September 21, 2012 - Volume 32 Issue 23


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


By Jim Wallace

If anyone needed a playbook for improving West Virginia’s education system, attendees at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Fall Conference got one right away. It came in the form of a book, Team Turnarounds, and a presentation by the authors, Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl. Their work is based on studies of sports teams and businesses that have gone from poor performance to notable success.

As Frontiera established at the beginning of his WVSBA presentation, West Virginia is in need of an educational turnaround. One good measurement of that is the state’s ranking as 51st in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). “West Virginia is consistently a little bit lower than the national average in terms of educational achievement,” Frontiera said.

When he asked what sports teams do to turn their fortunes around, the suggestions audience members offered included changing the coach and getting new players, but Frontiera said those action are not necessarily effective. “Sometimes, it has to do with the entire culture surrounding that coach and those players,” he said.

Frontiera said myths about what is needed for a turnaround to be effective include:

  • The team must be at the bottom first. – “You don’t have to be,” he said. “You can kind of create a false bottom for wherever you’re at.”
  • The leader must be at the top. – Frontiera said many mid-management level people were able to shield their groups from what was going on in their organizations and create environments in which their teams excelled.
  • Turnarounds require charisma. – Leidl and Fontiera found that people who led turnarounds had all types of personalities.
  • New people are required. – Sometimes it helps to get new people, but sometimes change can be made with existing people, Frontiera said.

Many times, teams have lost a sense of identity, he said, so a good way to start the turnaround process is by asking: Who are we and what do we want to be?

Leidl and Frontiera found that, for a turnaround to happen, a team had to go through six stages:

  1. Leading past losing
  2. Committing to growth
  3. Changing behaviors
  4. Embracing adversity
  5. Achieving success
  6. Nurturing a culture of excellence

Leading past losing requires study.

Time did not permit them to explain all of those stages, so they focused on a few, including the first one, using the example of the Philadelphia Eagles. When Jeffrey Lurie bought the team in 1994 for $185 million, the Eagles had not performed well during the previous decade.

Frontiera said Lurie’s first step was to observe and learn. He made no changes for six months but just observed attitudes, personnel and facilities. Lurie also spent significant time studying the San Francisco 49ers, which had been one of the National Football League’s most successful teams from 1981 to 1994. As a result of those observations and study, he developed a list of five things that the Eagles needed and focused on doing them. Since 2000, the Eagles have been one of the most dominant teams in the NFL.

“He wouldn’t have been able to put that comprehensive plan in place if he would have just gone in and started making changes,” Frontiera said. “He tried to look at what some of the root causes of the problems were.”

“Your power comes in your group. Your power comes in your ability to work with a superintendent. But one of the biggest things you can do is look for data. Figure out what’s going on in your school system and try to understand that as best you possibly can.” – Joe Frontiera

Bringing the discussion back to education, he noted that school board members have limited power. “Your power comes in your group,” Frontiera said. “Your power comes in your ability to work with a superintendent. But one of the biggest things you can do is look for data. Figure out what’s going on in your school system and try to understand that as best you possibly can.”

Many school board members get elected by running on particular platforms, he said, and after they get elected, they must determine if their stances still make sense. Frontiera said that what the Eagles’ experience demonstrates is: “To achieve long-term success, you can’t make short-term sacrifices. You can’t trade success in the short term for results in the long term, because it never works.”

Leidl noted that, when they were talking about the problems of the West Virginia education, someone in the audience said, “We deserve better.” But he said, it’s not that you deserve better but that you have to be better.

“What are the behaviors that you are doing to get you where you want to go?” Leidl asked. “That’s the critical piece.” If you believe the state of education can be better, it comes down to what you are going to do about that, he said, and that starts with self-belief. Leidl said there are always going to be little setbacks, but you must maintain the internal belief that you are better and you must stick to the plan.


Changing behaviors requires planning.

On Stage III, changing behaviors, Leidl used the example of Loyola Marymount University, which had big problems with the daycare center it established in 2000. It was run by the Finance Department and had poor enrollment. One customer who brought children there found it was not functioning well and was actually doing things that were dangerous for the children, such as not sanitizing a table between changing kids’ diapers.

When a well-educated woman, Ani Shabazian, arrived in 2006 to take over running the daycare, she saw many bad habits. So she educated the workers, modeled what she wanted to see done and looked for teaching opportunities. For example, she brought in people from the university to talk about how important the daycare was to the university. 

“To me, that’s the type of dialogue that you have an opportunity to have in the context of your schools. Right?” Leidl asked. “We need schools to educate children.” He encouraged school board members to have dialogues with their communities.

At Loyola Marymount’s daycare center, Shabazian raised the credentialing of the people who worked at the daycare center. With that, certain people left, but Leidl said that was necessary for the success of the turnaround plan.

In 2010, the daycare center earned accreditation from the National Association for Education of Young Children, which accredits less than 8 percent of childcare centers across the country. “That all goes back to her focus on the behavior,” Leidl said about Shabazian. “It’s not what we want to do; it’s what we’re going to do.”

“You can’t just talk about where you want to go. At a certain point, you have to start walking in that direction.” – Dan Leidl

The focus on behavior is essential in a turnaround, he said. “You can’t just talk about where you want to go,” Leidl said. “At a certain point, you have to start walking in that direction.”

One board member in the audience said that a board member gets a letdown upon taking office after realizing how little power he or she has. Frontiera said what is required is a change of perspective on the member’s part. Once that person realizes how limited his or her power is, the issue is how to get all of the board members onto the same page, he said.

“One of the characteristics of those teams and organizations that can’t make it out of Stage I is that they use excuses that they’ve always used to rationalize why they’re not succeeding,” Frontiera said. That sets the bar much lower than it needs to be, he said, and if that’s what’s happening on a board, someone needs to question those assumptions.

Leidl added, “As a team, we’re only as good as the enthusiasm we all bring to the table.” He said teams that succeed embrace enthusiasm, while those who stay in the mud are those who say that’s just the way it is.

One board member said sometimes a member must “will things to happen” and not readily accept no for an answer. Frontiera agreed that it does take persistence and looking past what you have.


Pizza chain shows how to embrace adversity.

That led into a discussion of Stage IV, embracing adversity. Frontiera offered Domino’s Pizza as an example. Both the company and the restaurant industry were in free fall, he said. The company hit a record low in December 2008, and it was the industry’s 14th straight month of contraction, but Domino’s took it as a challenge. The company’s reputation was based on providing pizzas cheaply and fast – in other words, value and service. But the marketplace had changed, because restaurants of all kinds were offering delivery. Domino’s also had a serious brand issue, because people associated it with bad pizza. Customers said the crust tasted like cardboard.

As Frontiera explained, Patrick Doyle, Domino’s chief executive officer, decided not to use the recession as an excuse but chose to frame it as a challenge and a growth opportunity. Secretly, the company began to develop new pizza recipes with new crust and sauce. It was a hard change to make, Frontiera said, because the company had to get franchisees on board first. Domino’s held some large, secret conferences for the franchisees. Then, in commercials, the company was honest with customers about its problems. After the new pizzas came out, sales shot up.

“We don’t have that dynamic in education, which means we should be able to sustain the gains that we make a lot longer.” – Barbara Parsons

Barbara Parsons, president of the Monongalia County school board, pointed out that food is a dynamic market with a lot of competition. “We don’t have that dynamic in education, which means we should be able to sustain the gains that we make a lot longer,” she said. But another attendee said many public schools do have competition from private schools, which often pull the more talented students out of the public school systems.

“It’s actually larger than that,” another person said. “Our finished product is our students, who are competing in a world system.”


Achieving success requires a type of evolution.

That led into Leidl’s presentation on Stage V, achieving success. He used as an example Tufts University, which has one of the nation’s oldest lacrosse teams, but it was one of the worst until the university hired 26-year-old Mike Daly as head coach in 1998. He had little coaching experience and even less experience in lacrosse, but he loved Tufts and knew he could learn lacrosse. Leidl drew on personal knowledge for this story, because Daly is a friend who once was his roommate.

Daly took several steps, including getting team members the best equipment, and he started to build a culture in which the players were not only expected to do well, but they could expect the university to do well for them.

“So he starts to change the game,” Leidl said. “It’s no longer a loser thing on campus to be a part of the lacrosse program. Now it’s becoming a cool thing.”

Tufts began getting some of the top recruits. Daly started talking to team members about leadership, getting books for them and meeting them for lunch on Fridays to talk about leadership and success. He had seniors teach the material to freshmen and sophomores. As things evolved, expectations were raised. Tufts went from being one of the worst teams in the nation to winning the national championship in 2010.

“They’re not just focused on wins and losses; they’re starting to grow themselves as people,” Leidl said. “They’re starting to work on communication: How can you talk to your teammates more productively?”

A graph showed what was called the team’s “Evolution of Success,” which began with fundamentals and passion and moved through getting the first league win, working hard on little things, getting into the playoffs, winning a league championship and eventually the national championship.

“It’s not just a job,” Leidl said. “It almost becomes something of a lifestyle. They’re living and breathing this, and together, they’re all moving forward.”

When a goal is achieved, he said, you must reset your goals and continue to focus on success. For example, in October, Daly plans to attend the World Business Forum, which is positioned for chief executive officers, but he takes the stance that he is a CEO, and he wants to learn from the best. Leidl said it’s important to create standards not only for the people around you but also for yourself to be among the best.

“It’s up to us to keep defining what success is, because it never stops.” – Dan Leidl

“It’s up to us to keep defining what success is, because it never stops,” he said.

One attendee said there are things board members can do to make improvements, but they often just don’t do them.

Frontiera said that some people point to what others are not doing, but what they should do is focus on what they can do themselves. He said school board members are in a position in which they have power only in meetings, yet they’re held responsible for what happens in their school systems. So he challenged them to consider what they can do within that role.



By Jim Wallace

Industries in the energy sector are looking for help from West Virginia schools to prepare students for the jobs that will be available in the years ahead. Representatives of the oil and natural gas industry, the coal industry and an electrical power company all said during a session at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Fall Conference that they will need many new workers in the years ahead, but they might have trouble finding those with the right skills unless they get help from the schools.

The oil and natural gas industry needs more workers because of the boom in drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale zone, which covers almost all of West Virginia. But Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association, said many of those jobs are being filled by people from out of state, because not enough West Virginians are prepared to fill them. He blamed school counselors for part of the problem, saying that too many counselors direct students only toward going to college for four years, even though people without college degrees are earning much more than those counselors are.

“The reason guys are in here from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and other places is that this is where the work is,” DeMarco said, but those workers don’t want to remain in West Virginia. That’s one reason why the industry wants more West Virginians to be trained to fill jobs as welders, machinists and pumping operators with average salaries of about $75,000 plus benefits, he said.

“We don’t have the workforce now. We’re busting our hump, and we have been for several years, in getting training programs in place, but it’s not keeping up with the activity. And it won’t keep up with the activity, without your-all’s assistance.” – Corky DeMarco

“We don’t have the workforce now,” DeMarco said. “We’re busting our hump, and we have been for several years, in getting training programs in place, but it’s not keeping up with the activity. And it won’t keep up with the activity, without your-all’s assistance.”

Some companies he represents have 30-year to 40-year drilling plans, he said, so the industry needs help in preparing its next generation of workers.

“We need a ton of people who are just willing to work hard and learn, because we’re willing to teach them,” DeMarco said.

Likewise, Dave Drennon, marketing and transportation manager for HG Energy and a representative of the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA) of West Virginia, said the Marcellus shale zone is part of the second-largest natural gas reservoir in the world, so companies are coming from all over the world to drill it. Oil and natural gas drilling is not new to many West Virginia communities, he said, but it’s being reborn. Ryan, will forward Drennon pix>

“This is dangerous work that we do, and we’ve got to have clean people.” – Dave Drennon

Drennon said the industry has a “huge need” for engineers of all kinds: petroleum, electrical and mechanical, but young people must stay away from drugs if they want those jobs. “This is dangerous work that we do, and we’ve got to have clean people,” he said.

To help develop the workers of the future, Drennon said, IOGA has four major initiatives, including research into education gaps in West Virginia, a Teach the Teachers Day for 40 math and science teachers, four career fairs at high schools in northern West Virginia, and a summer program at West Virginia Wesleyan College for math and science teachers who can each bring two students.


Retirements worry power company.

Sam Gray, manager of state affairs at First Energy, parent company of Mon Power, said half of his company’s workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Many employees working now are eligible to retire but haven’t done so yet because of the downturn in the economy, he said.

In the past, the company has been able to hire new workers right out of high school and train them in apprenticeship programs, but with the rash of retirements ahead, there won’t be enough older workers to provide such training. So Gray said First Energy must do something different, and it is looking to the community and technical colleges and the vocational education system to prepare students. If they get the right generalized training, the company can give them the specialized training they will need, he said.

“They need to take rigorous math and science classes in high school, not just what it takes to get by and graduate.” – Sam Gray

“They need to take rigorous math and science classes in high school, not just what it takes to get by and graduate,” Gray said, and public schools need to make them aware of that those classes are not just for students who plan to get four-year college degrees. He said only 20 percent of the company’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree, and it has a greater need for people with two-year college and technical school degrees.

First Energy wants to hire people at all levels and could hire engineers today if they were available, Gray said, but drug use by many applicants is a big problem. “You need to be clean to come to work for us,” he said. When asked how many applicants are unable to pass drug tests, he said his company had only two of 55 applicants for one recent opening who were able to pass a drug test.


Despite downturn, coal industry expects to have job openings.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said employment is down in the coal industry right now, largely because of competition from natural gas as a cheaper source of energy but also because of environmental regulations. However, he said, the industry still expects to hire many workers in the years ahead, mainly because of the aging of the current workforce.

“We’re probably going to lose about 50 percent of our workforce over the next five to seven years,” Hamilton said. “So even if all remains the same and no growth is experienced, we’re still going to be in a situation where we have to replace upwards of eight [thousand] to 10,000 people just based on attrition. We have about 20,000 miners today, and then there’s another 20 [thousand] to 25,000 individuals who show up at a mine site every day that are involved in blasting, reclamation, doing maintenance and a lot of people in the transportation sector that are counted in that number.”

“We are very anxious to partner with you, so we can provide whatever resources or supports are necessary to get these programs off the ground.” – Chris Hamilton

Hamilton said the Coal Association is encouraging school systems in mining areas to start mine-training program either as part of vocational education programs or in cooperation with community and technical colleges. “We are very anxious to partner with you, so we can provide whatever resources or supports are necessary to get these programs off the ground,” he said. “So there can be some interaction between schools officials, the students and people within the industry.”

Such programs have been successful where they have been done, Hamilton said, and the industry also has some summer employment and internship opportunities in light-duty jobs.


Education Department offers schools help in guiding students.

Kathy D’Antoni, assistant superintendent in the Education Department’s Division of Technical and Adult Education, told the school board members and superintendents in attendance that her agency has many resources to help schools make students aware of potential career pathways. She provided them with several reports about those resources, including “West Virginia Educomony: Labor Market and Education Report,” which tells where the jobs are.

“There are great jobs in West Virginia, folks, and our kids don’t know that,” D’Antoni said.

One member of the audience said counselors need to get that information, because too many of them are oriented toward steering students to college. Tony Talerico, a member of the Preston County school board, said someone should “pound” that information into counselors.

D’Antoni said college is a tool, not a product. “If you go to school in the wrong major, you’re not going to be great,” she said.

Some of the information her agency provides classifies work into five “job zones” from those for unskilled labor to those requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. D’Antoni said she could prepare reports specifically for any county. 

Wood County Superintendent Patrick Law said his county’s vocational program is “running at full speed,” but classes are mostly in the medical field. He would like to expand the county’s vocational program, but he said the county could use the help of industry leaders in doing that.

One member of the audience with 45 years of experience in higher education suggested that community and technical colleges should be combined with vocational schools. “I personally would like to see this happen as soon as possible,” he said.

Bill Raglin of the Kanawha County school board said he first ran for the board on a platform of enhancing industrial education, but few people were receptive to that message at the time, so it’s good for him to see some people now are finding the value in it. But he said some people at the top of the education system still seem reluctant to provide enough funding for vocational programs.

“They need to get out in the real world and realize there is a difference between a screwdriver and a hammer.” – Bill Raglin

“They need to get out in the real world and realize there is a difference between a screwdriver and a hammer,” Raglin said, generating applause.

D’Antoni said the reason so many students drop out before graduating from high schools is that many of them dropped out mentally about fifth grade. “We have to start a very intense, deliberate career-development system that starts in first grade,” she said. “School boards can do this. It is state law. We already have a law on the books that says every school system will have a comprehensive career development system K through 12. It’s not been done.”

Giving students a taste of a dream and decision-making skillsets would make them less likely to drop out, D’Antoni said. “We have to stop teaching children to go to second grade or to go to third grade or to go to fourth grade,” she said, because they need to look further ahead.

“We have lost a whole generation of kids,” D’Antoni said. “The only way we’re going to get these kids back is we get them engaged in their own education and excited that they can become something.”

Teaching students to make good decisions for themselves is a large part of the task, she said. “You have it in your power as county board members to start making sure that these types of activities start at the elementary [level],” D’Antoni said.

In addition to general sessions, which included a lecture by Jonathan Kozol, author of Fire In The Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, the WVSBA conference included six concurrent breakout sessions. They included a meeting of school boards operating under state intervention, two association business meetings and various exhibits. A portion of the conference was devoted to commemorating the founding of the West Virginia School Boards Association (now School Board Association) at a meeting of county boards of education members who met in 1952 at what is now Marshall University for the purpose of establishing the state association.



By Jim Wallace

The audit of West Virginia’s education system has prompted the Education Department to reorganize some of its offices, the department has applied to the federal government for a waiver from regulations in the No Child Left Behind Act, and state Supt. Jorea Marple has proposed several “game-changers” to the state school board.

Marple told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability about those and other developments at their August and September meetings. Members of the commission also indicated that the Legislature might discontinue fully underwriting the costs of the General Educational Development (GED) test as the test becomes more expensive.

“We certainly take the audit very seriously. Even though the state board hasn’t issued a [response], we certainly have begun a lot of work around that report.” – Supt. Jorea Marple

“We certainly take the audit very seriously,” Marple told legislators. “Even though the state board hasn’t issued a [response], we certainly have begun a lot of work around that report.”

The audit challenged the department to reorganize around the work rather than funding sources, which she called “a great recommendation,” so that process has begun. Marple said the department is reorganizing based on specified outcomes that officials want to achieve.

“We are dividing everyone in the department into programmatic teams,” she said, and those teams are focused on outcomes. “We are working hard to be very accountable for the outcomes that we want to achieve for our children.”

One result of that reorganization is the creation of an Office of School Readiness to make sure children have skillsets they need by the time they get to third grade. “Literature tells us if they don’t have it, it really becomes much more difficult to catch up,” Marple said. “Because of the Legislature’s establishment of universal pre-K, I think we have a strong foundation for beginning that work. This year, we’re going to celebrate the fact that we have reached universality. That means in no county should there be any child on a waiting list who’s four years old and wants to go to pre-K.”

West Virginia is leading the nation in providing pre-K education, she said, and that has resulted in having 67 percent of eligible children in the program, but she wants get it to 90 percent. The Education Department is trying to figure out how to do that, Marple said, while also recognizing a need to improve what is offered to pre-K students.

“We still have counties that aren’t delivering full programs,” she said. “They’re delivering half-day programs. We have transportation issues we have to address. And we have to work on the quality of the programs at the pre-K level.”

One way the department is addressing that issue is through the use of an assessment tool used last year in the pre-K programs that allows a teacher to show what progress each student is making. Data reports can be aggregated for the school, the county, the state and collaborative agencies, Marple said, and reports are given to kindergarten teachers.

“I think it’s the first time that there has been an assessment tool that has been so readily used, and in one year time, 96 percent of all of our pre-K teachers fully utilized this assessment, because it’s easy to use,” she said. “It provides some information directly back.”

The plan is to “roll this assessment up to each grade level,” Marple said, and the department is developing an application for a $3.2 million grant from the Benedum Foundation to help support the professional development that would be needed in that effort.

The department also has applied for a $4.2 million federal grant to support personalized learning. Marple said it would provide professional development for teachers and help to figure out how to meet each child’s individual needs.

The education audit expressed great concern about the number of positions at the department. Marple said the department is taking heed of that concern.

“We have been very judicious, and over this past year, we actually have not filled over 20 positions. We’re looking at every single position, evaluating it and actually expanding people’s responsibilities and duties.” – Supt. Jorea Marple

“We have been very judicious, and over this past year, we actually have not filled over 20 positions,” she said. “We’re looking at every single position, evaluating it and actually expanding people’s responsibilities and duties. I’ll give an example: We had an executive director for human resources; it’s now the executive director for human resources and healthy schools. So people are having to accept additional responsibilities.”

Also as a result of the audit, the department has reorganized institutional services and programs. Historically, the Office of Institutional Programs served both adults and juveniles who have had trouble with the law, Marple said, but the department has separated the two populations. She said the department is working hard to provide a broad-based curriculum to juveniles who have been adjudicated and give kids opportunities to have the skills they need to be successful.


New office will deal with alternative education.

Another change Marple reported is the creation of the Office of Optional Educational Pathways. She said 24 percent of ninth-graders failed two or more courses last year, and many of them feel as though they never can catch up. In response, the department has developed a system for them to show evidence of the knowledge and skills they have, so they can get credit for courses. Marple said the department will pilot it in the institutional programs and then roll it out statewide. Children will be motivated, because they will receive credit for doing the work, she said.

“We believe by doing this we can encourage students to learn on their own, to take more responsibility for their learning if they see light at the end of the tunnel,” Marple said. But more work is needed on that system to develop a platform for showing the evidence of what students have learned, she said. 


Other programs experience change.

In other developments, Marple reported that West Virginia is one of four states this year to receive authorization for a pilot program known as the Community Eligibility Option that allows schools to extend free meals to all students. She said the first step is to look for schools with at least 40 percent of students eligible for direct service. The department has challenged each of the 283 schools that will participate to adopt innovative strategies for offering breakfast and cooking from scratch, she said. There has been massive training throughout the state to help cooks learn to cook from scratch, Marple said, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has had many accolades for the effort.

Another change is that the state school board has challenged the department to have specific evidence-based outcomes. “We will evaluate the superintendent on those outcomes,” Marple said. Those outcomes include making progress on indicators in terms of how much children know, how they behave, discipline, attendance, and performance on three tests: WESTEST 2, the ACT and the SAT.

The education audit suggested that it might not make sense for the Education Department to continue to operate the Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Jackson County, but Marple said the department operated two camps this summer at Cedar Lakes. “I think these were life-changing camps for our students, and I only wish that we can continue it,” she said. “I think it’s an extraordinary use for this facility.”

One was a science camp using staff from the National Youth Science Camp. The other was a total immersion world language camp. Marple said that if the state budget had room for the department to ask for additional funds, she would want to put some money into camps like that.

Marple added that thousands of teachers have gone through professional development this summer around the Common Core standards. That training was delivered by master-level teachers, she said.

“The bad news with that is that McDowell County continues to experience revenue issues.” – Supt. Marple

Although McDowell County has received a new Anawalt Elementary School using modular units, Marple said, “The bad news with that is that McDowell County continues to experience revenue issues.” The county has experienced a 68 percent drop in enrollment in 10 years, and money from the State Aid Formula and local resources has diminished, she said, and the district has depleted all of its capital improvement money to take care of Anawalt.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked whether school systems in the McDowell County area could be regionalized. Marple said she actually offered such an option to the state school board when members asked her to present potential “game-changers.” She said there are 15 school systems that have fewer students than are in the state’s largest high schools. Regionalization of school districts would be controversial, she said, and it would present new problems, noting that McDowell County already has an issue with transportation.

Wells said that having 55 districts is “not necessarily good.” Marple said some problems with rural districts could be addressed through more use of technology, which could allow students to access lessons around the clock.


Budget reductions are troubling.

In regard to the Education Department’s budget, she said, it is experiencing the same 7.5 percent reduction that Gov. Tomblin has imposed on almost all state agencies. Marple pointed out to legislators that it comes after the department has gone through a 17 percent budget reduction since 2010. The latest reduction amounts to $8 million, she said, and will affect schools, students and staff. Marple said the programs that will be cut include critical skills, alternative education programs, Innovation Zones, early retirement incentive programs, Regional Education Service Agencies and the Office of Education Performance Audits.

“With this reduction, we’ve actually reduced $1.2 million in staff at the department level, but this reduction will impact programs and services for students,” Marple said.

The School for the Deaf and Blind will experience a $1 million reduction, she said, although it needs $60 million worth of new buildings. Other programs that Marple said would be affected by cuts include professional development programs, the teacher and principal metric program, and the English-as-a-second-language program, as well as the department’s ability to provide vocational equipment in schools.

“At a time that we have actually a 5 percent increase in poverty in one year in this state, it does make it more difficult to reach those outcomes that we want to reach with continued budget reduction, although we perfectly understand we have to balance the budget.” – Supt. Marple

“At a time that we have actually a 5 percent increase in poverty in one year in this state, it does make it more difficult to reach those outcomes that we want to reach with continued budget reduction, although we perfectly understand we have to balance the budget,” she said.

Marple said all funds for the department’s health care office have been wiped out. She said the education system has “real needs” that cannot be addressed under the reduced budget.

“I know you can’t wave a magic wand and have enough funds for everything, but I do truly believe that everything is dependent on how effective the education system is,” Marple said.

Despite the budget cuts, she is still looking for ways to provide better technology and more technology experts for schools. “We have to find a way to provide equity of access to technology, not just for some of our kids but for all of our kids,” Marple said. “That means the bandwidth, that means the tools and that means the people in place to make it all work and accessible.”


Marple offers “game-chargers” to the state board.

That equity in access to technology is among several “game-changers” Marple has proposed to the state school board. She told legislators that those proposals would provide the greatest opportunities to affect education outcomes. Her game-changers include:

  • A balanced calendar, which would schedule classes throughout the year without a big break in the summer. Marple said many students do no studying and don’t get enough to eat over the summer. “This loss of time is a problem that I think that we need to seriously address,” she said.
  • Moving to 24/7 learning, changing from a system based on how many minutes are spent in the classroom to evidence-based learning “so that we value that learning can occur anywhere and the teachers are the facilitators and the supporters for that learning,” Marple said. That would require a platform to allow a teacher to determine whether students acquire the needed skills, she said. “We have to have a place where teachers can access what children are learning and be able to validate that this is good work,” she said.
  • Changing the accreditation of schools from being concerned only about low-performing schools to building structure so that all schools are expected to make progress and are challenged to go to the next level.
  • Changing the organization and management of local schools. As enrollment declines, some counties have very small student populations and some don’t have excess levies. Marple said West Virginia must make sure the schools are able to deliver high-quality services and programs with a broad curriculum for children. “It’s not about meeting just a minimum, base standard,” she said. “It’s about a curriculum rich in arts, having [career and technical education] programs available and having the right technology.”
  • Changing professional development for teachers so they have the time they need to provide high-quality instruction for each child. In some countries, teachers get a full day each week to refine their skills, Marple said.

Of all those proposals, the balanced calendar received the most attention from legislators. Marple explained that she uses the term “balanced calendar” rather than “year-round calendar,” because some people think a year-round calendar would mean more days of school.

“It’s not about adding more days of school; it’s about spreading those days out over the year. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a break where it’s most likely to have significant amount of cold weather and snow? We really could gather more time on task.” – Supt. Marple

“It’s not about adding more days of school; it’s about spreading those days out over the year,” she said, adding that it could help schools deal with inclement weather. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a break where it’s most likely to have significant amount of cold weather and snow? We really could gather more time on task.”

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said he fully favors switching to a balanced calendar, but he suggested there could be problems when one school is balanced and another isn’t. If the switch were made countywide, there would be conflicts with other counties in scheduling activities, such as sports events, he said.

Marple responded that people in public education learned a lot from the statutory requirement to phase in pre-kindergarten programs over 10 years, and it would be good for the state to set goals. She added that the process of converting to a balanced calendar should done on a county-by-county basis. “I know that Cabell County is right now in the process of making that commitment to move in that direction within the next two years,” Marple said.

When Wells asked why she is getting pushback on the proposed change, Marple said she’s not getting as much resistance as she did five years ago. Instead, she said, “People are saying, when are you going to do this?”

Wells said he knew from personal experience and that of his daughter that kids get bored in the summer. He said everyone could adjust to a balanced calendar, and that includes colleges and universities that provide continuing education for teachers. Although he’d be happy to see counties make the change, he said the best way would be to take a statewide approach.

Marple said she expects the state board to determine over the next couple of months which game-changers they want to adopt, and a balanced calendar could be one of them. She noted that one school that has had a balanced calendar for several years, Piedmont Elementary in Charleston, has a very transient population but also one of the highest growth rates in achievement, which she attributed to the calendar. 


Rural schools also have tried a balanced calendar.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, noted that the schools in the Marshall County community of Cameron also are operating on a balanced calendar. She asked how well that is working in a rural community compared to Piedmont, which is an urban school.

Joe Panetta, assistant superintendent in the Division of Student Support Services, said both Cameron Elementary and Cameron High School are entering their second year with a balanced calendar. “From my perspective, it’s working very well,” he said. No results yet indicate increased achievement by students, Panetta said, but parents and teachers seem to like it. He said the elementary school principal was excited about going into the second year.

Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein confirmed that Cameron is a very rural community. He said working out the calendar was a community-wide effort, and there were no big issues with athletics.

But Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, wanted to know if there were any studies that show a balanced calendar improves students’ learning.

Marple said she wasn’t aware of research specifically about that, but there has been much research about how a big summer break sets back learning. She said learning should occur around the clock, so the school calendar should reflect placing value on learning anytime, anywhere. Students need to be able to get credit for learning on their own, she said, adding that the department’s Learn21 has received national recognition for enabling such learning.

Unger agreed with her and noted that Fairfax County, Virginia, has adopted a form of 24/7 learning.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said school districts in West Virginia already have the leeway to adopt balanced calendars. He said they can do it without implementing Innovation Zones or seeking new legislation. He suggested that the school calendar should be defined in terms of minutes instead of days.

Wells also picked up on Marple’s proposal about changing professional development for teachers. He agreed that West Virginia should have a better system for professional development.

Marple said the Cabell County school district took a lead last year in redesigning its mentorship program. She added that teaching is a tough job, so teachers must be supported, and 30 minutes of planning is not much for several hours of instruction. Marple also said better salaries are needed to attract people into the profession.

“You just can’t pay everybody the same amount either. No other profession does that.” – Sen. Erik Wells

Wells agreed and added, “You just can’t pay everybody the same amount either. No other profession does that.”

Marple said what is need is a combination of a higher base salary and pay differentials to help attract people to positions that are hard to fill.


NCLB waiver request is in.

Robert Hull, associate superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, told legislators that the department met a September 6 deadline for applying for a waiver to No Child Left Behind. He said the application was to be assigned to peer reviewers. The department expects to receive approval for the waiver as early as three months from now, Hull said, but it has asked for expedited review of one section on personnel because of state deadlines school districts must meet.

In the latest round of waiver requests, he said, West Virginia was among nine states, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and one territory that filed applications. From previous rounds, 32 states have been approved for waivers, five are in the process, and one state withdrew its application, Hull said.

West Virginia benefitted by waiting until the third window for applications for waivers to No Child Left Behind, because the state was able to see how other states’ applications were handled, he said.


Legislators don’t like changes in GED.

On another issue, some legislators balked at the prospect that the state would be expected to significantly increase funding for GED tests so that they would continue to be free for those taking the tests.

Debra Kimbler, assistant director of the GED program in the Office of Optional Educational Pathways, reminded members of the commission that the new computer-based GED test is scheduled to go into full use on January 2, 2014, in place of the current paper-based test. She said the new GED will be three tests in one: high school equivalency, college readiness and career readiness. However, the cost will increase from $50 per test to $120 per test.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed doubts about whether the Legislature would continue to fund the GED at the higher price. Because the GED is now owned by Pearson VUE, a for-profit company that took over the test’s former non-profit owner, it’s likely the cost of the GED will go up even further in the years ahead, he said.

Kimbler said she hoped West Virginia could continue free testing. She said that, when she began in her job in 2002, before the state picked up the GED’s cost for students, a little more than 4,000 students a year took the test. Now that the test is free for those taking it, about 6,000 students take it each year, she said.

“We’re not disagreeing with you on that,” Plymale said. “We’re the ones that originated that [policy].”

“I know, but I hope you continue,” Kimbler said.

“The point is, though, at some point in time, we cannot just continue to do things for free, particularly with the prices going up the way that they are. They may offer you all the greatest deals to lure you in right now, but you know as well as I do they’re a for-profit company. They’ve already doubled the price. They’ll triple it the next time.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“The point is, though, at some point in time, we cannot just continue to do things for free, particularly with the prices going up the way that they are,” Plymale said. “They may offer you all the greatest deals to lure you in right now, but you know as well as I do they’re a for-profit company. They’ve already doubled the price. They’ll triple it the next time.”

Kimbler said she surveyed clients who do not have high school diplomas, and most said they could not afford to pay $120 for the test.

“Of course, they’re not going to say that [they could afford it], but can the state pick it up?” Plymale asked.

“I hope you can,” Kimbler said.

“I don’t mind these companies’ making a profit but not when we’re trying to serve people that need that to be able to enter into the workforce,” Plymale said. He called the price increase “offensive.” Although legislators know the importance of GED testing, Plymale said, “There is a point where we can only do so much.”

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, said he was concerned that the state must pay for a test even if the student scheduled to take it does not show up.  Kimbler said the company compares that policy to those of airlines that charge for tickets even if they go unused. But she said she has suggested that, if a student does not show up for a test, that student should lose the opportunity to get a free GED. She also noted that if a student gives the testing company a 48-hour notice or a doctor’s excuse, there is no charge.

But Edgell still balked at the prospect that the state would have to add $450,000 to the $365,000 currently allocated for free GED testing.

Plymale said he would like someone from Pearson VUE to come in to talk with legislators. He said, “This is something that we believe in, and I don’t have any problem going to some form of computer-based testing, but to raise the prices like this and expect the state just to go along with it –.” Then Plymale asked if there is any other source for a GED test.

Kimbler said it would be a very lengthy and costly process for the department to come up with its own GED test.

“That’s not what we’re saying,” Plymale said. “If this is so good for the private sector, somebody could do it cheaper and still as well.”

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, noted that the department now has Office of Optional Education Pathways, so she assumed those pathways require some kind of evaluations at the end to determine whether or not those students get diplomas. But Kimbler said that is the office she works in, and those students take the GED.

Marple added that the GED is one of the key ways to determine what a student has learned. “In this pilot, we can look at evidence in terms of the number of credits a student has, evidence that they have the knowledge and skills in specific subjects where they don’t have the credits,” she said. “But without question, GED is one of the most viable options to determine whether or not they are college and career ready.”

The change in design of the GED means it will offer scores for college and career readiness, Marple said. “So I think that, in all honesty, the need for GED testing is going to expand.”

Plymale said the state might pay a certain amount for the test, but the people taking it would have to pay the rest. Marple pointed out that current statute calls for the state to pay the entire cost. Edgell said the Legislature might have to change that to say the state would pay only a portion of the cost.


By Jim Wallace

County school boards who want to purchase Apple computer products can do so now through an agreement developed with the help of the Legislature.

Dave Mohr, legislative attorney, announced at the September meeting of Education Subcommittee B that an amended agreement between Apple and WVNET will allow county boards of education to purchase off the WVNET master contract. He said the attorney general's office has approved the form of the agreement, and it was awaiting signatures from WVNET and Apple.

The agreement was the result of a meeting that the subcommittee’s co-chairmen – Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, and Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas – set up with the attorney general’s office and WVNET. Tucker said, “We also should thank the attorney general's office for getting on this fast and working with us on that.”


Agreement resulted from previous discussion.

Members of the subcommittee spent much time discussing the issue of technology purchases at their August meeting. At that time, the state’s top authority on purchasing told them that the Department of Education has more options for purchasing technology and other items than it had been using.

The subcommittee brought Dave Tincher, director of the Division of Purchasing, in to discuss, among other things, the use of public purchasing cooperatives. For many years, the Education Department has required school districts to go through Pomeroy, a Kentucky company the state has contracted with, for any purchases of computers and related technology using state funds. Districts could go outside that agreement with Pomeroy only for purchases using locally generated funds.

But Tincher said many states work through public purchasing cooperatives for such purposes, and West Virginia could, too. Those cooperatives allow public agencies, often in different states, to “piggyback” on one agency’s contract.  The use of piggyback contracts is growing so fast that West Virginia should “take a hard look at them,” Tincher said.

“Some of the cooperatives that offer piggyback contracts aren’t as good as they seem to be,” he said. “Many of them aren’t public entities, as we define in our code. Some are for-profit organizations that try to get people to go in, and the way they operate is that they get a percentage of each sale rather than us getting the best possible deal we can through another public entity somewhere in the country that’s bidding on a contract.”

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, suggested that Tincher’s agency “would work very well, I’m sure, with the Legislature as we start to try to explore some of these options.” Tincher agreed. 

In response to a question about whether he was aware of other states’ purchasing procedures, Tincher said, “We belong to the National Association of State Purchasing Officers, the 50 purchasing offices around the country. We meet a couple times a year to exchange ideas at conferences. We network together throughout the year. Every state’s a little bit different. Every state’s got their own laws. Every state’s got their own niches. There is not one size fits all currently among all the states.”

When Perry asked if he would consider the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA) to be a public purchasing cooperative, Tincher said he did. He described the WSCA as “a group of a dozen or so western states that go together on a regular basis. They kind of founded cooperative purchasing use. Sometimes, states will go in with them up front. Sometimes, a state will piggyback after the fact. But those states take turns in bidding contracts on behalf of all of them. So absolutely, they qualify as a public entity. There are several organizations that we have used before that we are confident are public entities. There are a few that are not.”


Education Department official takes different view.

When Sterling Beane, coordinator of the Office of Instructional Technology, spoke to the subcommittee, he also addressed piggybacking on contracts, but his focus was on letting other agencies piggyback off of the Education Department’s contracts. He said the department is open to that whenever the law allows it.

“One thing that kind of hurts us a little bit in that is that our K-12 pricing is so advantageous that the manufacturers sometimes won’t extend those discounts to state agencies,” Beane said. “We continue to look for opportunities to do that to allow other agencies to piggyback off our contract.”

Beane said he had just met that day with representative of Hewlett Packard about trying to work out such an arrangement.

“The main thing for us, as Mr. Tincher stated, is to try to get the most value that we can for our schools and for other agencies,” he said. “We want to give the students and teachers the best schools that they can have so that students are prepared for the modern world that we’re living in and also be as fiscally responsible as possible.”

But Delegate Perry brought the discussion back to what he and other legislators were interested in when he asked, “Does the state board of education allow local boards of education to purchase other than [through] Pomeroy?” Beane said that is possible but only when local boards use their own local funds, not money they receive from the state through the School Aid Formula.

“Can they use state-awarded funds or must they go through the Pomeroy contract?” Perry asked again.

“Currently, those funds must go through the contract if they’re state [funds],” Beane responded.

“How about RESAs?” Perry asked in reference to Regional Education Service Agencies.

“RESAs are the same way,” Beane said.

Amy Willard, executive director of school finance for the Department of Education, told the subcommittee that the state board’s Policy 8200 allows local boards to purchase directly from vendors under certain conditions:

  1. The item cannot be obtained through ordinary procedures, such as when no bidder responds to a request for proposals.
  2. It is a sole-source situation in which an item is unique and not available through any other sources.
  3. An item is available from the state, a RESA or another local education agency and conditions are equivalent to the open market.
  4. The item is available through a statewide contract and piggybacking is permitted (most relevant here).
  5. The item is available through a General Services Administration schedule and for sale at the same or lower price.
  6. The vendor is a sheltered workshop.
  7. The item is available through a local purchasing co-op, such as a RESA or a group of county boards working together to obtain advantageous pricing.
  8. An item is available from a legitimate government purchasing cooperative that has already obtained competitive bids that meet the requirements of Policy 8200.
  9. The item is a used vehicle or piece of equipment deemed to be in the best interest of the local education agency.

Willard said those guidelines apply only to funds spent directly by the counties, such as any unrestricted state aid or federal grants or property tax funds.

“We’re behind the technology curve because of the process we have to go through.” – Sen. Greg Tucker

Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, said “We’re behind the technology curve because of the process we have to go through.” He said he knew of instances in which equipment his local school district bid for was obsolete by the time it was received.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the subcommittee is charged to do something about such problems.

“Technology is ever-changing,” he said.  “You see what kind of a role that’s going to play. I’m not saying the way that we have is not by the law, but maybe we need to look at it to expedite it a little bit.”

Tucker said he agreed with Plymale.


Panel gets ready to act on education audit.

At the September meeting, the subcommittee also reviewed an analysis of the education efficiency audit prepared by Mohr. Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein said the Education Department already has restructured itself to better address some of the findings in the audit. In particular, he said, the department has been structured around the work rather than what funding is coming in, which reduces duplication of efforts and maximizes resources.

When asked if the department should be downsized, Heinlein said 20 positions have not been filled, which should save about $1.2 million. But he said about as many positions are funded with federal money and as those funded with state money. Also, he said, many positions listed in the department are actually in-field positions at juvenile and adult correctional institutions.

Perry asked the department to provide legislators with lists of the unfilled positions and outside contractors.

Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, said the “No. 1 big ostrich” out there is the School Aid Formula. He asked if anything related to the formula stands out as “a big, red flag.” Mohr said the researchers who prepared the audit recognized that West Virginia has one of the top formulas in terms of equity, but they did not examine its workings. Shaver said the use of more natural gas to fuel buses could affect the formula, because natural gas is cheaper than gasoline.

Mohr said he had discussed the audit with the administration, which is interested in putting together a package for the next legislative session.

After the subcommittee’s September meeting, Tucker told reporters that he would like the state school board to respond to the education efficiency audit by the subcommittee’s November meeting.


By Jim Wallace

Efforts by two judicial officials to address truancy problems seem to be having an effect – at least among circuit court judges.

For the past year, Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis and Circuit Judge Alan Moats have been making presentations at community forums around the state about curbing truancy. In August, the Supreme Court surveyed circuit court judges to find out if the efforts of Davis and Moats have made a difference. Half of the 42 judges who responded said the way their circuit handles truancy cases has changed since the community forums. Almost as many, 45 percent said a judge in their circuit reviews or monitors local statistics on truancy.

Among the 21 judges who said their circuits have changed the way they handle truancy cases, the changes they cited include:

  • More local collaboration between the court and stakeholders;
  • Allowing children to miss fewer days before a court action is filed;
  • An increase in the number of truancy court actions;
  • Changing the case type that addresses truancy; and
  • Changing the judicial officer who hears truancy cases.

Other responses some judges wrote in included: increased number of truancy conferences, initiation of truancy court and involvement of family court, elementary schools added, juvenile referee in schools for help and education of students and parents, and school-based officer added.

Davis and Moats presented the survey to legislators at the September meeting of Education Subcommittee C. Davis said the judges who have made changes have reported more local cooperation. Judges also report that children typically miss fewer days before a court action is filed, she said, and 15 judges said the number of truancy actions has increased in their courts.

The judges generally have said that attendance and student achievement have a direct correlation, Davis said, and they recorded many student success stories. She said one judge said two students who had been truant are now on the honor roll, and another reported that the juvenile caseload has declined as the court has identified students who are at high risk for truancy.

Davis said that when asked about challenges, the most frequent one the judges mentioned was lack of resources. They said there is need for more services for status offenders, she said.

“Students, especially in rural areas, need transportation to court and to counseling,” Davis said. “And judges would like Youth Service workers to have higher salaries to reduce the turnover.”

The survey also asked judges what they would like the Legislature to know. Davis told legislators about some of the better ideas:

  • Several judges said repeated tardiness has the same effect on a child’s education as repeated absences but not the same legal consequences. They would like the Legislature to consider strengthening the state law on tardiness to encourage children to come to school on time and to stay in school instead of leaving early.
  • One judge suggested linking attendance to academic credit.
  • Another judge said the law needs to be clearer about what happens at the five-day and ten-day absent notice hearings.
  • Another judge said the Legislature should address the issue of parents who have multiple truant children and whether they should be punished with multiple convictions, one for each truant child.
  • Other judges said the definition of truancy should be uniform throughout the state, truancy should be treated separately from other status offenses, and the term “educational neglect” should be redefined.
  • Several judges said involving probation officers in truancy cases works. One wrote: “Placing the juveniles on probation and assuring that they are continuously monitored pushed several students to finish high school.”

Davis noted that several circuit courts have partnerships with boards of education, which underwrite the costs of probation officers assigned to truancy cases. She said she would like to expand that practice to more counties.

“That low threshold allows the judicial and executive branches to intervene early and take action swiftly to correct challenges students have that prevent them from going to school.” – Justice Robin Davis

The law that has limited the number of unexcused absences to just five instead of 10 has helped, Davis said. “That low threshold allows the judicial and executive branches to intervene early and take action swiftly to correct challenges students have that prevent them from going to school,” she said.

But Davis also said, “Too often, these initiatives start with a lot of enthusiasm and then there’s not much follow-up.” She said that’s one reason the Supreme Court conducted the survey.


Attitudes about truancy have changed.

Judge Moats has been dealing with truancy issues in his circuit of Barbour and Taylor counties for several years. About taking the issue to public forums, he said, “It really has been enlightening what we have learned, what we’ve seen and the reception we have received around the state.”

People used to treat truancy as a joke – playing hooky, Moats said, but that has changed, because many people have realized that it can have very serious consequences. He said that when little children are not in school, it’s not because they don’t want to be there, because it’s up to the parents to see they get there.

“It really is neglect and abuse. If they’re absent, that’s the highest predictor of school failure. And frequent absences are the most common indicator that a child is disengaging from the learning process.” – Judge Alan Moats

“It really is neglect and abuse,” Moats said. “If they’re absent, that’s the highest predictor of school failure. And frequent absences are the most common indicator that a child is disengaging from the learning process.”

The habits that lead to dropping out of school often start as early as first grade, he said.  “That’s when the foundation is laid for these children to drop out much later in life,” Moats said. “Truancy becomes a risk for serious juvenile delinquency and adult crime.”

Other judges reported that addressing truancy has cut down on delinquency cases, he said. “I have seen that firsthand in Barbour County and Taylor County, having been doing that now for several years,” Moats said.

Speaking from that experience, he said, the excuses parents typically give are the same: their kids get every disease that comes along, as well as headaches and stomach aches. In his circuit, a parent can give five excuses per semester for a student, Moats said, and many people have learned how to use the system by getting excuses from doctors when a child has more than five absences. He has seen cases in which the five unexcused absence limit has not kicked in but kids have missed 25 to 30 days. Moats said he could not have succeeded in school under such circumstances.

“I don’t know how a child can function missing 30, 40, 50 days of school,” he said. “The answer is they cannot.”

In Barbour County in 2009-2010, more than 50 percent of students had more than 10 absences. Moats said it doesn’t really matter whether the absences were excused or unexcused, because the students still missed school.

Truancy is not just a West Virginia problem. Moats said the United States had the highest graduation rate in the work 41 years ago, but now it’s down to 21st place.

“Other countries are surpassing us,” he said. “That has dire consequences for the future of our country and dire consequences for the future of our state for all kinds of things, even our national defense. Children aren’t going into the sciences. Children aren’t studying math.”


Dropouts tend to get into trouble with the law.

A big reason he cited for why lack of school attendance is a big problem is that 80 percent of dropouts end up in prison, a statistic he makes sure he tells parents and children. “Our prison system is filled up with dropouts,” Moats said. Also, he said, among prison inmates, 75 percent are high school dropouts, and more than 80 percent of prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

State statistics show that West Virginia had 1,630 prison inmates in 1991, but the number had grown to 6,870 inmates in 2011. By the end of August, the number was more than 7,000.

“It is such a huge issue with so many monstrous ramifications that unless we address it at the front end, we are going to continue to fight the battle at the back end.” – Judge Moats

“It is such a huge issue with so many monstrous ramifications that unless we address it at the front end, we are going to continue to fight the battle at the back end,” Moats said.

Statistics compiled from a recent term of his court showed that out of 44 people who were indicted, 31 were dropouts. Among the 13 high school graduates, one could not read or write, three had some college education and only two had a college degree. Also 11 of the 44 people indicted were between ages 18 and 24. Moats said crime has exploded among people of that age.

Moats indicated that the decisions of school boards can have a big effect on whether some students stay in school. He said Taylor County had the fifth lowest dropout rate in West Virginia in 2000, but then the school board started dismantling the technical education program, and five years later, the county had the highest dropout rate in the state.

For fiscal year 2012, 92 percent of the dropouts in Barbour County had at least one parent who was a dropout. Among them, 71 percent had mothers who were dropouts and 75 percent had fathers who were dropouts.

Moats said that in Barbour and Taylor counties, 85 percent of all crimes are drug related. Over the years, the drugs have changed, he said, and now the top drug problem is the abuse of prescription narcotics. When people cannot get prescription narcotics, they turn to heroin, he said.

Other statistics Moats presented were:

  • West Virginia has the highest rate of prescription drug use in the United States – 18 percent compared to the national average of 12 percent.
  • West Virginia has the second highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, mostly from abuse of prescription pain relievers.

“The synthetic drugs have taken the state by storm,” Moats said. So-called “bath salts” are scary, he said, because they can make people paranoid.

The school system is a reflection of the larger community, Moats said, so drugs are a serious problem in the school system. He said parents have begged him to help their children, and he has had to send sixth-graders to drug rehabilitation.

“I had one boy that came back after he finished, and he thanked me for sending me, because he said he probably would have died had he not gotten into rehab, and he was only 15 years old,” Moats said.

Children who are truant are more likely to be involved in illegal drugs, he said, and it’s not a problem just for the school system or the court system or DHHR or law enforcement but for the entire community.

“There is absolutely no way that you, as a Legislature, can legislate out of this problem. There is no way that we in the judicial branch can sit there up on those benches and somehow order our way out of the problem. There is no way that the governor through his authority of the executive branch can solve the problem. It has to be solved collectively at the community level.” – Judge Moats

“There is absolutely no way that you, as a Legislature, can legislate out of this problem,” Moats said. “There is no way that we in the judicial branch can sit there up on those benches and somehow order our way out of the problem. There is no way that the governor through his authority of the executive branch can solve the problem. It has to be solved collectively at the community level.”

Moats said that’s what the initiative he and Davis have led is about. He said they have tried to bring together to address the problem.

“When children aren’t there, they can’t learn,” Moats said, and when teachers must deal with frequently absent students it holds other students back. He said teaching is a very difficult job, and it becomes more difficult all the time. “I don’t think I would have the patience to be a teacher,” he added.

Moats said intervention must start at the elementary school level with attendance procedures and attendance incentive programs.

“If they come out of the second grade and can’t read, they’re lost,” he said. “By the time they get to fourth grade, stuff is so entrenched, it’s almost impossible to deal with. By the time they get into middle school, they’re angry, they’re so far behind from their classmates they can’t keep up, they start becoming behavior problems, acting out. They become bitter, because no one took the time to save them, to help them, to pull them out of this quagmire they’re in. And by the time they’re in high school, it’s like pulling teeth. It just becomes increasingly difficult every year that goes by. That’s why I believe it’s so critically important to try to address it early.”

Many methods must be used.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, asked whether pretrial diversion or community service for parents would help. Moats said he prefers to avoid fining or jailing parents. Instead, he tries to monitor truancy very closely, and if it continues, he expects abuse or neglect charges to be filed.

Davis said, “Many of the other judges across the state are following Judge Moats’s suggestions.” She said one of them is Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, who requires parents to do community service within the schools. That’s to get parents to buy into the education program, Davis said.

Moats said the approach to curbing truancy must be collaborative. He uses educational abuse and neglect petitions and then juvenile petitions for truancy. All cases go before the judge, he said, and case plans are developed by the Department of Health and Human Resources. But Moats said DHHR doesn’t have enough Youth Services workers, and there is high turnover in those jobs.

Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, asked whether something could be done before cases go to DHHR. Moats said some school boards have paid to have fulltime probation officers in the schools.

The initiatives he and others have undertaken have made a difference, he said. In Barbour County, the portion of students with 10 or more absences has gone from 74 percent in 2008 to 43 percent in 2012, and the portion of students with 10 or more unexcused absences has gone from 56 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2012.


Having school-based probation officers pleases court officials.

At the August meeting of Education Subcommittee C, other court officials told legislators that having probation officers assigned fulltime to schools is an effective way to curb truancy, but it’s not a cure-all and is only one element in a wide range of approaches that should be considered.

Mike Lacy, director of probation services for the Supreme Court for eleven years, said the Logan County Board of Education was the first to request a fulltime probation officer to deal with attendance and behavioral issues. That was in 2007. Since then, fulltime probation officers have been assigned to schools in six other counties – Logan, Wayne, Mercer, Monongalia, Boone, Greenbrier and Putnam – and the schools in Hampshire and Cabell counties are considering doing it.

“The concept was to be able to more quickly address attendance and behavioral issues at the local school level with the idea of diverting those attendance and those behavioral issues from becoming a formal petition that would be filed in the circuit clerk’s office and that would institute the formal juvenile justice process,” Lacy said.

When the effort began in Logan County, Lacy prepared the memorandum of understanding that was signed by the judge, the school board and others to set out the terms of the arrangement. The school board funds the position, but the officer is an employee of the court. The job requirements are the same as for any probation officer.

Lacy said a school-based probation officer intervenes early in any attendance or behavior problems. The officer has direct and immediate contact and access to a circuit judge operating a truancy program, he said. There is no standard definition of what a truancy program is, Lacy said, so each one is locally initiated and implemented to suit the needs of a particular county.

The programs are good starts for addressing truancy issues but not a cure-all, he said, because the challenges of addressing the problems of truants are overwhelming. Lacy said that, in Cabell County last year, more than 2,000 students met the statutory definition of truant, and the average caseload for a probation officer is 85.

“Truancy is not a school problem, it is not a court problem, it is not a probation problem, it is not exclusively a parental problem or a [Department of Health and Human Resources] problem, but it’s a component. It is a problem that the entire system has to address successfully. That means the courts, the board of education, probation, DHHR – we all have to work together to address the issue of truancy.” – Mike Lacy

“Truancy is not a school problem, it is not a court problem, it is not a probation problem, it is not exclusively a parental problem or a [Department of Health and Human Resources] problem, but it’s a component,” he said. “It is a problem that the entire system has to address successfully. That means the courts, the board of education, probation, DHHR – we all have to work together to address the issue of truancy.”

In other words, Lacy said, truancy must be recognized as a systemic problem.

“If we depend purely on our judges to cure the problem, it will improve, but it will not be cured,” he said. “If we depend purely on DHHR, it will improve, but it will not be cured. But with all the components working together, I think we’ll see a significant improvement in the truancy problem in West Virginia. No single component of this system can cure this problem alone.”

Lacy called himself “a true believer in early identification and early intervention.” He said schools must act early and intentionally on the five-day unexcused absence rule.

“We can invest more now at the lower end, or we can invest more in the upper end to address truancy and substance abuse issues or we can do it later on,” Lacy said. If addressing the problem is put off until later, he said, DHHR would need additional social workers, juvenile drug courts would have to be expanded, and more funding would be needed for school-based probation officers and attendance directors. He added that most prison inmates were once truants.


Judge’s initiative led to current system.
Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant of Logan County said he made an effort as early as 2003 to reduce truancy when he sent probation officers to each school to identify problems and address them. At that time, truancy was defined as 10 unexcused days of absence rather than just five days, as it is now, he said. That went on for three years, he said, until the school board asked for a fulltime probation officer.

As the judge, he gets a weekly report about any student who has reached the threshold of being truant, he said, and the probation officer arranges a meeting at the school with the parents. O’Briant said a Youth Services representative attended each meeting in the beginning, but that’s not possible anymore because of cuts at DHHR. He said the key at the local level is inputting the proper information at each school accurately and promptly.Under the old system, it often took a month to six weeks to come up with a plan for a truant student. “In the life of a teenager, six weeks can very quickly turn from truancy to disaster, and we’ve acknowledged that,” O’Briant said. “So we’ve tried to identify these at-risk students early on.”

Last year, the program had 1,972 referrals from six schools in Logan County. O’Briant said the program expanded recently to look at the elementary schools, but that effort is limited. He said warrants were filed last year against 27 parents for not sending their children to school. In elementary school, the problem is generally with the parents, he said. Each year, those students referred to the program the previous year are put on a watch list.

“We take a particular look at the 12th-graders,” O’Briant said. “We don’t want them to get into a position where they’re unable to graduate on time. We try to watch those very carefully during the first grading period.”

Likewise, he said, the program watches carefully the eighth-graders who soon will make the transition to high school.

“We think the program works for us,” O’Briant said. “We’ve had a complete reversal on the number of delinquency petitions that are filed versus the number of status offender petitions filed. We used to average about 125 delinquency petitions for a year and probably less than 50 status offenders. Now those statistics have just flip-flopped on us, so we have probably 100 to 150 status offenders and way less than 50 delinquency petitions where children would be in a position to be placed in a secure detention facility. So we believe we’ve been able to cut costs on that end dramatically by early intervention.”


Parents must help.

Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, said cutting down on truancy also requires support from parents. He recalled what happened once when there was a senior skip day at Poca High School. When the school called the parents to check on the whereabouts of their children, almost 90 percent of the parents lied for the students, Paxton said.

“Until somebody cares whether they go to school or not, you got a hard job. It sometimes broke my heart about kids that were just cast off.” – Delegate Brady Paxton

“Until somebody cares whether they go to school or not, you got a hard job,” he said. “It sometimes broke my heart about kids that were just cast off.” One boy lived in a station wagon and got by through shoplifting, he said, until Paxton began to help him.

O’Briant said the probation officer in Logan County will check on a student weekly until he is convinced the student is straightened out. Every day that school is in session, the court gets a report from each school about who is absent, he said. In addition, he requires parents to call the school and the probation officer by nine o’clock when a child must miss school.

When asked if there other ways to get parents involved, O’Briant said, “I’d like to see some stiffer penalties for parents. Right now, it’s like the first two offenses aren’t really jailable. They’re just a fine. About 80 to 90 percent of the people we have are indigent anyway. I think the penalties should be stiffer. I think there needs to be some work done in the abuse and neglect field to further define and refine the expectations on neglect, because some of the DHHR people are unclear on what they should be doing in that regard.”

If you get children into the habit of going to school early on, you will have fewer problems with them later on, he said.

When asked about manpower needs, Lacy said a probation officer can handle 50 to 100 students. He suggests addressing the worst problems first. Lacy said there are only 63 juvenile probation officers in the state, 65 to 67 adult probation officers and more than 100 adult/juvenile probation officers, but some officers have caseloads of 150 adults or juveniles. So he said, adding truants to such a caseload is unrealistic, which is why some school boards have decided to provide funding for probation officers assigned solely to the schools.

O’Briant said that Logan County has one attendance officer. Before the school system had a probation officer assigned to it, the attendance officer would clean off his or her desk a couple of times a year and send in 40 to 50 petitions at a time to the court, he said.


By Jim Wallace

Members of one legislative subcommittee want to resolve a problem in state law that could deter health care providers from volunteering their services at school sporting events.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the problem should have been resolved already.

“We’re talking about the health of kids,” he said. “Above everything else, we should be able to look after the safety of kids.”

“We’re talking about the health of kids. Above everything else, we should be able to look after the safety of kids.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

Immunity for medical professionals who treat injured athletes was included in a bill about treating students with head injuries, but it died in the Legislature’s regular session this year when members of the House and Senate could not reach agreement on it.

During the September meeting of Education Subcommittee A, Dr. Greg Elkins, medical director at Lincoln Primary Care Center and chairman of the West Virginia Family Practice Sports Medicine Committee, urged legislators to try again. He said his practice recently hired a new physician who has declined to volunteer his services at sporting events, because he’s afraid he might be sued.

“It’s vital to our young student athletes that we keep good health care available on the sidelines,” he said. “You do not want to make it difficult to have someone like me or like Dr. Stollings or like Dr. Roush on the sidelines.”

Ron Stollings is both a physician and a Democratic senator from Boone County. Kelly Roush is director of the Holzer Clinic’s Sports Medicine Services and a doctor of chiropractic who also addressed the committee. She said she spent 15 years determining why head injuries occur and what can be done to prevent them. She also is the author of two books on the subject.

“I know first-hand what happens when parents and coaches and athletes aren’t educated on what a concussion is,” Rousch said.  She said she saw a boy collapse after a game as a result of second-impact syndrome, because he had an aneurism. With second-impact syndrome, the brain continues to swell with each blow, and that blow doesn’t have to be to the head, she said. The boy who collapsed had a concussion three weeks prior followed by a behavioral problem in school, which was unlike him. He also passed out while mowing grass. But Roush said a pediatrician diagnosed his problem as sinusitis. She said he was taking a lot of aspirin, which actually was bad for him. He had a seizure, went into cardiac arrest and was taken off life support the next day, Roush said.

Even golfers and fans can get injured, she said. “These things happen in high schools all the time and especially at the junior high and middle school level, because there is no team doctor,” Rousch said. “There are no trainers there.”

Roush, who also has testified before the Ohio House of Representatives and the National Football League’s Safety Commission, said all contact sports should have training services. She offered several recommendations to the subcommittee:

  • Mandate the presence of a certified athletic trainer at every high school contact sporting event.
  • Require every school to submit an emergency medical plan to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission each season.
  • Require each school to practice an emergency situation for each sport and have a doctor sign off on it.
  • Require each school playing field to have a landline phone within 100 feet.
  • Require each facility to have a properly stocked automatic external defibrillator.
  • Require each facility to post information posted in locker rooms about concussions and heat illness.
  • Require an emergency squad to be present at all contact sporting events.
  • Require trainers, coaches and team doctors to have access to a landline phone and an automatic external defibrillator, and not let either be locked up with just one person in possession of a key.
  • Require each school to provide Gatorade or popsicles for each team prior to an event or at halftime if the temperature is over 70 degrees or humidity is excessive.
  • Require all team physicians and trainers to maintain training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of automatic external defibrillators.
  • Include doctors of chiropractic as appropriate health care providers, because they have extensive experience with neck injuries.


WVSSAC is taking more steps to deal with concussions.

Ray Londeree, assistant executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, said the commission adopts rules written by the National Federation of State High School Associations for all sports. He said the commission also requires people involved in every sport to know the signs and symptoms of concussion and return-to-play protocol. WVSSAC’s newest requirement is that all head coaches must take a free National Federation online course on concussions, he said.

When asked if assistant coaches are required to take the training on concussions, Londeree said not yet, but this is the first year it has been required for head coaches. “There’s a really good chance that all coaches may have to take it in the very near future,” he said.“Football has the most concussions,” Londeree said. “We all know that. Girls’ soccer has the second-highest number of concussions, and when you take the number of participants based on football or soccer, there’s like four times better chance of a girl having a concussion playing soccer as there is a football player. That’s why we want to emphasize this in every single sport.”

Program lets students sample a variety of produce.

At the subcommittee’s August meeting, the subject was food. Children have a reputation for being picky eaters and choosing foods that are not necessarily good for them, but the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is attempting to change that.

Bekki Leigh, a coordinator in the Office of Child Nutrition, told subcommittee members that the program, which has been in existence since 2008, has 149 schools in 49 counties participating this year. She said it lets students learn about and discuss which fruits and vegetables they like.

In one school, Leigh said, the students liked jicama so much that they asked for it to be placed at the salad bar, and some kids even ate raw beets.

“The whole idea of this program is exposure,” she said.

Leigh said that when West Virginia peaches were served, some students learned that peaches don’t necessarily come from a can.

“The intent is healthier eating and alternatives for kids,” she said, and the program has increased demand for fruits and vegetables. Leigh said the program allocates $50 to $55 per child, which doesn’t seem like much, but some schools have had trouble using all of their allocations. Schools can serve the fruits and vegetables parties, she said.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said, “This is certainly encouraging if we’re doing as much as we appear to be.” He asked how much federal money the state gets for the program.

Leigh said, “Every year since we started the program, we’ve received more money.” The state expects $2.1 million this year, which is a modest increase of about $70,000, she said. More than 40,000 students should be served, she said.

The participating schools are chosen from the list of those that have free and reduced-cost lunches. Leigh said she starts with those with the highest levels and works down the list. 


Schools and farmers work together.

A related program is Farm-to-School, for which the Education Department has a close partnership with the Department of Agriculture. