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November 30, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 24

 

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

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Legislature’s top leaders hope to get a long-discussed, big issue out of the way early in the 2012 regular legislative session. That issue is a plan for addressing an $8 billion debt for OPEB – other post-employment benefits, which are largely the health care benefits promised to current and future retirees from public sector jobs.

But one county school board member who has worked for years on OPEB is weary of the battle and is getting out. Rick Olcott, a former president of the West Virginia School Board Association, has resigned from the Wood County school board effective Dec. 31. A state Supreme Court ruling against school boards in an OPEB case helped push him out.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling on Nov. 10 that upheld a circuit court decision that went against a lawsuit filed by most of the state’s school boards. Basically, the boards wanted to be relieved of the responsibility of carrying a large share of the state’s OPEB liability on their books. It has been estimated that 40 percent to 45 percent of the liability has been assigned to school boards. Even though the boards have not been asked to pay for that liability, the boards contended it could cause problems for them, such as hindering their ability to borrow money. Some boards also have set aside money in case they had to pay for OPEB. Olcott and other critics have complained that putting that money aside is preventing boards from spending it on students’ education.

The day after the Supreme Court ruled against the school boards, Olcott submitted his resignation to the president of the Wood County school board. He wrote that remaining on the board “under the current post employment benefit accounting approach is a complete breach of my managing principles to what is right and truthful.”

In an interview, Olcott said he had worked since 2006 to get school boards relieved of the OPEB burden. That included working for four months on a task force set up by former Gov. Joe Manchin and meeting with both the Senate and the House Finance committees.

“You come to reach a point when it becomes a huge internal personal conflict. My continued involvement would almost be an endorsement of an unethical accounting approach.” – Wood County school board member Rick Olcott

“You come to reach a point when it becomes a huge internal personal conflict,” Olcott said. “My continued involvement would almost be an endorsement of an unethical accounting approach.”
           
Olcott’s term on the school board is not due to expire until June 30, 2014. He has served on the board since 2004 and served as WVSBA’s president in 2009-2010.

 

Lawmakers might act at last.

It might be too late for Olcott, but just a week after he submitted his resignation, the leaders of both the Senate and the House of Delegates spoke hopefully about getting the OPEB issue resolved early in the Legislature’s 2012 regular session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 11.

“We’re going to get it done. We got close last year. It’s time to get it done and get it behind us.” – Senate President Jeff Kessler

“It’s the last major piece of the financial puzzle for the state that’s not in order,” Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said. “We’re going to get it done. We got close last year. It’s time to get it done and get it behind us. When that happens, we can devote our attention hopefully to working with the governor on education, workforce development reform and trying to engage some initiatives that may change some of the outsourcing of our most precious resource, which has been our children and our population.”

Kessler said he hopes the Legislature can get OPEB out of the way early in the session, because he doesn’t want it to dominate the session.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said the Legislature came close in the 2011 session to passing an OPEB bill, so he hopes one can clear both chambers early next year, because he doesn’t like that huge debt looming over the state.

“It’s a burden to all of our local governments, especially our school board. There’s a lot of state money that they’re putting back, a lot of their income that they could be using to educate our children because of this OPEB liability. So I certainly will be pushing for it, and I hope that we’re able to get something resolved this session.” – House Speaker Rick Thompson

“It’s a burden to all of our local governments, especially our school boards,” he said. “There’s a lot of state money that they’re putting back, a lot of their income that they could be using to educate our children because of this OPEB liability. So I certainly will be pushing for it, and I hope that we’re able to get something resolved this session.”

During the last session, the House and Senate could not agree on a funding formula for paying off the OPEB liability, but Thompson believes delegates and senators working on the problem have made some progress in the intervening months.

“I know that they’ve looked at different ways of funding,” he said. “As with anything else in state government, the problem is finding the money, but I think that there are several different alternatives. I don’t know that anyone has decided on any one particular one, but I certainly hope that we can find one. We looked at using some of the Rainy Day funds. We got some surpluses out there we could look at. There are different things we could look at. We need to find some funding, get some funding and free up this money for our local school boards to be able to use that money to educate our children.”

Kessler also said the resolution of the OPEB issue comes down to settling on a funding mechanism, but he said the Legislature has solved such problems before, such as figuring out how to pay down a $4 billion liability in the old workers’ compensation fund.

“We’ve handled all those, and although there’s an $8 billion projected in OPEB, keep in mind that that’s based on projections of being 10 or 12 percent medical rate of inflation,” Kessler said. “If we can do some cost containment, some inflation containment, you may see a situation where that $8 billion is $4 [billion] or $5 [billion]. Cut that in half from 12 percent to 6 percent over the next 30 years, then obviously, the cost goes down, maybe not in half, but once that happens, we’ve dealt with four-billion bucks before, and we can and we will. Then we’re good to go.”

Like Thompson, Kessler believes school boards should not shoulder the burden of much of that liability. “Nope,” he said. “They shouldn’t.”

Thompson said he wants to get the liability off the school boards’ financial records and make sure none of them tie up large amounts of money because of OPEB.

“Estimates are around $200 million will be instantly freed up that’s sitting in local accounts of our county boards of education,” he said. “So that will instantly free up a couple of hundred million dollars if we can address who’s liable just by doing that.”

Thompson expects legislation to declare that the state would be responsible for the OPEB liability for teachers and other school system employees covered by the School Aid Formula. The school boards pay directly for a much smaller number of employees outside the formula, and the boards would still be responsible for the portion of the OPEB liability corresponding to them, he said.

Kessler wants to take care of nagging problems like the OPEB liability, so the Legislature can turn more attention to such important issues as creating more jobs in West Virginia.
 
“When we train our kids, get them educated and spend 60 percent of our general revenue budget on education, they turn around and leave,” he said. “It’s a terrible waste of our budget and our resources. We need to create jobs and opportunities for them here. I know the governor is focused on that. The whole keynote of his election platform is jobs, so we’re going to work with him hand in hand on that.”

When asked if he would regret his resignation if the OPEB issue is solved early in 2012, Olcott said, “I certainly would have second thoughts. I’d have mixed feelings about it.”

But he said he would encourage Kessler and Thompson to “drive it home, make it happen and fix it.”

 

By Jim Wallace

One legislative panel has found consensus among representatives of a wide range of groups that strong efforts are needed to prevent bullying inside and outside of West Virginia’s schools, but at least a couple of groups don’t want a law or policy that spells out what types of people should be protected.

Members of Judiciary Subcommittee B heard testimony on the subject during their November meeting, but they excluded comments about a proposed state school board policy that would specifically prohibit bullying against individuals because of their sexual orientation. That alone caused a dispute.

Barri Faucett of the Prestera Center’s Adolescent Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Project, told committee members that bullying can have serious consequences.

“I would estimate that at least 80 percent of them had an associated bullying issue,” Faucett said. She cited a new brief about bullying put out by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center: “Bullying obviously is no longer a right of passage, and it can have a profound emotional effect on not only the individual that is bullied, but there is research to show that the individual who is the bullyer, as well as the bystanders, can have some negative emotional effects as regards bullying. Victims and perpetrators of bullying are at higher risk of suicide than their peers. All three groups are more likely to be depressed than children who are not involved in bullying. Chronic bullying has long-term effects on suicide risks and mental health even through adulthood.”“Over the course of the three years I’ve worked in suicide prevention, I have actually seen a correlation between bullying and suicide prevention,” she said. Her program started in Kanawha County by getting teachers to identify at-risk students, she said, and it served more than 400 students in three years.

Faucett also noted that, while suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers nationally, it is the second leading cause in West Virginia.

Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of National Association Social Workers, corroborated Faucett’s comments and cited a few examples of young people in West Virginia who committed or attempted to commit suicide.

“Resources need to be brought to bear to help struggling and challenged kids and families in their community settings and to expand the support services and therapy and other resources available to them,” he said. Further, he said, West Virginia needs to “bridge the gap between school, home and community.”

Hickman also warned against using a zero tolerance policy on bullying. “The trouble with zero tolerance is that it has no middle ground,” he said. “You either have a full-blown reaction with intervention or you have to ignore the situation completely. Your options for sanctions are then limited only to those that are most harsh. Typically, the bully is ostracized and not offered any help or guidance.”

The best policy, Hickman said, is to start with prevention. When intervention is needed, officials should respond appropriately, but he said, it has been shown that students don’t respond to fear-based messages.

 

Education Department studied New Jersey’s approach.

Although the subcommittee’s chairwoman, Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, had advised those testifying not to speak about the West Virginia Board of Education’s proposal to include sexual orientation in its anti-bullying policy, Policy 4373, the one exception to that was Melanie Purkey of the Department of Education. She had spoken previously to the subcommittee, which had asked her to come back after looking at New Jersey legislation on the subject.

Purkey reported that the New Jersey law requires anti-bullying specialists, but lawmakers left that requirement as an unfunded mandate. It was estimated that training costs for those specialists would be about $250,000, she said. West Virginia law does not have any such requirement, she said.

Laws in both states address the need to educate school personnel on how to prevent bullying, but Purkey said there is a lack of staff time for that training.

“School administrators continue to seek support for addressing bullying, harassment and intimidation that is perpetuated by off-campus communications via social media and other electronic transmissions. They want a more clear line of where their authority lies in addressing those situations that, while the act [of bullying] occurs off school [property], the disruption does occur in school.” – Melanie Purkey

“School administrators continue to seek support for addressing bullying, harassment and intimidation that is perpetuated by off-campus communications via social media and other electronic transmissions,” she said. “They want a more clear line of where their authority lies in addressing those situations that, while the act [of bullying] occurs off school [property], the disruption does occur in school.”

The proposal for West Virginia Policy 4373 would address the issue through specifications about student rights and responsibilities, Purkey said. Schools do have the authority to discipline students for incidents that originate away from schools, she said, and schools have been using that authority. One case challenging that authority has even reached federal court, she said.

When Purkey spoke to the subcommittee, the period for members of the public to comment on the proposed policy change already had ended. She said the department had received many comments about the need for providing educators additional support, and comments had come in from every county in the state. The state school board is expected to act on the proposal at its December meeting.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, asked if one way to help the schools would be to “beef up” student counselors. Purkey said that was correct. She added that the disruption from bullying to the education system often takes the form of making students fearful about coming to school.

Noting that the state Supreme Court is very concerned about the effects of truancy, Fleischauer said, “This is a piece of that.”

 

Some want enumeration in the law.

Bradley Milam of Fairness West Virginia, told the subcommittee, “West Virginia should have stronger anti-bullying laws, in our opinion, and that’s exactly why we support an enumerated anti-bullying law.”

Enumeration, or spelling out the types of discrimination that is not permitted, is “not a radical concept,” he said. It goes back at least as far as the civil rights legislation of 1964, he said, and it is supported by the national Parent-Teacher Association.

Milam said there also is a fiscal incentive to preventing bullying. “Schools that receive federal funding are already required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics,” he said. “School districts may be in violation of the civil rights statutes and the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations when peer harassment that is based on race, color, national origins, sex or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment, interferes with a student’s education and when such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not actively addressed or ignored by school employees.”

In addition, Milam said, all public schools have obligations currently under federal law to protect students from harassment and discrimination based on their sexual orientation. He said a school district and its employees may be held liable under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution for failing to protect students from such harassment. He cited legal cases in Kentucky, New York and California. In the last case, $1.1 million was awarded to six students who were the victims of bullying, he said.

Milam said no state or school district can afford the costs of such lawsuits. Enumerating in the law that bullying on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited would help ensure that teachers know what acts are prohibited, he said. They are more likely to intervene against such bullying if they are given effective strategies, he said.

Frank Crabtree of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union refuted the argument that prohibiting bullying on the basis of sexual orientation would be a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. He said freedom of speech is not an absolute guarantee. For example, he said, a teacher would not allow the use of the “N-word” in the classroom.

“Educators must have the training and authority to prevent disrupting or intimidating actions or speech that are directed at a student’s sexual orientation.” – Frank Crabtree

“Educators must have the training and authority to prevent disrupting or intimidating actions or speech that are directed at a student’s sexual orientation,” Crabtree said.

 

Others object to enumeration.

But two other speakers objected to putting into law or policy any reference to sexual orientation. Jeremy Dys of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia said bullying is a problem and every student deserves respect.

“We reject those who have sought to claim the mantle of Christianity while belittling, berating or abusing their fellow man. This is especially true of our fellow citizens within the homosexual community.” – Jeremy Dys

“We categorically declare that persecution, harassment or violence toward our fellow man is unacceptable and counter to the teaching of scripture,” he said. “We reject those who have sought to claim the mantle of Christianity while belittling, berating or abusing their fellow man. This is especially true of our fellow citizens within the homosexual community.”

But Dys said parents retain the primary responsibility for training their children, and he was disappointed that the Department of Education included only one representative of parents among the stakeholders consulted in drafting the revision to Policy 4373. At that point, Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, objected to Dys’s violation of the admonition against addressing the school board policy at Judiciary Subcommittee B’s meeting. The subcommittee’s chairwoman, Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, agreed and told Dys to address only the general issue of bullying. She said that, if he wanted to complain to lawmakers about the state school board, he should go to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Dys had trouble resuming his testimony after that warning. He said it was “hard to unprepare” his remarks. However, he said, rules against offensive speech potentially could include intolerant speech, which would put West Virginia at odds with the First Amendment.

“We can understand why groups like the ACLU of West Virginia and Fairness West Virginia would like to use enumeration as a tool to censor the expression of beliefs that contradict their world view,” Dys said. “Clearly that’s why they have actively sought to be involved in the drafting of other policies in this state.”

Dys said those groups would use such enumeration to insert lessons from pro-gay and pro-lesbian organizations into schools’ curricula.

“Do you ever have any personal concerns, as I do, that your attitude and views on homosexuality could actually encourage harassment against homosexuals?” – Delegate Danny Wells

Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, asked, “Do you ever have any personal concerns, as I do, that your attitude and views on homosexuality could actually encourage harassment against homosexuals?”

“I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at with that question,” Dys responded. He added that members of the Family Policy Council believe people must “live lives of holy sanctification,” which is inconsistent with bullying others for any reason.

Poore asked Dys how he would suggest legislators move forward based on testimony they had heard. Dys said focusing on the actions of bullying would be the safe way to do it. When you pick and choose what categories to watch out for, you necessarily leave off some that should be on that list, he said.

“So it is in our better interest as policymakers to avoid such enumerated policies,” Dys said. “It is much better to concentrate on the objective actions that ought not to endure.”

Likewise, Kevin McCoy of the West Virginia Family Foundation also spoke out against specifying in law or policy anything dealing with sexual orientation.

“The biggest concern I have is the Legislature makes the law,” he said. “They did not include sexual orientation.”

McCoy said he didn’t understand how the board of education could adopt a policy prohibiting bullying that would make homosexuals “a protected class.”

 

Social justice theater is offered as one means of curbing bullying.

Two other persons offered proposals for helping schools address problems with bullying, especially when students use e-mail, texting or other social media to intimidate others.

Tina Shaw of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce said her organization partners with local schools in developing programs for leadership. Last year, one of the programs the students supported was the anti-bullying amendment to a House of Delegates bill, she said, and the students want to continue that fight.

“They feel that there just isn’t enough being done in the schools,” Shaw said. “They don’t blame the schools. They feel they do not have the amount of staff there to handle some of the issues.”

Students say cyber-bullying has gotten so out of control that it goes way beyond school and becomes elevated, she said. Thus, the Marion County students want to focus on anti-cyber-bullying and what can be done to prevent disputes among students from coming back into school, Shaw said, so the chamber is developing partnerships throughout our county.

One of those partners, Joey Madia of the Center for Arts and Education in Fairmont, has developed anti-bullying programs that Shaw believes could be taken throughout the state. She said the Marion County chamber wants to encourage other counties to get involved.

Madia told the subcommittee he did most of his work in New Jersey schools before moving to West Virginia. He said his program, which uses “social justice theater,” has reached about 35,000 children in New Jersey and West Virginia since 2003. Madia called theater “a perfect medium” to address cyber-bullying. Stories of students killing themselves because of cyber-bullying are everywhere, he said, and cyber-bullying doesn’t end when students go home.

“Bullies have unprecedented reach and a very broad audience that is all too willing to feed on what the bully is giving them,” Madia said, adding that it was encouraging to see lawmakers willing to take action. “These kids have very, very powerful technology at their disposal, and they don’t all understand what their moral obligations are.”

“We need to find new ways to turn these media of negative communication back around on themselves and work to capture their great potential. Indeed, we seek to raise the stakes. When it comes to cyber-bullying and the lives of young people it destroys, the stakes are higher than any of us can imagine.” – Joey Madia

Madia said social justice theater can make a difference fostering understanding and opening guidelines. “We need to find new ways to turn these media of negative communication back around on themselves and work to capture their great potential,” he said. “Indeed, we seek to raise the stakes. When it comes to cyber-bullying and the lives of young people it destroys, the stakes are higher than any of us can imagine.”

Shaw said that bringing such programs into the schools can take some of the burden off boards of education.

But lawmakers weren’t clear how the method works.

“It gives the students the opportunity to sit back and look at their own lives,” Madia responded. The roles that are most important are those of the bully, the bullied and the bystander, he said, and kids need to understand that it’s not acceptable to stand by and not do anything. He said the method gives students techniques for coping with bullying so they will be prepared. Madia said he finds it disheartening that, before they are exposed to social justice theater, the idea of getting students involved in a bullying incident to calm down and talk with each other is the last strategy they come up with on their own nine times out of 10. 

Madia said his organization contracts with the school board, individual schools or other organizations to do the programs on an hourly or per-workshop basis.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Department of Education has big hopes for a new teacher evaluation system now being piloted in 25 schools, but officials have yet to persuade legislators it’s the right approach.

Department officials told members of Education Subcommittee A at their November meeting that the system not only could improve evaluations for teachers but also could produce much useful data. Educators from two of the pilot schools said they like what the system has done so far.

Amelia Courts, assistant superintendent in the Division of Educator Quality and System Support, said the new system has four key differences from the old system:

  1. The revised system is based on standards and rubrics that define expectations. “In other words, we are moving from a system that can be somewhat subjective where my interpretation of accomplished performance might be different than someone else’s evaluation of what accomplished performance is,” Courts said.
  2. The revised system includes both inputs and outputs. “It includes evaluation components of what the teacher or the principal does in meeting those standards…as well as outputs, what actually happened in terms of student learning,” she said.
  3. The revised system for teachers reduces the number of observations the principal is required to conduct with beginning educators from six to four. Also, all educators are required to participate in the evaluation system regardless of years of experience.
  4. The person being evaluated is a more active participant in the revised system. “Instead of the evaluation being done to you, you’re actually a participant in that process,” Courts said.

Lee Ebersole, a coordinator in the Office of Professional Preparation, told lawmakers that a task force of teachers helped create the new system. He said goal-setting for student learning makes up 20 percent of the evaluation and applies to all teachers.

The system establishes two goals, Ebersole said, because the federal government requires multiple measures to show consistent progress toward student growth and achievement.

“Therefore, it was thought it would be easiest to simply have two goals that were multiple measures rather that overtasking teachers to identify multiple measures within a single goal,” he said. Teachers are asked to identify the numbers of exceptionalities in their classrooms, such as students with individual education plans, he said, “So we have a more nuanced understanding of actual student growth.”

Ebersole said all measurements must meet the three criteria established by the federal Department of Education:

  1. They must have a beginning and an end to show growth.
  2. They must be rigorous.
  3. They must be comparable across classrooms.

At many of the schools in the pilot, teachers collaborated to establish common goals, he said.

Ebersole said there are four performance-level ratings: unsatisfactory, emerging, accomplished and distinguished. He said the next phase is self-assessment and observation. Teachers judge themselves, guided by the rubrics, he said, and principals cannot change those self-assessment ratings, although they can comment on them.

Of the four observations principals must make of teachers, two are announced and two are unannounced, Ebersole said, and there are two in each semester. He said teachers on the intermediate progression get just two observations, one announced and one unannounced. One is in the fall and the other is in the spring, he said.

The system requires teachers to provide evidence of their work with students in one of two ways: either as a result of a self-assessment or as a result of having been observed, in which case they have the opportunity to describe what happened before the observation or after it, Ebersole said.

 

Lawmakers have many questions.

“Teachers generally do judge themselves more harshly than perhaps the administrators would assess them.” – Lee Ebersole of the Education Department

Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, asked whether the new system is the first step toward merit pay. “I would likely think not,” Ebersole replied.Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, wondered whether teachers hold themselves to higher standards. “Yes,” Ebersole said, “Teachers generally do judge themselves more harshly than perhaps the administrators would assess them.”

When Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, asked how much time the process takes, Ebersole said it has cut down on observation time, but more time is spent conducting conferences. Duke also wanted to know what happens to the data collected. Courts responded that it is put into the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS).

“Obviously, we have very strict protocols in place for maintaining privacy, and that evaluation record is still part of the employee’s record,” she said. “We are required by the U.S. Department of Education to report aggregate-level, county-level data [for] individuals at various performance levels.”

Courts added that part of the department’s long-term vision is to use the data in a meaningful way. “For example, at the school level, a principal may be interested to find out particular areas that his or her staff would like additional professional development in,” she said. “Particularly if they seem in this testing to be struggling in one particular area, that might give him or her some really rich data to target some specific professional development that addresses that standard.”

The ultimate goal is to use the system to make reports that are useful to schools and teachers, Courts said. “Having an electronic system is intended to make things easier, faster, smoother and more efficient,” she said. “That’s the goal of having an online system.”

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, asked whether teachers get frequent, concurrent feedback. Courts said that depends on where a teacher is in the progression.

“I’m finding that it’s providing more feedback between the administrator and the teacher. It doesn’t matter what level they’re on.” – Christine Miller, principal at East Fairmont Junior High

Christine Miller, principal of East Fairmont Junior High School, said, “I’m finding that it’s providing more feedback between the administrator and the teacher. It doesn’t matter what level they’re on.”

