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February 24, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 13

News

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved a couple of bills dealing with public schools this week, but the one that received the most attention was House Bill 3225, which would add to the definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

As it was introduced, the bill would have required a child to attend two months of school-provided counseling if he or she is found to be guilty of harassing, intimidating or bullying another student. Added to the definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying were electronic communications and transmissions. Also, the bill specified that the harm involved could be physical or emotional.

“I think what we’ve encouraged county boards to do is develop a policy. Most boards are waiting either for something we’ve developed or the state board itself is going to have for some guidance here.” – WVSBA Executive Director Howard O’Cull

Committee members struggled to understand what the changes would mean. They began by trying to figure out how county school boards now handle such issues as bullying or harassment through electronic communications.

“County boards currently have policies to deal with safe schools issues, but they probably do not have policies dealing specifically with bullying when it occurs through electronic means,” Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, told them. “We have had workshops on this topic. It is a live issue across the country. I think what we’ve encouraged county boards to do is develop a policy. Most boards are waiting either for something we’ve developed or the state board itself is going to have for some guidance here.”

O’Cull added that it’s a very complicated issue. “It’s complicated by a number of factors, including the fact that some of these incidents do occur after school,” he said. “They’re caused by other situations involving students, maybe not on school property. I think the purpose here is to get county boards to a position where they could develop a policy, maybe expanding what they already have.”

Martha Dean, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, said her organization recently had a seminar about harassment, including electronic means of harassment. But she was concerned about one aspect of the bill.

“To impose in law two months of counseling would be a cost to the counties,” she said.

Emotions are hard to measure.

Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, was concerned about what might be considered as causing emotional harm. He suggested that someone who breaks a romantic relationship with another might fall into that category.

Staff attorney Candace Kraus said a school would have to investigate each incident individually.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, asked whether a student could be found guilty for just one instance of emotional harm. Kraus said that could be possible. “I don’t think the intent is to have it be that broad, but I see your point,” she said.

Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, was more concerned about the bill’s requirement for schools to have a process for putting guilty students into alternative school settings if those students did not satisfy the requirement for mandatory counseling.

“Do you have any idea how many schools in West Virginia in elementary, K-5 and in some cases K-6, do not have an alternative school setting to put these students in?” he asked. “In other words, it would require them to be taught outside of the regular classroom.”

Shaver said he knew for sure that the Preston County schools don’t have the funds for such a program.

Main cause of bullying is disputed.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, asked if two months of counseling would be an ample amount of time for someone to go through the process.

Stephen Skinner, president of Fairness West Virginia, a civil rights advocacy group, responded, “The challenge, when you talk about two months, is not just the student doing the bullying but the source of it.” He said that, in New Jersey, parents are included in the counseling.

“The targets of bullying are primarily gay kids and kids who are perceived to be gay.”––Stephen Skinner of Fairness West Virginia

“From our perspective, the problem with the bill right now, including the two months’ counseling, is it fails to recognize the real problem: counseling about what?” Skinner said. “The targets of bullying are primarily gay kids and kids who are perceived to be gay. And that is the source of bullying. If anyone goes to any school, the number one word that is heard when bullying begins is the word ‘faggot.’ So when we talk about bullying that’s what we’re really talking about. Whether it’s two months or a year of counseling, we’re avoiding the problem by not recognizing what it is.”

In response, House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked, “Do you believe there is bullying of students that are smarter than the average student and who therefore get called “Brains” or “Brownie” or –.”

“I believe that most students at some point experience bullying for some reason,” Skinner said before she could finish. “Everybody’s searching for why they’re different. One reason why we find that socially acceptable in schools and continue to have problems is the targeting of gay kids or kids who are perceived to be gay. You have to remember that it’s children who may not be gay.”

Calling someone “Brains” is not an insult, he said.

