wife and her eventual death, I now find myself being both a dad and a mom to my three children who reside in Maryland. After much prayer and consultation with my family, I have come to the conclusion that I must be geographically closer to them. My resignation will allow that to occur and it will allow me to pursue other employment opportunities near them.”

    According to The Chesapeake Today, an online publication, Calvert County, Maryland, sheriff’s deputies found the body of Sylvana Martirano in the water near Solomon’s Island, where the family had a second home, on May 30. The Maryland State Medical Examiner’s Office determined that drowning was the cause of her death and labeled it a suicide. She was 54 at the time of her death and had been married to Michael Martirano for 32 years. From 2002 until 2014, Michael Martirano served as superintendent of schools in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

    On Talkline on the MetroNews Radio Network on September 21, Martirano told host Hoppy Kercheval that his wife had a “prolonged illness, which resulted in her death.” He added that he had just received word that their older daughter is expecting their first grandchild and that their son is about to get married. When they had children, he said, he and his wife decided that they would be the couple’s main focus.

    “I didn’t have children to be an absentee father, and my family is my life,” Martirano said. “So this had been extremely challenging for me, being away from them at a time when we’re grieving as a family and a very tragic time for us.”

    While he wants to be close to his family, Martirano said he also wanted to give the state school board plenty of notice of his resignation to provide time to search for a new superintendent.

    “When my wife and I made the decision to accept the position in West Virginia, it was a family decision then,” he said. “My children were at a transitional time when they were young adults moving on with their life. And my wife and I said this is a wonderful time for us to make a bigger contribution to a larger group of children who need support and attention. So it worked out perfectly. What we didn’t expect during that period of time is that she would get sick.”

    His wife’s death “shifted the whole dynamic” in a way he could not have predicted, Martirano said. He is looking actively for a new position in Maryland, he said. “I have to be transparent about that because I don’t want the citizens of West Virginia to find that out through the grapevine,” he said.

    Early in his service as state superintendent, Martirano presented a five-year strategic plan with measurable goals and objectives to improve the public schools in West Virginia. His resignation means that he will leave with two years left in that five-year period. During his tenure, high school graduation rates have increased, student test scores have increased, and the state has received recognition for its early literacy and child nutrition programs. Martirano told Kercheval that he hopes he has established “irreversible momentum,” which he expects to carry forward.

    “It is a phenomenal time to be in the state of West Virginia when things are turning around and moving in a very positive direction,” he said. “So from a strictly professional point of view, it is very difficult to walk away from that.”

    Asked if he found the job of state superintendent to be harder than he expected, Martirano said, “Absolutely not, and I say that because all of my entire life has been predicated on making a difference for children.” He said even the struggle he faced in reviewing and revising the state’s education standards in the face of a strong legislative effort to repeal the former standards based on Common Core was not stressful for him “because we were doing it for the right reason: higher standards for better results for kids.” He said the work as state superintendent has been both challenging and invigorating.

    In a news release, Green said it was “with a heavy heart” that he accepted Martirano’s resignation.

    “Dr. Martirano has done an outstanding job as our State Superintendent, has had positive impact on the state’s educational system and has mapped out a clear path for continuous improvement.” — Mike Green

    “Dr. Martirano has done an outstanding job as our State Superintendent, has had positive impact on the state’s educational system and has mapped out a clear path for continuous improvement,” Green said. “Under his leadership, we have codified our College and Career Readiness Standards, we finally have a consistent and continuous assessment and accountability system plus our students have shown gains in proficiency on assessments.”

     

    By Jim Wallace

    County superintendents whose school districts suffered damages from heavy flooding in June say they have learned quite a bit from their experiences. Among the lessons they learned are the value of character education, the need for school officials to be directly involved in recovery efforts while documenting every expense and the responsibility for making wise decisions about school construction that could have implications for several decades.

    Four superintendents from flood-stricken counties shared their experiences with fellow superintendents and school board members at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Conference ’16. The counties they represent ranged from one of the smallest school districts to the largest school district in West Virginia. Conference attendees also heard from Al Lisko, director of mitigation recovery for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, who said that recovery from flood damage is “a long, hard road.”

    In Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district, flood waters damaged four schools, including a high school and an elementary school that were declared total losses. Supt. Ron Duerring said he saw people who were hopeless and realized the schools must show they care for kids.

    Thus, he said, district official developed three education plans for recovery. The district adopted one that put high school students and middle school students into the middle school in spilt shifts and combined students from two elementary schools into one. Duerring said the goal was to keep the students together.

    “The one lesson that I’ve learned from this is that every single thing you do has to be documented because, if you don’t, you don’t get your funding, and then it costs more.” — Ron Duerring

    “The one lesson that I’ve learned from this is that every single thing you do has to be documented because, if you don’t, you don’t get your funding, and then it costs more,” he said. Duerring assigned staff members to concentrate on certain tasks, such as having one person handle all the donations that came in. He also maintains a folder in which he keeps track of the names of participants at each meeting and what happened at that meeting.

    Duerring advised others who must cope with recovery after a natural disaster not run to the community immediately with statements about how recovery would be handled. Instead, he said, his district held community meetings only after officials were sure about what was going on and got local agencies, such as the YMCA, involved. That way, he said, they had a plan in place by the time they met with community residents. He also advised fellow superintendents to keep school board members informed the whole time.

    The district is still working to get portable classrooms in while also looking for new sites for the schools that need to be replaced. But Duerring noted another aspect of recovery that turned out to be very important. He said members of the community were desperately worried about the trophies in the high school because that was part of their history. “You wouldn’t believe the difference that made to the community that we saved the trophies,” he said.

    Calmness during crisis is important.

    Nicholas County Supt. Donna Burge-Tetrick, whose district also lost schools to flood damage, advised others facing such a situation to stay calm.

    “If you stay calm, it helps you to think rationally and to make good decisions.” — Donna Burge-Tetrick

    “If you stay calm, it helps you to think rationally and to make good decisions,” she said.

    Burge-Tetrick found it important to establish a point of contact in dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state. State people will help you, she said, and it is essential to build relationships with FEMA representatives, even though they keep changing.

    Her district submitted $2.1 million in claims and got all but about $900.000 of that, which shows the value of documentation, Burge-Tetrick said. The district lost three schools and expects to rebuild them, she said. Nicholas County won’t get full funding, but district officials will fight for every cent, she said.

    “I’ve learned a lot of things in this flood,” Burge-Tetrick said. “I’ve learned about community. I’ve learned about trying to stick together and support each other. I’ve learned that we have a long road ahead of us.”

    One reason recovery will be especially difficult, she said, is the challenge of rebuilding schools in Richwood because almost everything there is in the floodway.

    Other advice Burge-Tetrick offered are that it is important to remain vigilant and that school board members must be able to trust their superintendent.

    “You have to make sure that you make decisions with your head and not your heart, and my board keeps repeating that over and over,” she added. “And it’s true because decisions you make today in a crisis could affect your school system for 50-60 years.”

    Character education pays off.

    Kenneth Tanner, superintendent of the Clay County schools, said his county lost about 200 homes, which affected 40 percent to 50 percent of the population. The high school became a relief center, the middle school became host to National Guard and relief crews, one elementary became a clothing center and another became a relief center, he said.

    One high school student, whose family lost everything in the flood, needed reassurance that the fall football season would go on just so he could have hope for the future, Tanner said. “One of the lessons is that it’s not only the academic programs that we have in our schools,” he said. “These schools are our kids’ lives.”

    “It won’t be on the A-through-F grading scale in November when you get it, but teach character education…. These kids need that. They thrive on it. So that’s a big part of what we need to be doing.” — Kenneth Tanner

    Tanner also was grateful that several football teams came in from schools from elsewhere in West Virginia to help Clay County residents clean up from the flooding. “Now what have I learned from that?” he asked. “It won’t be on the A-through-F grading scale in November when you get it, but teach character education…. These kids need that. They thrive on it. So that’s a big part of what we need to be doing.”