Her school took a different approach, she said, because the staff and administrators met and decided which student learning goal the school would work on. Miller said she had an individual conference with each teacher. They talked about how to enter the data online, how to fill the forms out and how that relates to observations, she said, and they also talked about doing a self-assessment before the teachers had to do it.

“Initially, there’s more time involved, but I like that, because I feel that I’m becoming more of the instructional leader that everyone is really pushing for us to become and less of the manager of the information,” Miller said.

 

Education chairman has doubts.

But Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed confusion about what is defined as student growth in the new system. Courts said there is a goal-setting process based around student learning, and 20 percent of the total evaluation is based on student learning goals or student growth.

Courts said one of the struggles that many states are encountering is around what researchers call “the other 69 percent.” She explained that research has found that only about 31 percent of all teachers from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are in grades or subjects that have a direct correlation to reading or math scores on summative tests, such as West Virginia’s WESTEST. Art, PE, music and world language are in the other 69 percent, she said. Even in states that include up to 50 percent student learning in teachers’ evaluations, not all of that is related to test scores, Court said. For example, she said only about 35 percent of the evaluations in Virginia and Tennessee correlate to test scores.

That prompted Plymale to ask why the department would want to go lower than that by just having just 20 percent of evaluations based on student growth. Courts replied that many states are cautious even about including any summative scores at this time, but Plymale said he has a real problem with the 20 percent level.

“I’m going to continue to look at this,” he warned. “As a matter of fact, when you all get finished with your process through the state department, I may really want to have an outside entity come in and look at it from the standpoint of: Are we really challenging the students where we need to be?”

“What I want is to make sure is that our students are learning, they are progressing, and we are providing them the opportunity to get a job sometime, because when I look at our middle schools and all this stuff, we’re failing. We’re failing right now.” – Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale

Plymale also complained about how lobbyists influence education reforms. “I have a real problem with the groups coming in and telling us, we’re against these bills and that bill,” he said. “What I want is to make sure is that our students are learning, they are progressing, and we are providing them the opportunity to get a job sometime, because when I look at our middle schools and all this stuff, we’re failing. We’re failing right now.”

Then Plymale added that he is not as interested in being punitive as he is in seeing students make enough progress that they can get jobs.

Courts responded, “College and career readiness is the goal of the product of teaching in the evaluation system. The research is very clear right now that states are treading new ground at looking at outputs.” She added, “We’re moving teachers to begin to think about what proof really is sufficient evidence, what data does stand the test to demonstrate that my students have learned.”

But Plymale said some teachers complain that the state Education Department is so prescriptive in what they must do that they don’t have much chance to meet goals and achieve greater student growth. To that, Courts said, the department is looking at revising state policy to give more flexibility to districts and schools.

Jessica Austin, a seventh-grade math teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Charleston, said teachers have to prove they’re meeting students’ learning goals. She said they’re also encouraged to collaborate with other teachers. When Plymale asked whether such direction comes from the principal or the state department, Austin said it comes from both.

Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, asked Austin whether most of her students take responsibility for getting materials they need to class each day.

“No, sir,” she replied. “I have a hard time with them even bringing a pencil, and that’s just the honest truth. But one thing our principal and my former principal always said is we have to worry about the things we can control. I can’t control where they come from. I cannot control that their parents may not be involved, but once they come to school, what am I doing to control that environment? That’s my job.”

Pethtel, who spent his career in public schools, said he believed everything Austin said. “You know what really bothers me?” he asked. “Everyone’s responsible for education except the students and the parents. They’re not responsible, and that really bothers me a lot.”

Austin, who is in her fifth year of teaching, said she shared his concern, but she didn’t know what to do to address it.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked Austin whether what she is doing results in better performance from students. Austin replied that she can teach fractions one day so that all the students can handle them, but the next day, only five people remember how. She said the system helps her gauge whether her students are learning the material and retaining it.

 

By Jim Wallace

“You know what really bothers me? Everyone’s responsible for education except the students and the parents. They’re not responsible, and that really bothers me a lot.”—Delegate David Pethtel

One group of lawmakers has learned that West Virginia has a lot of company in considering alternative certification for teachers and ways to measure the effectiveness of teachers. Two officials from the Southern Regional Education Board told members of Education Subcommittee B at their November meeting that many other states are doing the same thing.

Gale Gaines, vice president for state services for the SREB, told them that, like West Virginia, many states are facing problems with an aging education workforce with many teachers approaching retirement age, shortages of teachers in specific subject areas, shortages of teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and turnover of teachers early in their careers. The SREB is working with a multi-year grant to look at teachers’ effectiveness, she said, and if the state wants to use alternative certification, it must have a comprehensive evaluation system as a basis.

“Public sentiment again – and I’m going to stress again – is leaning toward rewarding teachers on an individual basis.” – Gale Gaines of SREB

“Public sentiment again – and I’m going to stress again – is leaning toward rewarding teachers on an individual basis,” Gaines said. “There is a renewed recognition that the teacher is the most important factor in the education of students.”

This is a good time to consider how to evaluate teachers, she said, because much better data systems are in place today than years ago, and there are better and more rigorous standards and assessments and better evaluation systems under development. Some are using multiple evaluators, multiple measures and beginning to look at tying student growth in statistical models to individual teachers, Gaines said.

 

This is the second time around.

“We’re coming full cycle on this,” she said, because states began experimenting with merit pay and career ladder approaches back in the early and mid-1980s. Gaines said the idea of a career ladder was that, as teachers gained experience and expertise and improved their classroom practices, they could move up the rungs of the ladder to increase their pay and professional status. She said those early efforts included three elements that are still part of programs under consideration today:

  • Evaluation of performance in the classroom;
  • Job enlargement – differentiated pay for differentiated work; and
  • Professional development.

“These early programs met with a lot of resistance,” Gaines said. “They were hard to implement. They were expensive. Many were developed without input from teachers, and communication was not what it should be, so there was a lot of suspicion about these programs.”

Some people said those programs shouldn’t be implemented until all teachers made a livable wage, she said.

Gaines said the single-salary schedule is objective and very predictable, but it does not recognize individual accomplishment. She said people get nervous when you want to change to a less predictable system, and that’s why communication is so important.

“Back in the 80s and into the early 90s with these career-ladder programs, there was a perception that the programs were not fair,” Gaines said. “It didn’t matter if they were or weren’t, but the fact was there was a perception that they were not fair, that evaluations were too subjective, that they caused teachers to be competitive and not collegial. And back then, too, the amount of money that was appropriated was not sufficient to really provide a good enough bonus for a teacher or there were insufficient funds so that all teachers who qualified would be able to get this bonus.”

Gaines said the early ladder programs gave way to the school-wide incentive programs, which were much less controversial, because all teachers in a school would receive a bonus. A lot of work was done at that time on how to evaluate teachers, she said.  Several states now are trying to tie student growth to in determinations of which teachers are most effective, she said, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Because these programs very often were added on to a teacher’s salary, it’s very easy for them to be reduced during times of budget stress. This has been the situation. It’s not that there has been proof that these programs don’t work.” – Gale Gaines

“We’re at an in-between point now in these programs,” Gaines said. “As you can imagine, the economy has not helped the budget situation in our states. Because these programs very often were added on to a teacher’s salary, it’s very easy for them to be reduced during times of budget stress. This has been the situation. It’s not that there has been proof that these programs don’t work; it’s been primarily for economic reasons that the money has been withdrawn or because of a lack of overall leadership commitment to these programs.”

