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October 31, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 23

 

 

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

West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., has announced that Jonathan Kozol, an author, educator and activist who bases much of his extensive work on social psychology and social criticism, will be the keynote speaker for the WVSBA’s Conference ’12.

“Mr. Kozol last spoke to our group in 1997 at our 45th Anniversary Conference,” O’Cull said. “The association was founded in 1952, and we felt it would be fitting to have Mr. Kozol return. His message of the inequities in public education, whether in rural or urban settings, is prescient, thought-provoking and probing. That is how I describe the author’s body of work.”

Conference ’12 will be held September 14-15 in Charleston.

O’Cull said additional details will be made available to members. He also stated the meeting would include a book-signing and that the session will be open to the public, as with the rest of the 60th Anniversary program.

“Mr. Kozol is thought-provoking,” O’Cull said. “He will be an excellent speaker.”

Association past presidents will be invited to the 60th anniversary conference and that, if logistics allow, so will 2012 gubernatorial candidates, he said.

For more information, please contact O’Cull at hocull@wvsba.org or telephone either 304-346-0571 or 304.-549-9463.

 

Most of West Virginia’s county school boards are waiting on the state Supreme Court to decide whether the state has mishandled the issue of OPEB – other post-employment benefits – as the school boards contend.

Their case against the state was argued before the Supreme Court a few weeks ago. They contend that they should not be required to carry the liability for OPEB on their books, because the state is responsible for the liability and for funding public schools. A law passed by the Legislature in 2006 required school boards to show their share of the liability on their books.

The case involves 49 of the state’s 55 county school systems. Most of the OPEB liability represents health care benefits that have been promised to current and future retirees from public sector jobs, including teachers and other school system employees. The latest estimate is that West Virginia’s total OPEB liability is about $8 billion with about 40 percent to 45 percent of that assigned to school boards.

Attorney Howard Seufer argued the case on behalf of the school boards. Attorney Ned Rose argued the other side as the lawyer for the Public Employees Insurance Agency. One of his arguments was that, although the school boards are required to carry the liability on their books, they have not been required to pay off the liability.

The case went to the Supreme Court after a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge dismissed the school boards’ lawsuit. It is uncertain when the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the case.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Education Department is taking a cautious approach toward an opportunity to get a break from some of the strict rules of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The Obama administration is offering states the chance to apply for flexibility under the law, which was an initiative of the Bush administration.

“We want to make sure that we clearly understand what we will be asking to waive.” – Supt. Jorea Marple

“We’re really studying this issue carefully,” state Supt. Jorea Marple told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability at their October meeting. “There are two submissions for a waiver, one in November and one in February. We want to make sure that we clearly understand what we will be asking to waive.”

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, asked if West Virginia could just ignore No Child Left Behind. “It’s an invasion of states’ rights,” he said.

“The problem, Senator, is all that growth money that comes with Title I and $97 for special ed., and $22 million for Title II that you might be foregoing,” Marple responded.

But Plymale, who has never liked No Child Left Behind, said, “You can never reach proficiency under their model.” Marple agreed that the law is too harsh in its demands, but she wasn’t sure a waiver would give the state the relief it seeks.

“When you look at the guidance on the waiver, it’s still very problematic that way,” she said. “You’re not going to waive the fact that you have to make sure that all schools meet AYP [adequate yearly progress]. The waiver extends that deadline to 2020.”

Marple added that the state would not only have to adopt national Common Core standards in curriculum, which West Virginia has done, but the state also must have its assessments aligned with the Common Core. “And that is a very large cost factor,” she said.

“Our strategy is to study what others have done,” Marple said, adding that some states have submitted a “comprehensive structure,” which would throw out the old system. “Then we want to see what states going for flexibility have to submit, and see what’s actually approved, before we make a decision.”

Plymale asked Marple to get lawmakers the list of states that are going after waivers. She said she would do that.

“What we’re trying to develop is a system that is reasonable and based upon what’s good for kids.” – Supt. Marple

“What we’re trying to develop is a system that is reasonable and based upon what’s good for kids,” she said. “We want to develop and restructure in compliance with statute and our accreditation system, so what we’re putting in place is valuing growth for all children, which is not the case with No Child Left Behind.”

 

Department seeks to make other changes.

On other matters, Marple said the department had submitted an application for a federal early learning grant for almost $38 million. She also said a pilot project for teacher evaluations is well under way with 25 schools participating.

“They’re focused on making sure that we include all of the appropriate elements for teacher evaluation, including evidence of student learning,” she said.

“What we have found is where we are cooking from scratch and serving breakfast at the appropriate time, we have dramatically increased our participation of children in it. And we’re getting rave reviews on the quality of food.” – Supt. Marple

Marple said a new “universal food program” in eight counties was having “a huge amount of success.” She said, “What we have found is where we are cooking from scratch and serving breakfast at the appropriate time, we have dramatically increased our participation of children in it. And we’re getting rave reviews on the quality of food.”

Plymale asked if the increased participation is creating increased costs.

“We anticipate that the counties will not incur additional costs, because we are increasing the number of children who we are getting reimbursement for,” Marple said. In some counties, she said, the number of students eating breakfast has increased by 20 percent to 30 percent.

“In Cabell County, when they truly started cooking from scratch, in one year they saved $500,000,” Marple said. She added that it’s important to feed children the right kinds of food to address the obesity issue that’s growing in the state. She noted that the state is getting national attention for its efforts.

The code of student conduct also is up for review. Marple said Policy 4373, which combines several different policies, is out for comments.

“We have revised the code of conduct section, but we have added a section that speaks to how we expect our children to behave and to encourage and expect our teachers to teach good behaviors in the classroom rather than just focusing on punishment,” she said. Marple assured legislators that if a student is disruptive and unsafe to be in class, the principal may remove that student.

The state school board is expected to consider adopting the new policy in December after people have a chance to comment on it, she said. 

More changes could be coming from a group working on attendance, Marple said, because that group is expected to recommend some statute changes.

Yet another committee is working on what she called “a balanced calendar,” which is a form of holding school throughout the year. Marple said the committee is looking “at not adding days but looking at how we support a calendar that is more balanced without having these large number of days the children are off in the summertime.” She said the department would develop guidance for schools and districts that want to consider year-round school calendars.

The department also is forming a committee on Policy 2510, which deals with time students are required to spend in school. Marple said the committee wants to remove time requirements for high school credit classes and build a system for students to show they have acquired required skills.

Finally, she said, the department is working on a pilot with Kanawha County to expand the teaching of world languages. Marple said the department is entering into a memorandum of understanding at the new school on the West Side of Charleston for the county to put in more world language teachers on the elementary level. She said there will be a fulltime Spanish teacher in the new school and eventually two teachers there. The plan is also to have two teachers at the future school that will be built on Charleston’s West Side, she said, so children can receive daily instruction in Spanish.

 

By Jim Wallace

A Marshall University official has suggested to one group of legislators that West Virginia should try to convert retired military personnel into teachers.

Stan Maynard, executive director of the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, called people coming out of the military “an untapped resource.”

“They bring a certain degree of gravitas,” he told members of Education Subcommittee B at their October meeting. “They bring leadership. They can work in teams.”

Maynard said many retired military persons also have degrees in math or science. Plus, he said, they might be more willing than others to relocate to rural areas.

“What I’m saying is, this is a group of individuals who have high ability, high leadership skills, and they can walk into a school bringing characteristics that you don’t just find anywhere.”—Stan Maynard of Marshall University

“These are families who have been used to being deployed, so they’ve been used to going to wherever it has been necessary to go,” Maynard said. “What I’m saying is, this is a group of individuals who have high ability, high leadership skills, and they can walk into a school bringing characteristics that you don’t just find anywhere.”

However, he said, many of them don’t have time to go to graduate school to earn master’s degrees. So he proposed an alternative certification process that would involve a one-month summer academy followed by fall and spring semesters with two Friday/Saturday sessions each month. That process would be used for two consecutive years.

