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The Thrasher Group

January 12, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 1

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia legislative leaders from both parties have reacted positively to Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State address, although the speech was high in folksy stories and personal touches and low in details on legislative and budgetary plans. But several of his proposals affect public education.

The rosy picture the governor painted for West Virginia’s future is in contrast to his address last year, when the state was facing a budget hole of almost $500 million.

“West Virginians were really hurting. And today, you’re going to have a hard time to keep me from smiling – and smiling an awful lot.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“West Virginians were really hurting,” Justice said. “And today, you’re going to have a hard time to keep me from smiling – and smiling an awful lot.”

Last year, he said, he didn’t know what else to do but to propose about $400 million in tax increases. The legislature rejected those proposed increases and instead covered the budget hole largely with spending cuts. The governor let that budget become law without his signature. This year, as revenues have picked up enough to cover budget projections, Justice told legislators, “My request for a tax increase would be zero – zero.” Of course, legislators responded to that statement with applause.

At a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, Mike Hall, the governor’s chief of staff, explained why the budget outlook has improved for the state since one year ago. “Revenues have actually gotten better,” he said. “Certain expenditures were not made last year, so there will be some carryover that we can use. And also, our investments that affect our pension system have caused for it to be a better picture.”

Hall, who was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee until last August, when Justice called on him to serve as his chief of staff, said the base spending set by the legislature in last year’s budget is the beginning point for this year’s budget. “Then there are certain things that have been added that we believe are important to the growth of our economy,” he said.

Instead of increasing taxes this year, the governor wants to cut one long-standing tax. He has proposed a multi-year phase-out of the property tax on industrial inventory and equipment. Many legislators have been seeking a way to reduce or eliminate that tax for years, but most of the revenue goes to public schools and county governments, so it has been difficult for them to act against the tax.

Other proposals from Justice include pay raises for teachers and state employees, as well as boosting career and technical education in both the public schools and in community and technical colleges.

“Fantastic speech that conveys the optimism and enthusiasm for a resurgent West Virginia,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said just after the State of the State address. “We’re on the uptick. It’s obvious that people feel it across our state, and it’s being recognized not only in West Virginia but throughout the nation and throughout the world. We are the fastest-growing economy in the second quarter and third quarter of 2017. We’re continuing this march. This plan is working, and the governor conveys that optimism, hope and enthusiasm for the future.”

Likewise, the leader of Democrats in the Senate, Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the governor’s speech contained “a lot of good ideas. I don’t see how you could disagree with anything that he did say – pay raises for teachers, corrections, the infrastructure, the tourism and things of that sort.” However, he and other Democrats expressed skepticism about whether the budget numbers will work out as well as Justice has indicated.

“He’s going to have to raise revenue or cut programs. He said he would not raise any taxes, so now, we got a job to do.” – Sen. Roman Prezioso

“So there’s only two ways to do it,” Prezioso said. “He’s going to have to raise revenue or cut programs. He said he would not raise any taxes, so now, we got a job to do.”

Tax change would require constitutional amendment.

In regard to the proposed phase-out of the tax on industrial inventory and equipment, Justice said he wants to refer to it as “JCTAW – and it’s going to stand for Just Cut Taxes and Win.” He added, “One thing we’ve got to insure is that education and our counties and our cities won’t get hurt. We can do that.”

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, called that tax cut the remaining piece of the puzzle in improving West Virginia’s appeal to companies that might want to locate facilities in the state. The other two pieces were the elimination of the business franchise tax and lowering the corporate net income tax in recent years.

“We’re out of sync with the rest of the country with regard to this tax,” he said. In certain economic development deals, the state has found ways to work around the tax, he said, but instead of coming up with work-arounds for companies coming into West Virginia, the state should eliminate the tax for everyone. “I truly believe it will employ many, many more West Virginians if we’re able to do that,” he said.

Armstead said the plan is to reduce that portion of the personal property tax by $20 million a year over seven years, but it would not be eliminated entirely. While doing that, he said, the legislature would make up any revenue from the tax that would have gone to school districts and county governments.

“This will not take money away from the schools or the counties because that money will be backfilled with this $20 million a year.” – Speaker Tim Armstead

“This will not take money away from the schools or the counties because that money will be backfilled with this $20 million a year,” Armstead said. “The first $20 million is savings that’s already been identified within our current budget. It will not be cut. We’ve made that assurance. This will require a constitutional amendment to go out to the voters. The voters will get to decide this.”