Experts agree that incentive pay is not the single answer to getting and retaining qualified teachers and filling difficult positions, she said. Other elements Gaines said should be considered include: supportive leadership, sense of collegiality and culture in schools, support for teachers’ efforts, recognition of teachers’ expertise, good induction programs for new teachers and assistance for struggling teachers.

Legislation over the last two years has focused on evaluation and tying students’ growth to a teacher’s evaluation, she said, and most states have gone toward tying about 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations to students’ growth, although Virginia is at 40 percent. “I just think the jury is still out on this, and we’re going to have to see how it works,” Gaines said.

 

Ladders don’t necessarily go up.

Unlike in the 1980s, the concept of a career ladder today is not necessarily vertical, she said, and it might be more horizontal with a lot of options for teachers. For example, Gaines said, Florida is a collective bargaining state that does not have a minimum state salary schedule, so each district has its own schedule. She said new legislation there includes basic requirements for districts to meet as they develop their programs, and each district is required to develop performance-based programs.

Gaines said the districts are expected to develop two salary schedules. She said one should be like the traditional schedule but with part of teachers’ salaries based on performance and factors for differentiating job roles. The other should be a revamped schedule for new teachers and existing teachers who choose to participate, she said. That schedule will not take into account teachers’ experience or advanced degrees unless they are in the teachers’ certified fields, she said, and those teachers won’t have tenure. Gaines said those teachers would be evaluated every year and would receive increases based on performance and their acceptance of different roles.

Georgia has not revamped its evaluation system, she said, but it’s trying to ease its shortage of math and science teachers by allowing new teachers and those early in their careers to enter the minimum salary schedule at the fifth-year level. They basically get about $4,000 more than other beginning teachers, Gaines said.

Maryland, which is a collective bargaining state, is requiring the state school board to establish a program to support locally negotiated incentive and performance pay programs, she said. It is targeting highly effective teachers in low-performing schools and schools with large proportions of low-income students, Gaines said.

Oklahoma is requiring local districts to develop performance and incentive pay plans for teachers who achieve the top two levels on locally developed evaluation systems that account for student achievement, she said. The districts also are to look at grade level, subject area and school-wide results, Gaines said. A second program will deal with incentives to get teachers into hard-to-fill positions and to accept other responsibilities, she said.

Virginia’s governor proposed an initiative that the General Assembly funded to target districts with schools that have difficulty attracting, retaining and rewarding fully certified teachers, she said. Participating schools must meet four of eight criteria, such as low average daily attendance, a large number of low-income students, or a large number of provisionally certified or brand-new teachers, Gaines said. So far, she said, about 25 schools are participating, and teachers in those schools are eligible to receive awards up to $5,000.

“States are taking the lead in either requiring or encouraging these programs to be developed,” Gaines said. “Many of the details are being developed at the local level. But you see the same three factors: evaluation in the classroom, differentiated roles and professional development.”

“Researchers seem to suggest that the combination of observation in the classroom, your traditional evaluation, with student achievement results is a good pair.” – Gale Gaines

Now the programs are considering market-based incentives to try to get teachers into hard-to-serve areas and tying students’ performance into teachers’ evaluations, she said. “Researchers seem to suggest that the combination of observation in the classroom, your traditional evaluation, with student achievement results is a good pair,” Gaines said.

Her presentation to the subcommittee also included brief explanations of a few programs being used for evaluating teachers. One, called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Achievement, was developed by the Milken Family Foundation and is being operated by the National Institute for excellence in Teaching. TAP, which stands for Teacher Advancement Program, is being used by about 200 schools in nine states. Gaines said those schools don’t have to follow all the program’s recommendations, but they must develop each of the four areas of the TAP Elements of Success: multiple career paths, ongoing applied professional growth, instructionally focused accountability and performance-based compensation.

Another program, called Teacher ProComp, was developed in a bargaining agreement between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools. It has four components: knowledge and skills, professional evaluation, student growth and market incentives. Teachers can receive as many incentive rewards as they qualify for. Gaines said Denver voters levied property taxes of $25 million a year to support the program. She said new teachers must participate, while existing teachers can opt into it, and about 80 percent of teachers are participating. Gaines said the teachers seem to accept the program very well, because they were in on the planning process. Since the program went into effect in 2006, student achievement is increasing and retention of teachers is improving, she said.

Gaines also mentioned the teacher incentive programs used by the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa. They include a merit award program, a pay-for-performance program, three types of teacher incentive funds and a salary differential program.

But Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, wondered whether such major incentive-based programs would work in very small schools. Gaines said local school districts are developing their own versions of those programs. “If you choose to do something like this, they will have to be flexible systems that change as the needs change,” she said. “Relative to the issue of a small school, they might need more technical assistance than a larger school.”

 

States have various alternative certification programs.

Joan Lord, vice president of education policies and programs for the SREB, addressed the subject of alternative certification for teachers. She said a study on that subject by the U.S. Department of Education produced two questions:

  • Do alternatively certified teachers differ from other teachers in ways that would affect hiring practices? Lord added, “Another way to ask that question is that, if a principal has two otherwise qualified teachers in front of the desk and had to make a decision about which to hire based on nothing other than the certification of the two teachers, would the certification itself make a difference?”
  • Are there differences in the aspects of the two types of programs that would cause one to produce better teachers than the other? As Lord put it, “So is it better to go through one route than the other because you end up with a better teacher?”

Lord said it is up to states to define alternative certification, and they have approached it in a variety of ways. In 2010, 48 states, including West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia, had some alternative certification, she said, and that included all SREB states. She provided the subcommittee with a matrix that compares details of the programs in the SREB states.

The growth of alternative certification has been “astonishing,” especially in the last decade, Lord said. In 1990, 5,700 individuals entered teaching through alternative certification, she said, but the number had grown to 20,000 one decade later.  She said much of the growth has occurred in California and Florida because of laws reducing class size. By 2007, the nation had 62,000 alternatively certified teachers, Lord said, but because of the economy, that number dropped to 59,000 in 2008. 

“Growing from 5,700 to 59,000 in less than 20 years is pretty impressive, and 40,000 of that growth has been between 2000 and 2007. So we’re talking about something that’s really big nationally.” – Joan Lord of SREB

“But still, growing from 5,700 to 59,000 in less than 20 years is pretty impressive, and 40,000 of that growth has been between 2000 and 2007,” she said. “So we’re talking about something that’s really big nationally.”

Lord said about one-third of new teachers now hired nationally are hired with alternative certificates. She said it’s big in several SREB states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas.  “So it’s a big movement in our region,” she said.

West Virginia has not been a key player, Lord said. In 2008, 81 West Virginia teachers were certified through alternative means, she said.

Lord said alternatively certified teachers are generally thought to serve large, inner-city schools, where demand for teachers is great and schools have difficulty attracting traditionally prepared teachers and where summer and school-year training academies are economically scalable. But she said they’re not limited to those schools.

The United States has 15,000 school districts, Lord said. Among them, 316 enroll 25,000 or more students, so they account for one-third of students, she said. They get much attention, she said, but small, rural districts also are having teacher shortages. Lord said more than 3,100 districts – about 20 percent – enroll fewer than 300 students each, and many of those are very isolated. They account for about 6 percent of the students enrolled, she said.