Maynard said the participants would develop portfolios using the standards for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which they could use later to become nationally certified teachers. He said he developed this approach after studying what has worked in other states, as well as what has worked in West Virginia. Maynard said it is time for West Virginia to do something new.

“The analogy is to say, I’ve bought this house,” he said. “I have to decide whether I’m going to redecorate it or remodel it, and I think we’re at the point with alternative certification that redecoration is not necessarily going to cut it. I think we got to remodel.”

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said, “This does have a lot of merit as I see it.”

 

By Jim Wallace

A group of lawmakers studying how to prevent students from dropping out of school have turned their attention to the use of Innovation Zones in that effort. Innovation Zones allow school systems to waive certain education policies so they can experiment with different approaches to problems.

“It has allowed us to take things off the shelf we wanted to do.” – Gerry Sawrey of Cabell County schools

At the October meeting of Education Subcommittee A, members heard from Gerry Sawrey, assistant superintendent of Cabell County schools, who said her system is pleased with what it has been able to do with its Innovation Zone. “It has allowed us to take things off the shelf we wanted to do,” she said.

Through the Innovation Zone, Sawrey said, the Cabell County Secondary Schools Consortium has redesigned high schools to personalize students’ experience by differentiating graduation requirements and providing flexibility in the way students earn high school credits.
Under that system, ninth- and tenth-grade students get a core curriculum infused with 21st century learning skills so they can build foundations for progressing through the upper grades. Students who struggle with critical skills receive opportunities for direct reading and math instruction during the school day. Credit recovery is embedded into the school day to allow students to repeat coursework and demonstrate proficiency.

When students become grounded in the core curriculum, they get the opportunity to pursue their particular interests on their way to graduation. The personalized learning experience options include career and interest academies, online learning options, internships, embedded credits, increased career and technical education offerings, and extended learning opportunities for earning credits.

Sawrey said the three Rs for the 21st century are rigor, relevance and relationships. She said some of the Innovation Zone components are student-focused while others are teacher-focused.

 

Most elements are focused on students.

Career and interest academies allow students to pursue interests while getting core subjects, she said. Among the academies currently being offered are: fine arts, health services, child development, innovation (engineering), building construction, civil service, and marketing and business. Academies in development include: Pro-Start, hospitality, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and sports management.

“There are a lot of things that make kids want to come to school in those academies,” Sawrey said.

Because of the Innovation Zone, early graduation is a possibility for some Cabell County students who are highly motivated to earn required credits in less than four years. The Innovation Zone has a waiver from state policy that calls for students to stay in high school for a full four years. Students who choose this option must have post-secondary education plans in place. Sawrey said six students have chosen to pursue early graduation this year, the first year it has been offered.

Other features of the Innovation Zone are ninth-grade academies and sophomore seminars. In the ninth-grade academies, committee members determine what skills students need to learn to be successful across all courses and grades in high school. In the sophomore seminars, students focus on 21st century skills and habits of mind.

Sawrey called another aspect of the Innovation Zone, extended learning opportunities, the “most out-of-the-box” feature. Students can earn credit for learning that takes place outside of classrooms and outside of the traditional school day. The concept is to allow students to customize their curriculum while making sure they learn West Virginia content standards and course objectives. Sawrey said one student learned how to run a business. She said this option could be good for struggling students.

School-wide literacy is also part of the Innovation Zone programs. Sawrey said it embeds reading into every class. Each school leadership team has developed a school-wide literacy program that incorporates research-based practices of successful adolescent literacy programs. Several options are available to help students with severe reading problems.

Yet another feature provides “embedded course recovery,” which Sawrey said allows students to raise scores from previous classes. Credit recovery is still offered after school to help students get back on track in courses they failed the previous six weeks, but recovery school options also are embedded into the school day for students who must retake courses they failed the previous year or semester. Using an online program, they can prove mastery of content to raise a failed grade to a D.

Embedded credits are a feature that allows students in career and technical education courses to earn credits for certain core subjects because the required information is included in those courses. Students already are receiving embedded credits for physical education, health and civics. Math credits also are being included in the program this year.

One Innovation Zone policy waiver has allowed the Cabell County schools to raise the compulsory attendance age to 18, instead of 17, as it is in the rest of the state. In conjunction with this, “reluctant enrollees” can choose to go through the GED Option program, which leads to both a high school diploma and marketable skills through career and technical education courses. Graduation coaches work with students identified as being at risk for dropping out. The coaches mentor them through graduation. In attempting to get students to graduate, Sawrey said, “We felt very passionately that we must try everything we possibly can try.”

 

Other initiatives are focused on teachers.

Those are all student-focused initiatives, but the Innovation Zone also has a few teacher-focused initiatives. One is Quadrant D instruction. Quadrant D leadership is the International Center for Leadership in Education’s framework for school leaders. The Gold Standard Instruction Cadre in each school coaches and mentors peers to adopt Quadrant D instructional strategies school-wide. School leadership teams design staff development and deliver it to teachers.

Another initiative is the prioritization of content standards and objectives. Committees of teachers and representatives of higher education do the prioritization using the National Essential Skills Study.

“It is said the West Virginia curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide,” Sawrey said. “We need to get to depth in the Common Core.” – Gerry Sawrey

 “It is said the West Virginia curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide,” Sawrey said. “We need to get to depth in the Common Core.”

Teacher collaboration time is another feature of the Innovation Zone. Teacher collaboration days have been scheduled. Each school’s leadership team develops and delivers staff development to increase the use of engaging instructional strategies and support the school-wide literacy program.

The final feature is comprehensive new teacher induction, a three-year experience to get new teachers up to speed more quickly. A pilot project for a comprehensive teacher induction model for new teachers at the high school level was successful, so it has been expanded to all teachers in Cabell County.

Overall, Sawrey said, Cabell County school officials have been very pleased with what they have been able to do with Innovation Zones.

“We’re seeing good success,” she said. “It’s a journey. We’re still on it.”

 

State money is available for Innovation Zones to boost graduation rates.

The subcommittee also heard from Amelia Courts, assistant state superintendent in the Division of Educator Quality and System Support, who presented information about using Innovation Zones for local solutions for dropout prevention. She said legislation passed earlier this year appropriated $2.2 million to increase graduation rates and reduce the number of dropouts. The funding also is to:

  • Provide school and communities with opportunities for greater collaboration to plan and implement systemic approaches that include evidence-based solutions.
  • Provide a testing ground for innovative graduation programs, incentives and approaches.
  • Provide information regarding the effects of specific innovations, collaborations and policies on dropout prevention and recovery.
  • Document educational strategies that increase graduation rates.

“It takes a community to have a comprehensive dropout prevention approach,” Courts said.

Dec. 1 is the deadline for applications to be submitted. The state school board is scheduled to announce the approved Innovation Zone projects in January. The criteria include: engaging community partners, data-driven plan, early warning system, comprehensive plan, and innovative approach.

Shelly DeBerry, student success advocate in the Office of School Improvement, explained further that the policy on Innovation Zones was revised in July. In August, state Supt. Jorea Marple convened a statewide forum of business leaders, civic leaders, military officials and others. The Education Department then created partnerships with other organizations, including the court system, to look at truancy issues. The department held four regional training sessions in Parkersburg, Beckley, Flatwoods and Martinsburg.

One other presentation at Education Subcommittee A’s meeting came from Heather Deskins, general counsel for the Education Department, who presented lawmakers with a list of statutes, policies and interpretations affecting measures available to schools to address poor attendance. She said, “The Innovation Zone policy does grant a lot of flexibility to counties.”

 

By Jim Wallace

A legislative subcommittee is gathering plenty of evidence – at least anecdotal evidence – that West Virginia schools need to do more to accommodate the needs of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

During their October meeting, members of Education Subcommittee C spent an hour hearing from deaf students and their parents. In September, they spent about two hours hearing about such problems, but mainly from the viewpoints of officials who work on behalf of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

“It’s been hard,” Michelle Pine, mother of a deaf student told lawmakers. She said her daughter, Ariel Depp, was slapped by a teacher when she was in a Roane County school. After they moved to Kanawha County, Depp had more problems at Dunbar Intermediate School, where a teacher screamed in her face, Pine said.

Pine said her daughter fared better at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, where Depp won academic awards. But she said the situation is worse for Depp now that she is in high school. Although they live close to South Charleston High School, Pine said, the Kanawha County school system insists that Depp should be bused to Capitol High School, which means she spends two hours riding buses each day. Also, bullying of her daughter has been worse at Capitol High, Pine said.

“As a parent, I’m frustrated,” Pine said. “This shouldn’t happen.”

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said it seems that many teachers don’t know how to deal with students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Pine said many teachers don’t have the tools needed for dealing with such students. She said some of them don’t understand those students have the same level of intelligence as other students. Some teachers and interpreters have treated her daughter, who is now 15, as though she is a two-year-old, Pine said.

Barnes said it seems the schools don’t have enough interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Pine said the schools claim they have enough interpreters, but that’s not so, and she has documentation to prove it. She said interpreters in West Virginia are underpaid and get no benefits like insurance. By comparison, she said, interpreters get paid $50 an hour and compensation for their gas mileage.

When Barnes asked why Kanawha County insists on sending students like Depp to Capitol High School, Depp herself responded that school administrators claim they don’t have enough interpreters to spread them out around the county. Instead, they are assigned to Mink Shoals Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Capitol High School.  She said that, among the five deaf students who attend Capitol High, she and two others live close to South Charleston High School.

Elizabeth Leisure, secretary of the West Virginia Association for the Deaf, is another mother of a deaf student and said she grew up deaf herself. When she was in school, she said, schools made no special provisions for the deaf. She said she got by through writing notes and reading lips.

Leisure said she finally got specialized help when she went to the West Virginia Rehabilitation Center, where she met 20 other deaf persons who could use sign language. She became a clerk typist and then, with the encouragement of a supervisor, a social worker.

When they lived in Charleston, Leisure said, her daughter, Linda Phillips, had interpreters in her school classes. But after they moved to Parkersburg, when Phillips was in eleventh grade, they had to fight to get an interpreter. Phillips later attended Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, for four years. She now is a therapeutic consultant at the Jackson County Development Center and is past president of the West Virginia Association of the Deaf.

Phillips told the subcommittee the interpreters in Parkersburg were not as good as those in Charleston. She said the public school system has made some improvements in dealing with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, such as requiring interpreters to pass a test, but she called the improvements “baby steps.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The Public Employees Insurance Agency hopes to get through another year without premium increases, but co-payments are likely to go up for prescription drugs and certain medical services. Those ingredients are in the plan the agency will take to six public hearings around West Virginia in November. The PEIA Finance Board is scheduled to meet again in December to vote on the final version of the plan that will take effect next July.

            The combination of co-payments is designed to save PEIA more than $32.9 million, allowing the agency to avoid increasing premiums. As presented at the board’s October meeting, there would be new $500 co-payments for such medical services as spine procedures, knee replacements, hip replacements, shoulder surgery, hysterectomies, gastric bypasses and medically necessary dental procedures. In addition, the agency would discontinue coverage for acupuncture and massage therapy.

“This is what we are suggesting will work.” – PEIA Director Ted Cheatham

“This is what we are suggesting will work,” PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said.

 PEIA members would still be able to choose among four pharmacy options, but there would be some changes in those options. For example, one option would use a closed drug formulary, which would no longer provide some Tier 3 drugs. Those drugs tend to be more expensive.

“Those Tier 3 drugs that today are a $50 copayment for members would actually no longer be covered under this scenario,” Ramon Vickman of Express Scripts, PEIA’s pharmacy benefits manager, said. “In the analysis we ran, approximately 22,000 utilizers or members would be affected by this change. Along with closing of the formulary, there would be either generics or other preferred brand alternatives. We’d send out letters to the top prescribers to make them aware of the changes and also send out letters to those affected members letting them know what their alternatives are to be.”

Giving an example of what the change could mean, Vickman said, members in that pharmacy option might go from having two or three brand-name, cholesterol-lowering drugs available to having just one preferred brand. He said that Express Scripts’ Pharmacy Therapeutics Committee, which is made up of 13 physicians and one pharmacist, would go through the list from a clinical perspective to make sure there is the appropriate number of preferred brands on the formulary.

When asked if exceptions could be made to the prohibition against using drugs outside the formulary, Vickman said that could be possible if that’s what the Finance Board would want, but Cheatham said it would not be a good idea to do so.

“All that does is reduce your savings,” he said. “It would get into a very, very administrative difficult time, because you would have 22,000 people who would be on the phone trying to get their drugs approved.”

Administration Secretary Rob Ferguson, who is chairman of the Finance Board, asked PEIA’s pharmaceutical expert, Felice Joseph, if she had any concerns about using such a closed formulary. “Clinically, I think it is very appropriate,” she responded.

Ferguson asked whether some prescribers choose Tier 3 drugs at a higher rate than others. Vickman said that is so, but in some cases, their specialties warrant it. He further explained that such closed formularies were not popular in past years, but state plans and large employers are looking toward them and adopting closed formularies to save money.

Vickman said that if PEIA were to adopt a closed formulary as one of the options for members, the agency would likely receive an increase in calls for a few months, and then the calls would die off. He pointed out that such members are paying $50 copayments on Tier 3 drugs now, but their copayments would drop to $5 or $15 on the preferred drugs, which would save them money.

Other pharmacy options for members include one in which copayments would increase and another which would not cover $4.00 drugs available at Wal-Mart and other stores.

The plan also would give members the option of a West Virginia-only closed network for medical benefits as one means to save members and the agency money. Members would have premiums that are about 5 percent lower, but they would be limited to receiving services only from West Virginia providers, except in the case of emergencies or for services not available in West Virginia. That option would save PEIA money, because the agency can negotiate contracts with West Virginia providers that it can’t with outside providers.

The changes will force PEIA to lose some “grandfathered” savings it had maintained since passage of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But Cheatham said that avoiding the loss of grandfather status would have cost the agency more than it would save. The loss of grandfather status is estimated to cost PEIA more than $9.5 million. Cheatham said PEIA would have lost the grandfather status in 2014 anyhow.

 

Amendment addresses OPEB liability.

The Finance Board adopted just one amendment before accepting the plan presented by the agency to go out to public hearings. Josh Sword, who works for the American Federation of Teachers and represents labor interests on the board, was concerned about the pay-as-you-go allocation for addressing part of the state’s estimated $8 billion liability for OPEB – other post-employment benefits. Most of the OPEB liability represents health care benefits promised to current and future retirees from public sector jobs.

Sword’s concern was that the pay-as-you-go amount would be capped at a fixed-dollar amount of $162 million. He preferred capping at a percentage, and said that would be consistent with a deal on OPEB that the Senate and House of Delegates almost reached in their last session.

“If it’s a fixed dollar amount, the percentage will go down over time and hurt retirees even more,” Sword said. “I think they’re going to be hurt regardless of whether the cap is a percentage or a fixed dollar amount. I think they’re harmed greater if it’s a fixed dollar amount versus a percentage, so I suggest amending this.”

Legislators were considering a 4 percent cap but no more than 2.5 percent for retirees who are not yet age 65, he said. The escalator in the pay-as-you-go payment should be at least 3 percent, Sword said. Cheatham said it would not be a problem to put such a model in the plan that goes to public hearings. The board then accepted Sword’s motion to have a $162 million pay-go with an escalator not to exceed 3 percent. 

            The public hearings are scheduled for:

  • November 7 at the Civic Center in Charleston;
  • November 8 at Tamarack in Beckley;
  • November 14 at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg;
  • November 15 at the Ramada Inn in Morgantown;
  • November 16 at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling; and
  • November 17 at Marshall University Medical School in Huntington.

All hearings are scheduled to run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Registration and customer service are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The PEIA Finance Board will meet next on December 13 at 1:00 p.m.