“Do you agree that children get harassed because they’re poor or they’re not athletic, and I guess I’m trying to say I don’t know where your statistics come from,” Poling said. “I agree with you that children who arguably are perceived as gay also experience it. But I think one of the questions that will come up here later is if you start listing the causes for harassment, who are we leaving out?”

Skinner again said it’s necessary to look at the targets of harassment. He said there have been cases across the country about students who have committed suicide at ages 11, 12 and 13 after being bullied for years. “And we look at the reason they have committed suicide,” he said. “It’s because they are perceived as gay by their classmates.”

Further, Skinner said, a person could walk into any school in West Virginia and likely hear the word “faggot” being used. “One of the problems is that teachers don’t know that that is wrong,” he said.

But Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, said he was under the impression that it’s more acceptable now to be gay than in the past. He added that children get bullied for such little differences as having what are perceived to be the wrong shoes.

“I think being gay is at the bottom of the list. I think there is more acceptance now than there ever has been.” –Delegate Ralph Rodighiero

“I think being gay is at the bottom of the list,” Rodighiero said. “I think there is more acceptance now than there ever has been.”

“I think statistics would show the opposite of that,” Skinner replied. He mentioned that Fairness West Virginia had an event at the Capitol Monday to support Sam Hall, a 28-year-old who maintains he was bullied out of his mining job. But that statement did not sit well with Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam.

“I taught for 30 years, and I handled a lot of bullying cases, and I would say that being gay or being perceived as gay was far and away the minority,” he said. “It was too fat, too thin, not athletic, being in the band, so on and so forth, but gay and not gay – I don’t ever remember having it.”

Paxton added that the case of a 28-year-old coal miner was not relevant.

But Skinner responded, “The reason why there are 28-year-olds that are still subject to intense workplace bullying is that we’re not dealing with our children. I went to public schools in West Virginia, and I certainly have heard the word ‘faggot’ used with casual abandon. We can walk through any schoolyard and hear it any day, and the statistics support it.”

Skinner added, “Once someone is targeted as being gay, their life is miserable. These are the kids that are at risk. They are something like 25 percent more at risk for committing suicide.”

“Do you have statistics on the ones that are fat? What’s their statistics on committing suicide? How about the band boys for committing suicide? What’s the statistics on that? What about the nerds? What are the statistics on that for the ones that commit suicide?”– Delegate Brady Paxton

To that, Paxton asked, “Do you have statistics on the ones that are fat? What’s their statistics on committing suicide? How about the band boys for committing suicide? What’s the statistics on that? What about the nerds? What are the statistics on that for the ones that commit suicide?”

“I don’t think there are any,” Skinner replied, but he doubted that any kids kill themselves for being labeled band members.

Other possibilities are proposed.

Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said her son was bullied because he was short and in the band, and he had to be put in a private school for a year.

“I think something needs to be done, but it’s not just those that are perceived as gay,” she said. “It’s anybody who’s different.”

Delegate Margaret Smith, D-Lewis, suggested defining the classes of bullying victims in the bill. But Kraus told her, that by defining classes, the bill could eliminate someone who is bullied.

Walker then suggested, “Couldn’t we just do the same thing we’re trying to do with electronic communications by just telling the school boards to not allow cell phones and texts on school grounds?”

“You want a riot?” someone quipped.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, was concerned about how emotional harm would be determined. “Physically harming, I think, can be easily quantified,” he said. “However, I’m not certain how you quantify what a reasonable person would do to emotionally harm another. It seems to me that that’s somewhat of a floating target.”

“I’m not certain how you quantify what a reasonable person would do to emotionally harm another. It seems to me that that’s somewhat of a floating target.” – Delegate Marty Gearheart

Kraus responded, “I agree with you that it is subjective, and it would be a case-by-case analysis, and it would be on the part of the school administrator to look and see what they term a reasonable person would do. So yes, I agree it’s subjective, and it’s not quantified within the bill.”

Gearheart also expressed concern that the bill calls for two months of counseling without saying whether that is daily sessions or one session or something else.