“The problems of attracting teachers are different but very real,” Lord said about the smaller schools. About 7,000 districts enroll fewer than 1,000 students each, she said, and they represent about one-fourth of the country’s students.

“So while it’s easy to say that alternative certification is a real boon for big systems, where it can help many students, we cannot dismiss it as unimportant for smaller, rural schools,” Lord said. The process has its own challenges in small schools, and it must receive close attention, she said.

Lord said the common characteristics of alternative certification programs include:

  • Recruitment, preparation and licensing of talented individuals who already have bachelor’s degrees and have had other careers;
  • Rigorous screening process;
  • Field-based experience (classroom work generally) to prepare individuals for their careers as teachers;
  • Provision of necessary coursework;
  • Work with mentor teachers and support personnel; and
  • High-performance standards.

Lord said programs should be organized to accommodate different kinds of candidates.

 

By Jim Wallace          

A legislative panel that has spent the last few months considering the problems faced by deaf and hard-of-hearing students in West Virginia schools now has a wish list for addressing those problems.

Marissa Sanders, executive director of West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, presented her list at the November meeting of Education Subcommittee C. During the subcommittee’s September and October meetings, members heard from deaf students and their parents about the obstacles they have faced, such as not having enough interpreters, being humiliated by teachers, and having to endure long bus rides to go to schools with interpreters instead of having interpreters available at schools near their homes. 

At the November meeting, Sanders presented this wish list:

  1. Reclassify interpreters. They have wanted to be reclassified as school service personnel, but some people say that can’t happen under the School Aid Formula. So Sanders suggested another option. School nurses and counselors are classified as “other professional employees” with a different fee structure, so she would like interpreters to be classified that way.

    Sanders said she spoke with one interpreter with a bachelor’s degree and seven years of experience in the Wood County schools. The interpreter scored 4.1 on the Educational Interpreters’ Performance Assessment, which is much higher than the 3.5 score that is required, but she earns less than $25,000 a year.

    “If she were a school nurse with similar licensing, similar education, et cetera, with a bachelor’s degree, she would be making $33,950 with seven years of experience,” Sanders said. With no experience and a two-year degree, a nurse would come into the system at $27,000, she said.

    Interpreters really have similar education and licensing requirements, Sanders said, but being classified as aides means each is assigned to a school building as a whole, although each is supposed to work with one student or a small group of them. “Often we hear stories of interpreters being pulled from those students and assigned to other students who don’t need an interpreter or cafeteria lunch service or other tasks,” she said.

  2. Give sign language specialists a new title. A bill introduced last year would have removed sign language specialists and made the position Interpreter I, which caused some real challenges. Sanders suggested keeping sign language specialists but renaming them as sign support specialists to be clearer about what they do. She said those specialists would be there more for students with autism disorder who just need vocabulary support or help with expressive language but not someone to sit and interpret into another language.

    Sanders said cleaning up that definition probably would help with some challenges, such as people who think sign language specialists are just interpreters who haven’t passed the test yet and lack the skill levels to interpret. She said those specialists sometimes are assigned to students who really need interpreters.

  3. Improve access to sign language interpreters. Sanders said that, in Kanawha County in particular, when an interpreter is absent, students sit in class with no interpreter or are sent to a class with an interpreter even if that class is not a subject they are studying or another interpreter is pulled in to work with that student. By contrast, she said, Wood County has several substitute interpreters. Sanders also complained that some substitutes are not hired through the proper channels. She said other options for improving access include using video remote interpreting in which an interpreter is accessed by computer.

  4. Interpreters should be sent to the students not vice versa. Sanders has requested an official policy statement from the Office of Special Education Rehabilitative Services. It will take several months to receive that, but she expects it to help to clarify some issues.

  5. Offer American Sign Language in public schools. State code already allows it, Sanders said, but the state school board requires teachers to have a master’s degree in ASL to teach it. However, she said, only three schools in the country offer such a degree and none is close to West Virginia.

    “That seems like an impossible standard,” Sanders said, so the Legislature could give a directive to the Education Department to come up with alternative options, such as the ASL Teachers Association’s certification process. Currently, only one teacher in West Virginia has received that certification, she said. A few others had it but let their certification lapse, because they couldn’t get jobs with it, she said.

    ASL is at least the sixth most common language in the United States, Sanders said, while some studies say it’s second or third. More than 150 colleges offer it as a foreign language, including West Virginia University, she said.

  6. Improve access to technology. Sanders suggested finding ways to provide videophones in every school, or at least every school with deaf students or students with deaf parents. She said they can be free for the deaf, and they can run through a computer with a Webcam.

  7. Provide recommendations for counties. In particular, Sanders suggested that when there are hearing students who happen to be able to sign, they should be assigned to homerooms with deaf students.

  8. Pass a Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights. Sanders said at least 13 states have adopted one or are working on it. She said the national model boils down to a legislative proclamation, which can help when someone is trying to secure rights.

Members of the subcommittee had several questions and comments for Sanders. House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked why the state school board won’t allow American Sign Language to be taught as a foreign language unless the teacher has a master’s degree in it. Sanders wasn’t sure, but she said she had heard the Education Department just doesn’t want it to count for a foreign language credit.

Poling said, “I can tell you a teacher doesn’t need to have a master’s degree to be highly qualified in other subjects.”

Delegate Tim Ennis, D-Brooke, asked there would be more signers if that standard were relaxed. Sanders said she thought so.

 

By Jim Wallace

Education Department officials spent a lot of time in December explaining a proposed policy that would eliminate suspensions for students who commit such low-level offenses as cheating or cursing. That proposed policy, which the state school board is expected to consider at its December meeting, raised concerns among teachers and administrators. Legislators also expressed concern at the November meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Supt. Jorea Marple told the lawmakers that the department was holding meetings with interested parties all through November to explain how the policy would work and why it was proposed.

“We want our schools to be safe, and we want our classrooms to not be disrupted.” – Supt. Jorea Marple

“We want our schools to be safe, and we want our classrooms to not be disrupted,” she said. “So we did bring clarity to the policy to make sure that people understand that there are egregious acts in the classrooms [and] that principals always have the authority to suspend.”

Marple said the department also wants to work with teachers’ organizations to support funding for alternative education programs. Teachers’ union leaders had complained that the proposed policy would weaken teachers’ authority and leave disruptive students in their classrooms.

The same day Marple spoke to legislators she also met with the Principals Association to explain the policy. She said another meeting with interested parties was to be held Nov. 30 to make sure the policy is clear. But Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said he thought there was more misinformation than clarity about the policy.

Lawmakers also took interest in the department’s new universal food service program, which Marple said was showing “extraordinary results.” She said the program has substantially increased the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches who eat those lunches at the participating schools. She promised to share more complete results in a couple of months, but she said cooks had expressed “very positive reaction to seeing students actually enjoy eating the food.”

But House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, wondered how the program could offer free breakfasts and lunches at the schools involved. Marple explained that about 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, but only 27 percent were participating in the program. So the Education Department figured schools could improve the quality of food served, adjust the times the food is served and serve all students to increase participation and still remain fiscally solvent. In other words, the program brought participation from enough students eligible for free or reduced-cost meals that the federal reimbursement for them covers the costs of providing free food for otherwise ineligible students.

“There has been a phenomenal increase in the percent of students who are eating,” Marple said. At Gilbert Middle School, only 27 percent participated in the program last year, but that’s up to 95 percent this year, she said.

The program also has gotten more students to eat breakfast at some schools by providing it after the first period instead of before the beginning of classes. Marple said that, at John Marshall High School, the first day breakfast was moved to after first period, the participation increased by 400 students.