    Character education also can help raise students’ level of academic performance and help them to be ready for college or careers, Tanner said.

    Like Duerring, he said it is important to maintain good documentation after a disaster occurs, such as taking plenty of photos, keeping a daily log and even preserving social media pictures.

    Greenbrier County Supt. Jeff Bryant said the best way for school officials to react to a disaster like flooding is to be “boots on the ground.” He said he was grateful that his district’s principals opened schools to feed and shelter people.

    “You just got to have people who care,” Bryant said. The school system can offer facilities when people are displaced and need personal help, he said. Everyone in the school system took on extra duties, he said.

    Siting decisions have long-term effects.

    Lisko said West Virginia has had 21 flood disasters in the past 15 years. That doesn’t include other disasters like the derecho from a few years ago or Super Storm Sandy.

    FEMA has provided $206,760,754.13 to repair or replace public property and $144,191,068.96 in assistance to individuals and families, but that covers only a fraction of the losses, he said. In addition, Lisko said, the Small Business Administration has made $48 million in loans for the summer floods.

    There are good reasons why flooding is a recurring problem in West Virginia, he said. “Stream beds are designed to carry a certain flow,” Lisko said. “That flow will be exceeded on occasions because of a larger-than-expected amount of rainfall.”

    Flood waters also can damage and destroy property far away from any identified flood plain, he said. A school in Princeton that was not in the flood plain suffered damages from flood waters twice in the 1990s, he said.

    “We have historically built in the flood plain,” Lisko said. “That’s just the simple facts of life. West Virginia’s terrain is such the easiest place to develop was the flood plain.”

    “The decisions you make today will be important for 50-60 years from now as far as location.” — Al Lisko

    Like Burge-Tetrick, Lisko advised school officials, “The decisions you make today will be important for 50-60 years from now as far as location.” The schools that were most vulnerable in the latest floods were built in the 1950s and 1960s before there were regulatory flood maps, he said. New schools are being built away from flood plains, he said.

    Lisko also advised them to take preparedness seriously. When responding to an emergency, take care of the kids first and err on the side of safety, he said.

    Disaster recovery is like juggling with bowling balls, Lisko said. As others did, he said that documentation is important. He said FEMA has two types of grants under public assistance. Small grants are for less than about $120,000, he said. For larger grants, FEMA wants documentation of everything, he said.

    “It is a very long difficult process,” Lisko said. In the end, taxpayer money – local, state or federal – will pay for the recovery, and it must be handled carefully, he said. Officials should use the same fiduciary responsibility regardless of whether the funding comes from local taxpayers or those in the state or nation overall.

     

    By Jim Wallace

    Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, believes that his agency is one of the most misunderstood organizations in the West Virginia education system. So he took advantage of an opportunity to explain it to county school board members and superintendents at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Conference ’16.

    “We’re a service organization in my mind,” Dolan said. “We provide the schools with a service, so we are to answer and respond to them as quickly as we can. One thing I found out: By the time they call us, there are no easy questions. If it was easy, they figured it out on their own. So it’s important for us to help them manage their way through some of our rules.”

    The commission deals with about 3,500 officials and about 9,000 coaches in all sports throughout the state, he said. Private schools and public schools are treated the same because they all are members of the organization, he said.

    “We have tried to make sure that our rules are right down the middle whether you’re public or private,” Dolan said. “If you want to argue the privates have an advantage, they do, but it’s built in geography, not in our rules. They’re all in urban areas is their advantage.”

    The commission has 286 member schools. Every rule the commission adopts must be proposed by a principal.

    “Every rule is put in for a reason.” — Bernie Dolan

    “Every rule is put in for a reason,” Dolan said. “Again, every principal in their own mind is trying to make it more fair.”

    However, he added, “We’re a principals’ organization, but we serve the kids.”

    After principals propose new rules, the WVSSAC’s Board of Directors puts them up for votes with one vote per school. That board is made up of five principals who are elected to it and five people appointed to it to represent the state superintendent, the state school board, the WVSBA, school superintendents and athletic directors.

    The WVSSAC also has a Board of Review with seven members representing other organizations, including the West Virginia Bar Association, the West Virginia State Medical Association and the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. Members are appointed by the Department of Education. The Board of Review can overturn rulings from the Board of Directors. Both boards hear appeals once a month.

    Rules that are approved by the WVSSAC go on to the state board of education, which usually approves them but sometimes rejects them. After the state board approves a rule, it must be on file at the Secretary of State’s Office for 60 days before going into effect.

    “There are some true hardships.” — Bernie Dolan

    Dolan said rules can be overruled because of cases of hardship. “There are some true hardships,” he said.

    Rules focus on safety.

    Some of the commission’s rules emphasize safety in sports. For example, students are required to have physical exams by physicians on or after June 1 to count for the coming academic year.

    As a result of Senate Bill 336 from 2013, Dolan said, the WVSSAC must harp on the dangers of concussions. When a player suffers a concussion, a return-to-play protocol must be followed.

    “There are three people who are not health care professionals who cannot let your kid go back to play,” Dolan said. They are the student, a parent and a coach. Only a health care professional can give such authorization, he said.

    Every time a concussion occurs, an injury report must be sent to the WVSSAC, Dolan said, and every coach now must take a free, online course about concussions.

    The return-to-play protocol is a progression with seven steps that take one day each, he said. A doctor cannot overrule the protocol to shorten the process, he said.

    The commission also has heat acclimatization guidelines because heat illness is the leading cause of preventable death among high school students, Dolan said. Problems happen when students go “too soon, too hard, too long,” he said. A heat index chart indicates when practice must be reduced, rescheduled or cancelled, and the athletic trainer is responsible for monitoring that, he said.

    Another issue of concern for the WVSSAC is sudden cardiac arrest awareness. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs among 400,000 people each year, Dolan said, and only 10 percent survive. Those who survive usually are close to an automated external defibrillator (AED), he said, so it is important to have one close.

    About 75 percent of the time, Dolan said, the problem occurs with an adult – a coach, an official or someone in the stands – rather than with a student. “But every three days, an athlete dies from sudden cardiac arrest,” he said.

    Every high school and middle school has an emergency action plan, Dolan said. Boards should ask each principal whether it has been implemented, he said. “The legislature’s going to force it if we don’t do it,” he said, adding that there was a bill to do that this year.

    The emergency action plan says there must be three persons on a team designated to call 911, three designated to go to the spot where the ambulance is to come, three designated to do CPR, and three designated to get the AED, Dolan said.

    Two WVSSAC rules changed this year: one about wrestling weigh-ins and one about out-of-season coaching. Dolan said the out-of-season coaching is limited to three weeks and must be voluntary for the athletes, and he has authority to enforce it. He said the punishment could be taking summer practice away. However, he said, there are also six flex days per sport.

    “Make sure your principals are aware of what’s going on.” — Bernie Dolan

    “Make sure your principals are aware of what’s going on,” Dolan said.

    An issue that schools do not have to face is whether to allow home-schooled students to participate on sports teams. Dolan said that is because Senate Bill 105, which was called the Tim Tebow Act, failed in the House after the Senate passed it. It would have allowed home-schooled students to play on WVSSAC-member teams, he said.

    “They would have gotten more rights than member schools,” Dolan said.

    However, that legislation might come up again, he said.

    Editor’s Note: Jim Crawford (Kanawha), West Virginia School Board Association President-Elect serves as WVSBA’s representative to the WVSSAC Board of Directors

     

    By Jim Wallace

    The West Virginia Supreme Court will decide in coming months a case that challenges how county school boards can use Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) to bring certain workers into the schools. In particular, the case presented in oral arguments to the court pits the Monongalia County Board of Education and Supt. Frank Devono against the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

    The school board appealed the case to the Supreme Court after Monongalia County Circuit Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in June 2015 in favor of the AFT. The AFT filed its lawsuit in 2011 claiming that the county board improperly used RESA 7 to hire about 30 interventionists to provide additional instruction in reading and math to students who were struggling with those subjects without giving the interventionists the same pay and benefits as regular teachers. In contrast to regular teachers, the interventions were hired at hourly rates without contracts. The West Virginia School Board Association is among the organizations that filed briefs in support of the county school board’s position. Others include the state school board, the RESAs and the West Virginia Association of School Administrators. The West Virginia Education Association, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association and the AFL-CIO filed briefs supporting the AFT’s position.

    Arguing on behalf of the county school board, attorney Howard Seufer said that interventionists are not teachers within the meaning of state code.

    “These people are not teachers within the meaning of the code.” — Howard Seufer

    “These people are not regularly employed for instructional purposes by the board of education,” he said. “These people are not teachers within the meaning of the code.”

    Seufer said state school board policy encourages RESAs to partner with school boards and help them leverage their resources.

    Robert Bastress, the attorney representing the union, told the court that county school officials were wrong to hire interventionists outside the normal process for hiring teachers.

    “They want to do it on the cheap,” he said. “I mean there are certainly some savings in these programs.”

    Justice Brent Benjamin said school boards could save a lot of money if more hiring decisions were turned over to RESAs, but that would control away from county boards. “They save money by going to a regional, state agent group to hire what they otherwise would’ve hired themselves,” he said.

    “There is a slippery slope that school boards would be turning over hiring decisions to other entities.” — Robert Bastress

    Bastress shared his concern about loss of local control. “There is a slippery slope that school boards would be turning over hiring decisions to other entities,” he said.

    However, Seufer argued that the interventionists don’t take over for classroom teachers but simply work on the side to help students who are having trouble with reading or math.

    “The teacher tells interventionists what materials to use,” he said. “The teacher tells interventionists what deficiencies the child has, and the interventionist is there to supplement, not supplant, the classroom teacher. They come in on a very narrow mission to help in that fashion with reading and with math, and they’re able to bring 300 students along each year.”

    The issue isn’t just about money, although resources are limited, Seufer said. Students from more than one classroom might need help at the same time, he said.

    “If you hire one fulltime interventionist in that school, she or he can attend to only one of those assignments,” Seufer said. “This arrangement allows the board of education the flexibility to assign numerous people to work at the same time, which we couldn’t do with a fulltime employee.”

    The Supreme Court spent less than half an hour hearing oral arguments in the case. The justices are expected to make a ruling in the case sometime this fall.

     

    By Jim Wallace

    A new subcommittee of the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform is looking at how West Virginia might get rid of the tax on business inventory. Many people have complained that it hurts the state’s competitiveness in economic development, but legislators have had trouble removing it because county governments and school districts depend heavily on revenue from the tax.

    “So it falls on this subcommittee to find a workable solution that will help business and not hurt our counties and school systems.” — Sen. Ed Gaunch

    At the subcommittee’s first meeting, one of its co-chairmen, Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said the inventory tax is still on the books because it is in the West Virginia Constitution. “So it falls on this subcommittee to find a workable solution that will help business and not hurt our counties and school systems,” he said.

    Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said other states, including Louisiana, have addressed this problem, so West Virginia should look at the alternatives they used for eliminating or minimizing the tax and how it might be replaced with county revenue. He said there are three ways to do that.

    “One is the counties are given more authority to tax or the county revenues, which is basically property tax, could be adjusted and the gap filled or the state would come in with some sort of subsidy backfilling the loss of the revenue to the counties,” Hall said. “Obviously, we can absorb half of the loss because it goes to the School Aid Formula or more, depending on the county you’re in.”

    The subcommittee plans to hold its next meeting in December.

     

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    Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.