“That could vary among the different county boards,” Kraus said. “It could be part of their policy to establish what the specifics of that are, what the time requirements would be.”

After the long discussion, Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, proposed an amendment to remove the language about putting students guilty of harassment, intimidation or bullying into alternative school settings.

“I think that solves it,” Paxton said. “I think it’s well thought out, and I think that will go a long way toward taking the unsatisfactory language out of here.”

“By taking that alternative school setting out of there, it makes the bill more reasonable. It makes it so that boards of education then can work on their policies and procedures rather than giving them a defined punishment.” – Delegate Stan Shaver

Shaver agreed and said, “I know for a fact that in the state of West Virginia, when it comes to an alternative school setting, that boards of education do not have in most cases those for elementary schools, because they don’t have funding to do so. It’s just not there. Middle school and high school get the emphasis. So consequently, by taking that alternative school setting out of there, it makes the bill more reasonable. It makes it so that boards of education then can work on their policies and procedures rather than giving them a defined punishment.”

The committee approved that amendment and two others to change a few words. Then committee members voted 18 to four to approve House Bill 3225 and send it to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Second Chance Option will get a second look.

Another bill that received much attention from the committee was House Bill 3199, which would create a pathway to proficiency for third-graders though eleventh-graders. The bill would have the state school board develop Second Chance Option tests for those students who do not achieve certain levels in two content areas of the WESTEST2, the state’s summative assessment test.

It also would require county school boards to implement plans for building critical skills for those students who do not increase their proficiencies by at least one level after taking the Second Chance Option tests, although there would be some exceptions. In addition, county boards would have to provide suitable facilities to implement the instructional programs. But the bill would preserve a teacher's judgment on student retention decisions and preserve individualized education plans.

When Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, asked about the cost of the bill, senior policy analyst David Mohr said there is no cost estimate, but he thought the real cost would be for remediating students who fall short of proficiency standards. He also said the Education Department wants the Second Chance Option tests to be developed by the same company that develops the WESTEST2 to minimize costs.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Lawrence, said the Second Chance Option tests would be abridged versions of the WESTEST2.

“One of the biggest issues is how to make students accountable for doing their best on tests so that they really do score and show what they know. We’ve heard testimony from the previous superintendent of schools that some of the very best students just randomly mark the answers, because they have nothing at stake in these tests.”–House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling

On a motion from Paxton, the committee voted to have a subcommittee led by Lawrence study the bill further. Poling then said she hoped the subcommittee could improve the bill.

“One of the biggest issues is how to make students accountable for doing their best on tests so that they really do score and show what they know,” she said. “We’ve heard testimony from the previous superintendent of schools that some of the very best students just randomly mark the answers, because they have nothing at stake in these tests.”

Jason Flatt Act comes back.

The House Education Committee also approved House Bill 3171, which is to provide teachers, administrators and others having direct contact with students with the education and training necessary to ensure the safety of schools.

But before doing so, the committee added language to educate all professional educators and service personnel having direct contact with students on warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention. That provision would be labeled the Jason Flatt Act of 2011, in honor of a Tennessee high school student who committed suicide several years ago. If it is passed, West Virginia would join other states that have passed their own laws in memory of Flatt. Previous attempts to pass a Jason Flatt Act in West Virginia were not successful.

House Bill 3171 must get through the House Finance Committee before it can go to the full House of Delegates.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee approved several public education bills this week, and the Senate Finance Committee approved two others, including one intended to reduce truancy and the number of dropouts.

One bill that passed out of the Finance Committee is Senate Bill 228, which has been labeled the Local Solution Dropout and Recovery Act, It is one of the education reform bills proposed by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, expressed concern that the Department of Education had estimated the bill would cost $1.2 million. That would be for the development and maintenance of a comprehensive statewide individual student data system

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, explained that it would be an early warning indicator system, so officials could see where intervention is needed to alleviate truancy and possibly prevent certain students from later becoming dropouts.

“Really, the dropout problem is local. It’s county by county, so what benefit is it for the attendance director from Wayne County to know what’s going on in Mineral County?” – Sen. Dave Sypolt

“Really, the dropout problem is local,” Sypolt protested. “It’s county by county, so what benefit is it for the attendance director from Wayne County to know what’s going on in Mineral County?”

Plymale responded, “I think it would be important for us to know as legislators what’s happening from the state’s standpoint in what we’ve implemented in the pilot projects and whether they’re effective.”

For instance, he said, the Wood County schools have reduced truancy as much as 50 percent using methods explained in a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Judiciary committees.

The Senate Finance Committee then approved the Senate Bill without dissent.

Senate Bill 229, which also was requested by Tomblin, received even quicker approval from the committee. It would provide assistance with student loans for math and science teachers who agree to teach in areas and schools with critical needs for such teachers.

Both bills, which were previously approved by the Senate Education Committee, have gone on to the full Senate. They are on track to pass out of the Senate either late this week or early next week.

Committee removes incarceration from truancy bill.

The bills passed by the Senate Education Committee included another one aimed at cutting down on truancy. As it started out, Senate Bill 447 would have provided for jailing of parents, guardians or custodians of minor children who are found to be truants, but that provision was stripped out of the bill.

Plymale, who is a cosponsor of the bill, said it was changed to instead include some of the methods used in Wood County and Kanawha County to reduce truancy, as explained in last week’s hearing before a joint meeting of the Education and Judiciary committees. He said his cosponsor, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, was pleased with the changes.

Senate Bill 447 now goes to Palumbo’s committee for further consideration.

Equity calculations would change.

Another bill the Education Committee approved, Senate Bill 558, is intended to change the method for determining whether salary equity exists among counties for professional educators and service personnel. The need to provide salary equity goes back a few decades to a decision by Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht.

The state has been comparing the counties with the top five salary levels to those with the bottom five salary levels. Senate Bill 558 would expand that to 10 at the top and 10 at the bottom. The thinking is that doing so would produce fewer aberrations that occur when one or two counties boost salaries significantly. That happened in the most recent school year, so the Legislature is faced with coming up with $5.8 million to raise salaries in the lower-ranking counties.

“This does mean we have to do the $5.8 million this year and possibly do some next year, but looking forward, we thought it was better to look at 10 counties,” Plymale told the committee.

“Everyone probably recognizes that we probably need to change the definition of equity, because we are shooting at a moving target.” –Bob Brown of WVSSPA

Bob Brown, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said there is wide agreement for the change. “Everyone probably recognizes that we probably need to change the definition of equity, because we are shooting at a moving target,” he said.

Senate Bill 558 goes on to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

Senate Bill 528 would allow classified workers who are physically unable to perform their job duties on a temporary or permanent basis to work in jobs with different classifications at the discretion of the their school boards. They could continue to receive the compensation associated with their previous positions.

That bill also goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration following its approval by the Senate Education Committee.

New funding for sports facilities is sought.

One bill that received much discussion from the Senate Education Committee was Senate Bill 315. It would set aside $10 million from the state’s Excess Lottery Revenue Fund for use in funding athletic facilities at high schools and middle schools.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the bill stemmed from a search for “a homegrown funding source” for athletic facilities.

“Athletics are very important, because that is part of a student’s education,” he said, adding that students involved in athletics learn teamwork and other skills.

Plymale said the School Building Authority does not provide funding for athletic facilities, so some other source is needed. He noted that he was chairman of the fundraising committee for athletic facilities at Spring Valley High School. He said the committee raised $1.6 million but that didn’t go far in paying for athletic facilities.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said he had mixed emotions about the bill. He expressed concern that the funding formula would give more money to bigger schools.

“It’s been my experience that the triple-A schools have the greatest ability to raise funds. They are located in cities. It has been my experience…that single-A schools have limited ability to raise funds. Maybe we have this backwards.” –Sen. Clark Barnes

“It’s been my experience that the triple-A schools have the greatest ability to raise funds,” Barnes said. “They are located in cities. It has been my experience – and I’ll use Pocahontas and Pendleton counties for an example – that single-A schools have limited ability to raise funds. Maybe we have this backwards.”