The proposed change must put before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment because the West Virginia Constitution requires the collection of property taxes. If the legislature would pass a resolution for the constitutional amendment, it could go on the statewide ballot as soon as November. Passage of the amendment by voters would mean the cut in the tax could begin about midway through the next fiscal year.

“That constitutional amendment will assure the counties and the school systems that they will not lose this funding, and that will be written right into the constitutional amendment,” Armstead said. “We have already talked to a number of county commissioners, many of whom have been very adamantly opposed to this, who say that, if we’re able to do it in the manner that we’re discussing, they’ll be supportive of it.”

Some details remain to be worked out, he said, “But I am more encouraged now about the prospect of getting rid of this tax than I have been all the time I’ve been in the legislature because I think we have truly come forward with a plan that’s gradual, that’s responsible, that will work. In the long run, I honestly believe that the additional jobs that will be created because of this change to our tax structure will more than make up for any revenue that’s lost over the long term. Again, that revenue will only be lost gradually and be made up by savings in other areas of the state. So there won’t be a loss to the school systems or to the counties.”

Leaders of teachers’ unions indicated that they could accept the change in the tax if the governor and the legislature follow through on their promises.

“We have to look at the numbers to make sure that school systems are not harmed in any way.” – Dale Lee

“We have to look at the numbers to make sure that school systems are not harmed in any way,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said. “Seventy percent of that inventory tax goes to the school systems, and they can’t absorb a cut like that, so we have to make sure that that is, indeed, saved.”

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, expressed similar caution. “I’m comfortable if they’re actually going to be able to do that,” she said. “But the question still remains: How are you going to do that? If you say no new taxes, and we’re going to cut a tax, then how are you going to keep public education itself whole and be able to give pay raises to the people who are dedicating their lives to that public education and to actually public service?”

Governor wants across-the-board pay raises.

Pay raises for teachers are, of course, a big issue for the WVEA and the AFT. Last year, Justice was unable to persuade legislators to give teachers a 2 percent pay raise. However, as he said in his State of the State address Wednesday evening about last year, “We didn’t have enough money to hardly go feed the dogs good. But we now have enough money to give every single person in state government a raise. And I’m really, really proud that we’re going to be able to do that. We’re going to be able to give our teachers a raise. We’re going to give a 1 percent raise across the board to everyone this year and next year. And I’m budgeting in an additional 1 [percent], 1 [percent] and 1 [percent] on the teachers for the following three years and bring them an entire 5 [percent]. We can do it. It’s there right this minute, and it can be done.”

During a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, Mike McKown, state budget director, explained that teachers would get $404 each this year under the governor’s proposal. “So your lower-paid teachers will receive more than 1 percent raise and the higher-paid [teachers] a little less, but it averages out to the cost of a 1 percent raise,” he said. “Same with service personnel, and then state employees are scheduled in his budget. It’s funded $432 across the board.”

McKown added that the 1 percent raise for teachers will be in addition to the annual step increases they get for each year of experience, which amount to about $580 each. “So the $404 plus the $580 gets them in the $1,000 neighborhood,” he said. “So the governor felt that that was reasonable in these times we’re still being cautious with our revenue. We don’t want to over-extend and start to really mess up the out years again.”

“We can do the pay raises.” – Senate President Mitch Carmichael

In his response to the State of the State address, Carmichael said the pay raise proposal is reasonable. “We can do the pay raises,” he said. “It’s built into the six-year plan frankly. It looks like a really good time to be a West Virginian.”

Likewise, House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said, “Clearly, the enhanced pay for not only our teachers but employees across the state – I think that will be well received as well. I certainly look forward to hearing more details about the governor’s proposals and working very closely with him and his administration to enact meaningful education reform in this upcoming session.”

But Lee was disappointed. “One percent is not going to move us anywhere,” he said. “We’re still 48th in the nation in pay. We continue to battle with Mississippi to be 50th. We have 727 [teacher] vacancies this year alone. That’s going to continue to rise. One percent is not going to keep up with the other states, particularly contiguous states. All it’s going to do is move the drought farther and farther away. We’re going to continue to lose teachers and they’re not going to come into education. We need to come up with a plan that’s going to get us competitive with the contiguous states now.”