In other business, Marple told the commission:

  • The department continues to work on a template for a uniform crisis response plan;
  • West Virginia’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are showing improvement by students.
  • The state is moving away from the “adequate yearly progress’ standard of the No Child Left Behind program to a system that shows growth for each child. The department is putting final touches on that system and hopes to roll it out in the spring.
  • The department is working to address issues around Policy 4373, which deals with bullying. An important part of the policy is that it establishes expectations for behavior for all – teachers, students, parents and the community. [See “Lawmakers Get Different Suggestions for Dealing with Bullying” elsewhere in this issue.]
  • West Virginia is one of five states to be selected to be in the International Global Leaders program. The department will work on personalizing learning with countries around the world.

Also during the meeting, Susan Smith, executive director of the Office of School Finance, presented to the commission comparisons of teachers’ and administrators’ salaries by county. It was a response to a resolution the Legislature had passed on that subject, but after commission members received the comparisons, they realized the information in those comparisons was not what they really wanted. 

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said the comparisons were not very meaningful. For example, he said, superintendents in small counties make much less than their counterparts in larger counties, so there is little point in comparing salaries from county to county. He said only statewide averages were useful.

“I completely see your point,” Smith told him.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association and the state Education Department are working together to get more high school graduates ready for the jobs available in the state’s workforce. They have developed a manufacturing technology curriculum that some school districts are starting to adopt.

Karen Price, president of the Manufacturers Association, told the November meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic Development that the effort began about two years ago when members of her association began complaining they couldn’t get the workforce they needed. She said too few high school graduates were ready for college or careers, and even fewer of them were prepared to go into occupations dealing with science, math or engineering. The manufacturers wanted more students to go beyond high school and get competency-based, customized workforce training, she said.

Working with the Education Department, the association developed a manufacturing technology “Blueprint for Success.” It focuses on three foundation skills of success:

  1. Basic skills such as speaking and listening;
  2. Thinking skills such as creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, reasoning and conflict resolution; and
  3. Personal qualities such as individual responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management and integrity.

Students also get courses that explore skillsets needed for different types of manufacturing and provide them with business computer applications. In a capstone course, students work on projects with guidance from local manufacturing industry/advisory committees.

Price said the Randolph County schools have adopted the curriculum, and the Kanawha County schools want to offer it in the next semester. She also has met with superintendents from the Northern Panhandle who want to start the curriculum either in the next semester or next fall by using West Virginia Northern Community College as a hub for offering the classes.

“We’re pretty excited about it. We want to start students on a career path.” – Karen Price of Manufacturers Association

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Price said. “We want to start students on a career path.”

But the program needs some publicity, she said, because not enough students and their parents know about it yet. Price said some of them also need “to understand that there are other alternatives that are just as good as college for education and that you can come out and earn a good living.” She said the association is putting together a brochure to distribute to high schools and is working with community colleges.

“We’re working on a marketing program that would help market the community college programs such as a chemical operator, some of the Marcellus shale and other things that are going on throughout the state at the community colleges,” Price said. “That, I think, will translate back into high schools so they can start to understand what other opportunities are out there for them.”

For example, she said many chemical plant workers in the Kanawha Valley are getting ready to retire in the next several years, so companies will need new workers to replace them. In particular, Price said, she understands that the DuPont plant at Belle will probably hire about 50 new employees in the next few years.

 

Department also is using other means to improve graduates’ readiness for work.

Kathi D’Antoni, assistant state superintendent in the Division of Technical, Adult and Institutional Education, told lawmakers that her division is working very closely with Workforce West Virginia and the Manufacturing Association to create pathways through the career and technical centers.

One recent development is the Education Department’s purchase of a Strategic Compass system, which she said would help students identify which careers might interest them. She said it would show them what jobs are available in West Virginia, how to access them, what skillsets are needed and what the career path would be. D’Antoni called it a “tremendous tool” that will be available to all high schools.

By the end of November, she also expected to receive a report she commissioned about the job projections for the oil and gas industry as natural gas is extracted from Marcellus shale. The report was to include the skillsets needed in the industry, she said.

“It’s time in our history in West Virginia where the education system and Workforce and the businesses join hand-in-hand, because we can’t do this in isolation. We’ve got to communicate with each other.” – Kathi D’Antoni of Division of Technical, Adult and Institutional Education

“It’s time in our history in West Virginia where the education system and Workforce and the businesses join hand-in-hand, because we can’t do this in isolation,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to communicate with each other.”

In addition, she said, the department has added an employer portal on its website to help match companies looking for workers with certain skillsets to students who have acquired those skills. Employers who go to that portal can receive contact information that should lead them to the appropriate students, she said.

Delegate Steve Kominar, D-Mingo, said a clearinghouse for such information would be useful. He said a concrete company in his district was trying to expand but couldn’t find workers with the right skills.

In response to a question from Kominar, D’Antoni said the manufacturing curriculum is targeted at 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, but the Education Department also is working to build career development modules in middle schools to give students a taste of what’s offered at a career and technical center.

“We have to get to them earlier, because these students are becoming disengaged in our schools,” she said. “We find if we can get them into career-tech, we have a 98 percent placement rate and we also have a 98 percent graduation rate, because the students get in there and they get interested.”

 

Senators express doubts.

But Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, questioned whether students come out of career-tech courses really ready to work. D’Antoni said that’s why one focus of the new curriculum is on employable skills. But she warned that education “cannot be a cure-all.” She said the school system must work in partnership with others to develop a culture for students.

Again, Stollings asked if students really understand what’s expected of workers in manufacturing. “To a certain extent,” D’Antoni replied. She added that it’s one thing for the students to learn and practice skills inside a school building and another to use them while exposed to real work conditions, such as mud and cold.

Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, asked whether students are given an aptitude test. D’Antoni said one aptitude test is being used, although not to the same extent it was in the past. However, she said use of the new Strategic Compass should help with that.

“You have got to have the right skillsets,” D’Antoni said. “You have got to be in the right area.”

Browning indicated that he thought students need more options in education. D’Antoni agreed and suggested it’s also important to give them more guidance in selecting career paths.

“If you get a college degree in archeology, that’s wonderful, but you got to eat,” she said. “I’m getting to the age where I’m very passionate about this.”

Browning noted that special education students get individual education plans. Before he could go on, D’Antoni jumped in and said, “We should have an IEP for every kid.” That apparently took the words out of Browning’s mouth. They agreed that too many parents push college education. “That is a culture that we need to change,” D’Antoni said. She added that the GED Option Pathway has saved some students by giving them the opportunity to receive career and technical education while working to prepare for General Educational Development (GED) tests instead of just dropping out of school.

On the subject of dropouts, Browning expressed concern with statistics indicating that 27 percent of West Virginia students drop out before graduating from high school and that about 80 percent of prison inmates were high school dropouts. D’Antoni noted that among prison inmates who earn associate degrees, less than 5 percent return to prison after they are released, but among those who don’t earn degrees, 75 percent end up back in prison.

“The point I’m making is we don’t need to be losing 27 percent of our kids. We’re doing something wrong.” – Sen. Richard Browning

“The point I’m making is we don’t need to be losing 27 percent of our kids,” Browning said.  “We’re doing something wrong.” He suggested that teachers should spend in-service days at local businesses to get a better idea of what they need from potential employees.

“It is doable, but we’ve got to make very important decisions on education right now,” D’Antoni said. “We are losing a whole generation of kids. Even the ones that stay in school have dropped out mentally.”

The next step, she said, is to help students see the connection between education and real world work, which the Education Department is trying to do. Browning said there is not much time to spare, but D’Antoni told him work was already under way to revise department policies.

“It’s happening right now,” she said. “I’m excited about where we’re headed.”

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, noted that the Legislature already passed legislation that has led to the current effort to curb truancy. Browning responded, “I guess I’m just impatient to try to get things done.” He added that separating community colleges from four-year colleges was an important step toward improving the quality of West Virginia’s workforce.

Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, suggested taxing students who pursue majors that aren’t needed for the workforce and giving incentives to those in more relevant majors. But D’Antoni suggested that what is needed is to provide students and their parents with more information on which to base education and career decisions.

Stollings, who is a physician, said his practice has been getting many people from Florida and Georgia for pre-employment physical examinations, an indication that not enough West Virginians were prepared to fill some jobs. He suggested that West Virginia’s education system must get to students early and provide them with good role models.

D’Antoni replied, “We got to get into the schools and get these conversations started.”

 

By Amy Julia Harris

While West Virginia teachers' salaries slumped over the past three years, state school superintendents' paychecks have shot up since the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to state salary data.

The average superintendent will earn a base salary of about $102,400 by the end of this fiscal year -- a 9 percent increase from last year. That's more than double what a West Virginia schoolteacher made in base pay last year -- about $43,500.

"Everyone is complaining how unfair it is that the top people make big bucks and no one else does, but that's exactly what's going on in the school system," said Pete Thaw, Kanawha County school board president. "We have people in our schools making 30 or 40 thousand a year, and some people even making in the 20-thousands. That is a great disparity, and I just hate to see that much at the top."

Of the 55 superintendents in West Virginia, 40 saw their paychecks rise this year. Nine had their salaries cut.

The paychecks of superintendents have steadily climbed over the past decade, and most haven't taken a hit since the economic downturn began.

State school chiefs made 11 percent more in their base salary this year than they did in the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to state salary data. Teacher salaries went down about 2 percent last year -- the most recent salary data available -- from that of three years ago.

More than half of all the school chiefs in the state make six-figure salaries.

"I really don't think that [West Virginia] superintendent salaries are out of line -- or have caught up to that of other states," said Martha Dean, executive director of the state Association of School Administrators. "Other states pay better than West Virginia."

Superintendents in the Mountain State made about $60,000 less last year than the average superintendent across the nation, according to the Educational Research Service.

"A superintendent is really on duty 24/7 and a teacher has about a seven-and-a-half hour day," Dean said. "Ultimately, everything that happens in the county is the responsibility of the superintendent. They have to understand finances, live within their budget and prioritize money. It's a pretty complex job."

Not everyone thinks a superintendent's work merits the paycheck.

In Kanawha County, the largest school system in West Virginia, teacher salaries have stayed mostly flat since 2008-09. Longtime superintendent Ron Duerring's salary, meanwhile, has increased by 46 percent in that time. His four-year contract has built-in annual pay raises.

School board member Thaw thinks Duerring's pay hikes are excessive.

"I thought it was too big of a raise," Thaw said. "That's why I didn't vote for it. I don't think [Duerring] deserves that type of salary, but he has done a very good job managing the school system's money."

Three years ago, Duerring made $100,000 a year. Now, he earns more than $146,000, making him the second highest paid school chief in the state. When his four-year contract expires in June 2013, Duerring's paycheck will bump up to $150,000 a year.

The board approved Duerring's salary raise in 2008.

Raising teacher salaries is more complicated than raising superintendent salaries for one reason: the sheer number of teachers.

The last time Kanawha County significantly raised teachers' salaries across the board was in the 2007-08 fiscal year, said Harry Reustle, treasurer of Kanawha County schools. When school board members gave every teacher in the county a $500 pay raise, it cost the county about $2 million, Reustle said.

"When you give a pay raise, it isn't a one-time thing, it goes on forever," Thaw said. "We can't afford it -- $2 million for every year from now on is a huge amount. I can't understand how people can indebt the school system for that much forever."

A teacher in Kanawha County made about $45,700 last year, according to the most recent salary figures.

Comparing a superintendent's salary to a teacher's is not an apples-to-apples comparison, said Howard O'Cull, president of the West Virginia School Board Association. A teacher's base salary does not include various types of retirement and health benefits, whereas direct superintendent pay might bundle these benefits into the contract.

Additionally, teachers are contracted to work only 200 days a year and get summers off, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. Superintendents, meanwhile, work year-round.

"We foundationally believe that teachers across the board need to make more money," Cordeiro said. "We need to set our salary at a level that is comparative and competitive."

West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation for teacher salaries, according to the Department of Education.

Rising superintendent paychecks don't surprise O'Cull. When counties hire new school chiefs, they must entice them with higher pay and benefits to get qualified candidates to take the job.

"A master's degree is all that is required of a superintendent," said Dean, of the Association of School Administrators. "A doctorate is not required, but to attract someone more qualified, you have to increase the level of the salary."

Dean said boosting superintendents' salaries also is a way to keep current school chiefs from leaving an around-the-clock job of dealing with financial matters and sometimes-testy school boards. All but 10 of the superintendents in the state have multi-year contracts, the majority of which have guaranteed raises built in.

Manny Arvon, Berkeley County Schools superintendent, was the highest paid school chief in the state this year, making more than $154,000. Arvon oversees more than 17,000 students in 29 schools in the Eastern Panhandle. When his four-year contract expires in June 2014, Arvon's salary will rise to almost $170,000 a year.

The average teacher in Berkeley County made about $44,500 last year.

Local school boards typically negotiate the contracts of county superintendents, but when the state takes over a failing county school system, it immediately pays off for superintendents who are assigned to those counties.

While the average pay hike for school chiefs was about 10 percent this year, in the six takeover counties in the state -- Grant, Preston, Gilmer, Mingo, McDowell and Fayette -- the pay raises were dramatic.

Gilmer County boosted its superintendent's pay by almost 54 percent this year - the largest one-year percentage jump in the state. Gilmer Superintendent Ron Blankenship was appointed by the West Virginia Board of Education in June after the state said the school system was failing.

Blankenship now makes $120,000 a year -- about $42,000 more than his predecessor made before the state takeover.

When the state intervenes in a county school system, the state superintendent of schools sets the county superintendent's pay scale. This year, the standard pay for superintendents in takeover counties was fixed at $120,000. The local school boards continue to pay a share of the salary, and the state supplements the rest.

"The reasoning behind that is that these superintendents are stepping into shaky situations where students are not performing at high student-achievement levels, and there could be issues with hiring and facilities," Cordeiro said.

A teacher in Gilmer County made a little more than $41,000 in base pay last year.

Suzanne Dickens, the superintendent of Mason County -- a non-takeover county -- also had a dramatic salary hike. Her pay rose by more than 30 percent this year -- about $26,000. She made $111,500 this year.

Teacher salaries in Mason County dropped about 2 percent last year from the level of three years ago. A teacher in the county made a little less than $44,000 last year.

The lowest paid state superintendents were Dennis Albright of Braxton County, which enrolls about 2,200 students, and Eddie Campbell Jr. of Tucker County, which enrolls a little more than 1,000 students. Both superintendents were paid $85,000 this year.

Note: Used by permission of the Charleston Gazette. This article was published November 19, 2011.