Plymale said he helped develop the funding formula and said there is “no scientific approach” to it.

“Actually, I don’t think we’ve studied this enough to really have an idea,” he said. “Considering what questions you’re having, I think it would be logical that we would put this into a study that would come back to us and recommend whether we should use this concept that we have.”

But despite Plymale’s suggestion to study the issue further, the committee went ahead and approved the bill. It must get through the Senate Finance Committee if it is to be considered by the full Senate.

One House-passed bill the Senate Education Committee approved this week is House Bill 2757, which specifies how evaluations of teachers and other professional personnel should be handled. The bill also would change deadlines for school boards to take certain personnel actions. The committee approved it with little discussion. The next stop for the bill is the Senate Finance Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The new Teacher Induction Program in Cabell County’s secondary schools has been so successful that the school system is hoping to expand it to the rest of the county’s schools.

School officials are hoping to get permission to do so soon when the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability holds its next meeting. But in the meantime, district officials got a chance to explain the program this week to the Senate Education Committee. They suggested it could be adopted by other school systems across West Virginia.

Cabell County Assistant Supt. Gerry Sawrey said the program started in the summer of 2009, when administrators at Cabell-Midland High School were concerned about a large number of new teachers who were coming into the school.

“They were very worried about what the quality of instruction would look like at Cabell-Midland High School,” she said. “So they got together with some of our best and brightest curriculum supervisors and instructional coaches and designed a program of support that they put in place in addition to the mentoring program that’s required by code.”

Sawrey said that effort not only was successful but also timed well.

“It just so happened that that dovetailed into Innovation Zone legislation, and in January 2010, our secondary schools were granted Innovation Zone status, and there were a number of waivers of policy and two waivers of code that went with that Innovation Zone,” she said. One waiver of code dealt with the new teacher mentoring program, she said.

“The only problem that we have is a good kind of problem. We want to have this kind of problem. It’s that all our other schools want to be involved in this program as well.” –Cabell County Assistant Supt. Gerry Sawrey

“The only problem that we have is a good kind of problem,” Sawrey said. “We want to have this kind of problem. It’s that all our other schools want to be involved in this program as well.”

That’s why the Cabell County schools are going back to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability to ask for another waiver. If the commission grants it, the entire county would be under a waiver to participate in the program, Sawry said.

First years are the hardest.

Lenora Richardson, the system’s curriculum supervisor, told the senators that the program is based on a premise of Harry Wong, a former high school science teacher in California who is now a leading speaker on education and the author of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. He said, “The teachers hired today are the teachers for a next generation. Their success will determine the success of an entire generation of students.” 

Richardson cited a study that found that one-third of beginning teachers quit within their first three years on the job. She said Cabell County’s Teacher Induction Program is trying to provide the support those teachers need to get through the struggles of those early years.

“I know myself, when I began teaching, it took me three years to finally determine that I knew what I was doing,” Richardson said.

Among the concerns she listed are:

  • Tenure to mediocre teachers;
  • Test scores that are flat;
  • Teachers who work solo behind closed doors with very little sharing and collaboration;
  • Focus on teachers rather than students, and resistance to change;
  • Hit-or-miss professional development for new teachers; and
  • New teachers who jump ship.

Richardson said it costs about $50,000 for every teacher who leaves a district after one year. “We want to keep our best and brightest in our schools,” she said, so the developers of the program identified the reasons why new teachers were ineffective or left the district. Those reasons include:

  • New teachers feel overwhelmed by the expectations and scope of the job.
  • New teachers feel isolated and unsupported in their classrooms.
  • New teachers are unclear about expectations.
  • New teachers’ own expectations don’t match the actual job.

Program got off to a good start.