“Seeing that commitment from the governor to all of those folks is really important to us.” – Christine Campbell

Campbell expressed relief that a pay raise for teachers is at least part of the governor’s budget plan but worried it would not be enough. “Seeing that commitment from the governor to all of those folks is really important to us,” she said. “Again, how are they going to pay for it, and what’s the sustainability in that 1 percent? Are we going to be able to move the needle out of 47th, 48th when we’re so far behind? It roughly comes out to a little over $1,500 over the course of five years. Is that going to make a difference to keep people in West Virginia when some of the bills we keep seeing coming out of the House and the Senate are actually attacking workers’ rights? And how is that going to affect PEIA [the Public Employees Insurance Agency]. We didn’t hear anything from the governor about the health insurance and if there’s really any political will to fix and fully fund PEIA. So, it kind of feels like a balancing act right now. I’m really curious to see where the Senate and the House is on support for the governor’s initiatives and how it’s going to pan out.”

Governor wants to help students get into “the trades.”

Also in regard to education, Justice spoke of promoting career-technical education at both the high school and the community college levels. In fact, his proposals would blur the lines between secondary and higher education. “Not everybody is cut out for the traditional pathway of a four-year degree,” the governor said. “I want us to develop a way to where kids in high school and the trades can get an associate degree while they’re in high school. I also want us to add, if it’s possible, a 13th year, where they can get additional accreditation or additional certifications.”

The governor credited John Perdue, the state treasurer, for bringing to him the idea of letting students earn associate degrees while they are still in high school. Further, Justice endorsed a proposal promoted by Carmichael to make community and technical college education free for many West Virginians.

“I think it’s very positive, and clearly, education promises to be a major focus of our legislative session this year.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“I was thrilled with the education proposals,” Carmichael said. “Education will lift all boats, and when we provide an individual with the opportunity to further their education, create a skillset that they then can take to the market and use to gain jobs, hope and opportunity. It’s a moral imperative, as well as an economic benefit.”

Espinosa also liked what he heard from the governor. “I think it’s very positive, and clearly, education promises to be a major focus of our legislative session this year,” he said. Legislators will try to ensure that two-year colleges are more accessible and use existing resources in schools help ensure that West Virginia has a qualified workforce, he said.

Although he had not heard much about the proposed 13th year of high school for students to finish vocational accreditation, Espinosa expressed willingness to consider it. “If they’re not able to complete a certification in their 12th year, we’d give them an extra year to complete certification,” he said. “I believe that’s the thrust of it.”

Espinosa liked Justice’s emphasis on training for “the trades” in both high school and at two-year colleges. “Blue Ridge Community and Technical College has become essentially the exclusive trainer for Proctor & Gamble,” Espinosa said. “That model can be replicated across the state.”

Campbell also said she was excited about the governor’s emphasis on career and technical education. “We need our folks to go into some kind of field that they can actually stay in West Virginia and work, so we’re excited about that,” she said. “Of course, we want to know how it’s going to be paid for.”

Justice took the opportunity of his speech to praise the state school board, which has a majority of members appointed by him, for “truly doing an amazing job.” He expressed pleasure that, earlier in the day, the board had given unanimous approval to Policy 2510, which will give county school boards more flexibility. He especially likes it that high school students will be able to get physical education credit for participating in such activities as show choir and drama.

In addition, Justice announced that he had received a call less than two hours before his State of the State address from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who said the federal government had approved West Virginia’s plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Another education-related topic that Justice addressed was the sexual abuse of children. He said the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources are “working tirelessly” on that issue. He said one in 10 young West Virginians suffers some level of sexual abuse before reaching age 18.

“It has got to stop,” Justice said. “It has to stop, and we’re on it. And some way, somehow, we’re going to stop it.”

During his address, Justice referred to himself as the state’s coach with the people of West Virginia as the players. He brought into the House of Delegates chamber, the site of the State of the State address, players from his girls’ basketball team from Greenbrier County. He had them do their cheer about being the best and then a special version of it for West Virginia to be the best.

“I want West Virginians to believe you’re the best,” Justice said. “I don’t want us to know our place and know our place should be 50th. I want us to know we’re the best.”

By Jim Wallace

State Supt. Steve Paine has told legislators that the Department of Education and state school board are working on a program to help students get college credits while they are still in high school.

Paine told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability this week that they were impressed recently by a young woman from Roscoe, Texas, who had taken two years of college courses while she still was in high school. She earned an associate degree when she graduated from high school. Then she went to Texas Tech for two years and graduated at age 20 with a teaching degree. Paine said her superintendent called her the district’s best math teacher.

That is the type of program he would like to create in West Virginia. He said it would have the added benefit of boosting participation in two-year and four-year colleges.

“I don’t see real defined pathways from high school to two-year or four-year [college],” Paine said about West Virginia’s current system. He said the state needs to identify those pathways.

The cost to do it would be nothing, Paine said, because it already could be done within West Virginia’s high schools. All that is needed, he said, is to certify that the schools have high-quality instructors and high-quality outcomes. He said career-technical education courses already can deliver advanced credentials.

“I think the sooner we can get young people directed on a pathway that makes sense to them and to their parents the more we’re going to see kids enroll in community and technical colleges and even four-year colleges.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“I think the sooner we can get young people directed on a pathway that makes sense to them and to their parents the more we’re going to see kids enroll in community and technical colleges and even four-year colleges,” Paine said.

On a related issue of preparing students for college education or careers, Kathy D’Antoni, associate superintendent in the Division of Technical Education and Governor’s Economic Initiatives, told legislators about an experiment conducted several years ago in the Parkersburg area, where a high school English teacher was upset that every year 50 percent of her former students went into remedial classes when they got into collage. The Department of Education connected her with a professor at West Virginia University-Parkersburg, so they could develop the curriculum for her 12th grade class. The next year, none of her students needed remedial classes.

“The problem is the curriculum is not aligned.” – Kathy D’Antoni

“The problem is the curriculum is not aligned,” D’Antoni said. The college entrance exam is more grammatical questions, but juniors and seniors in high school concentrate on literature, she said.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, responded, “That’s a simple fix. Why aren’t we doing that everywhere?”

“I have no idea,” D’Antoni said. “I agree.”

Paine said, “We would love to do that in all locations.” He said the department has had good discussions with community and technical colleges about it.

“I just think it takes us to commit ourselves to go to the table, and maybe you could give us a little push in the legislature,” Paine said. “Maybe you can push us to that table together.”

However, he added that the discussions should take place between the public schools and the colleges, not the Education Department and the oversight agencies for colleges and universities. He said some people in the past have had reluctance for such discussions.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, added, “Certainly, I think it’s something we need to pursue.”

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said West Virginia is not alone in facing this problem. “I don’t understand why higher education and K-through-12 has not had these discussions or, if they have, why they’ve not been fruitful,” he said. “It’s just frustrating.”

Espinosa said the state needs to do better at spreading the word about successful programs. Paine concluded by saying that institutions need to talk to each other.

By Jim Wallace

In the eight months since the West Virginia Legislature decided to eliminate Regional Education Service Agencies and make other changes in the public education system, county school districts have had a mixture of responses. Some have formed Education Service Cooperatives to replace the RESA, some have taken no steps to form ESCs and others are still considering their options.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, has told legislators they should consider making provisions for school districts to get technical assistance in navigating the changes. He also suggested to members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education that they consider whether more funding is needed for the transitions to be successful.

“We are displacing a group of agencies that were founded 46 years ago in 1972 in a 197-word bill. We’re replacing these agencies, and so there’s a lot of change.” – Howard O’Cull

“We are displacing a group of agencies that were founded 46 years ago in 1972 in a 197-word bill,” he said. “We’re replacing these agencies, and so there’s a lot of change.”

Many county school board members, superintendents and others see potential in the changes brought about by last year’s legislation, he said, but they have come to different conclusions about whether to form ESCs. Some are considering simpler styles of cooperative arrangements, he said. “So, we have a lot of movement here,” he said.

“There’s been a little bit of criticism – and I think it may be justified – that what we’ve done is…we’ve simply taken the RESA structures from maybe one or two different RESAs and combined them into an ESC,” O’Cull said. “You could easily criticize that if the goal of this is to get rid of RESAs.”

However, he argued that the situation has created capacity for school districts to work together.

There is the question of whether more money is needed to make it successful, O’Cull said, but he is not the one to answer that question. A subsidiary question, which is just as important, he said, is whether districts need technical assistance and resources to make the models of cooperation work.

“This did not come with directions for assembly,” O’Cull said. With technical assistance, he said, districts might figure out other services they could provide and how they could work with other districts.

“This setup is new,” O’Cull said. “It’s radical. As I said, 46 years have been displaced, and yet people are moving, and boards are moving in a good direction. But I think the technical assistance would really help them out here.”

Many of the issues that are emerging result from problems of geography, he said. “These things are not insurmountable,” O’Cull said. “They can be worked through to make this actually come about.”

Creativity could result from the process, he said, but it must be nurtured. “Remember, we live in a state and reside in a state where superintendents primarily are compliance managers,” O’Cull said. “You’re asking people now to have to continue to do that and yet move in a wholly different role, and that’s where the idea of the resources came in.”

The objective is to move forward and find ways to do things differently without disturbing the classrooms, he said. By June first, county boards are to provide to the legislature information on what changes in laws or policies they need to empower them to meet state education goals, O’Cull said, adding that some work has been done on that already.

“This idea is both very complex, but it’s pretty simple as well. You have to get over the complexity to get the simplicity.” – Howard O’Cull

“This idea is both very complex, but it’s pretty simple as well,” O’Cull said. “You have to get over the complexity to get the simplicity.”

Jason Butcher, coordinator for the state school board, told the committee that districts are continuing to analyze whether to join into Education Service Cooperatives. Those in RESA 8 have formed the Eastern Panhandle Instructional Cooperative. Districts in RESA 1 and RESA 4 have formed an ESC. Four of the six districts from RESA 2 are forming a cooperative. RESAs 3, 6 and 7 have shown no interest in forming ESCs. And Districts in RESA 5 are considering forming one, but it’s not certain.

At the governor’s request, the Department of education formed a RESA task force and worked closely with O’Cull on it, Butcher said. Participants included representatives from the department, the state board, the legislature, the governor’s office and the WVSBA. All of the issues brought to the task force have been addressed, he said.

Last year’s legislation also called for districts to be organized in quadrants to work on common issues. Butcher said the four quadrants are meeting monthly in conjunction with meetings of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.

A “fifth quadrant” representing districts that are small or have no excess levies also has been meeting, he said. At the first meeting, 18 county superintendents showed up.

“Their biggest concerns are that services that the REASs used to provide with the $3.5 million that was allocated from the state provided for free or reduced [cost] services,” Butcher said. “The counties saw the need for those services. They did not take those services away from their employees in the county, but they are having to pay for that out of their pocket. And a lot of counties are seeing – especially your smaller ones – that while they were able to pay for that this year, that’s not something they’re probably going to be able to fund going forward.”

Another problem the fifth quadrant counties are seeing is that their local share funding from the School Aid Formula is decreasing because taxes on many properties have gone unpaid, he said.

Also, Butcher said, geography prevents some counties from sharing employees through cooperative agreements. “Pocahontas County and Webster County would like to share a food nutrition director,” he said. “They were going to share that service, but they can’t find anybody to apply for it.” He noted that the trip between the two county seats is probably an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes on a good day.

“Professional development seems to be the number one thing that the counties are paying for now that they used to get free or at reduced cost from the RESAs,” Butcher said. “And they are unable to hire personnel for professional development. They can’t use federal funds to hire professional development specialists.”

Many superintendents are concerned about the cutting of Title II funds, he said. They think professional development could suffer further from those cuts, he said.

“Maybe the biggest challenge they have right now is the behavioral/mental health of our students who are affected by the opioid crisis. We have a lot of teachers who would like to have some extra help with how to handle their classrooms because of the things that are going on as a result of the opioid crisis, but there’s no money for them to receive that training.” – Jason Butcher

“Maybe the biggest challenge they have right now is the behavioral/mental health of our students who are affected by the opioid crisis,” Butcher said. “We have a lot of teachers who would like to have some extra help with how to handle their classrooms because of the things that are going on as a result of the opioid crisis, but there’s no money for them to receive that training.” He added that some teachers have retired because of that problem.

As a result of questioning by legislators, Butcher said that some of the RESAs had money left over, which has helped ESCs form.

“An ESC can form anytime,” he said. “It doesn’t have to happen by July 1, 2018. But if you don’t use the money that they currently have remaining – that is the seed money. So if they don’t hop on it now while they still have money in the coffers, then it’s going to be touch for an ESC to form going forward because there’s not going to be any money in any type of organization for them to start from.”

RESAs 1, 2, 4 and 8 had some money beyond what they need to stay open until the end of this fiscal year, Butcher said, and that played a role in forming ESCs in those areas. “The RESAs that had money are continuing on,” he said. “The RESAs who really didn’t have the money to make it past the end of this fiscal year are the ones who are looking at not going forward.”

O’Cull provided a detailed technical assistance proposal to the state Board of Education’s RESA Ad Hoc Committee. That stakeholder Committee is reviewing transition from RESAs to successor bodies. O’Cull’s proposal would include input from West Virginia University’s and Marshall University’s business schools, an array of business entrepreneurial organizations and would utilize two national experts specializing in regional educational services. O’Cull prefaced his comments to the Committee by noting direct monetary appropriations for RESA conversion were neither included in the 2017 legislation establishing the successor entities nor requested by the state Board or Department of Education. 

Most districts create alternative certification programs.

In other business, the committee learned this week that all but a few school districts have developed state-approved alternative certification programs for teachers. Michele Blatt, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Support and Accountability, said 52 districts have come up with such programs. She said Boone and Monroe counties are working on programs, which leaves Mingo County without one.

At this time, 23 districts have implemented their programs, Blatt said. “Since we’ve enacted this policy, we’ve had 88 teachers certified through the alternative pathways across our districts,” she said. Most of them have obtained special education certification, she said. In some cases, people can go through a program and pick up two or three endorsements, she said.

One district that has been very active in the program is Kanawha County.

“This program has been very, very good for Kanawha County,” Missy Ruddle, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said. “We spent a lot of time as a leadership team, management team, designing what we wanted the program to look like.”

“I wish we had as many math people in alternative certification as we do special education because math is an area that we are struggling to get teachers in.” – Missy Ruddle

Although the program is working well, Ruddle said, the district is not getting the mix of new teachers it would like. “I wish we had as many math people in alternative certification as we do special education because math is an area that we are struggling to get teachers in,” she said. The program has resulted in hiring three math teachers who have been very successful, she said.

Ruddle said the program requires people to pass the praxis ahead of time. “So we know these people have the content knowledge if they come to us; they may not have the pedagogy,” she said. “And that’s what we work with them with.”

The district has hired seven fulltime teacher mentors to work one on one with people in the program, Ruddle said. The program requires participants to take two graduate programs: one on blended learning and one on personalized learning. They also must get extra training in special education. Thus, Ruddle said, the program takes a year to two years to complete.

“We have to have committed people to take these courses, and we feel like we built a program that’s built with some integrity,” she said. “We’ve been successful with the teachers that have gone through this program.”

Ron Pauley, certification specialist for the district, said eight of the 10 candidates from last year – the program’s first year – are now fully certified and two are second-year students. He said the number of participants has doubled this year.

“We see that it’s been a great benefit for Kanawha County schools,” Pauley said. “We are seeing a benefit across the board.”

Transforming school leadership moves forward.

The committee also heard this week from Blatt on progress made in transforming school leadership as a result of House Bill 4301. The goal is to help educators become better leaders and help teachers become principals and principals become superintendents.

Blatt said the Network for Education Excellence will begin in the summer with weeklong sessions in the northern part of the state and in the southern part to provide professional learning for teachers, counselors and principals. She said a learning institute for principals, similar to one held several years ago, will begin this summer and expand in the summer of 2019 to regional academies. The Department of Education is in discussions with the Southern Regional Education Board and the National Council on Education and Economics about what resources they have available to help with that institute.

“It’s been successful more than we could ever have imagined.” – Michele Blatt

Last fall, the department started a leadership academy for superintendents and aspiring superintendents. Blatt said it offers monthly leadership development sessions. “It’s been successful more than we could ever have imagined,” she said. About 75 people attend each session, and 33 have signed up to earn national certification from the American Association of School Administrators, she said.

On a related matter, Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, asked what the average classroom experience of West Virginia principals is these days. Blatt said that, over the past five or six years, principals have been getting much younger. In the past, they tended to teach 15 to 20 years before becoming principals, she said.

“You have to have taught for three years to become a principal, and we have some that are right on that bubble,” Blatt said. That’s partly because many experienced teachers don’t want to accept the additional responsibility, she said. “So over the past five years, that average number has definitely dropped significantly,” she said.

Cooper said, “I have fielded a few complaints about lack of experience on the part of principals.”

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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.