Sandra Duncan, Cabell County’s secondary instruction coach, told the committee, “We think that it has been serendipitous the way that this has come together. It’s really been one smooth transition after another in Cabell County.”

Once a trimester, teachers receive intensive instruction on best practice strategies during two-day sessions. Those sessions are scheduled at intervals throughout the school year to give teachers time to use the strategies in their classes. The topics addressed in those sessions include:

  • Learning-focused strategies;
  • 21st Century teaching and learning;
  • Deconstructing standards and formative assessment;
  • Quadrant D lesson/unit planning;
  • Classroom management;
  • Differentiated instruction;
  • Academic vocabulary, content reading and writing strategies; and
  • Project-based learning.

Duncan said the Quadrant D lesson/unit planning is a framework from the International Center for Leadership in Education. She said the classroom instruction support also includes emphasis on extending reading and writing across the curriculum.

The first day of a session is spent on intensive training, Duncan said. On the second day, experts help the new teachers with planning, she said, and they follow up with classroom instructional support.

Duncan said it’s also important to teach classroom management strategies.

“A teacher coming out of college has no idea what a real classroom is like. They’ve had some student teaching experience, but even the best student teaching experience cannot prepare you for the real classroom as it is, especially the way society has changed today.” – Sandra Duncan, secondary instruction coach in Cabell County

“A teacher coming out of college has no idea what a real classroom is like,” she said. “They’ve had some student teaching experience, but even the best student teaching experience cannot prepare you for the real classroom as it is, especially the way society has changed today.”

It’s important to build in time for follow-up and feedback with the new teachers, as well as to ask if they need collaboration time, Duncan said. They get support from the central office and from their peers, she said, and there is an accountability factor, because they know someone cares about what they are doing.

The program also includes a celebration at which the new teachers come together and share their portfolios. In addition, the program coordinators follow up with a debriefing session with administrators at each school.

Cabell County Supt. Bill Smith said, “I’m very proud of what they’ve done.”

Sawrey said the district hopes to implement the expanded program in August if it gets the needed waiver from the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the commission should meet within the next couple of weeks and will consider Cabell County’s request.

 

Three Republican members of the House of Delegates have introduced House Bill 3146, which they have labeled the “Tea Party Act.”

If it would become law, the bill would require $1 billion to be cut out of the state budget in increments of $200 million in each of five fiscal years. The state budget then would be frozen at that level.

Money saved as a result of the cuts, along with 50 percent of any budget surpluses, would be placed in a new account that would be used to reduce taxes.

The bill was introduced last Tuesday and assigned to the House Finance Committee, but it has had no movement since then. The sponsors are: Eric Householder, R-Berkeley; Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley; and Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer.

 

The United States Department of Education extended a unique invitation to Hampshire County Schools by inviting three individuals from that county to take part in a summit meeting in Denver, Col., on Feb. 15 and 16.

Hampshire County Schools' Supt. Robin Lewis, along with board President Bernie Hott and the president of the Hampshire County Education Association, Nancy Clark, accepted the invitation from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

This historic gathering was the coming together of like minds to rethink the traditional labor/management relationship. The conference’s main objective was to plant seeds for participants to take back to their home counties. Conference attendees were asked to concentrate on collaboration.

Successful labor-management relations in public education should enable school boards, district administrators, principals and teachers to design and enact policies that optimize the academic success of their students. To do this, there must be shared responsibility to establish a strong and stable school environment and give educators resources and tools to transform all schools so that all students receive a genuine opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

“This conference challenged me to find new ways to provide a world-class education for our students,” Lewis said. “We must always put the interest of children first – from setting policy and appropriating budgets, to hiring staff, negotiating agreements and ensuring due process. This conference was the U.S  Department of Education at its best, connecting people, ideas and resources and setting a vision for change.”

Sponsors for this event were the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, American Association of School Administrators, National School Boards Association and the Federal Medication and Conciliation Service.

Editor’s Note: Article based on a submission by Hampshire County Schools Supt. Robin Lewis.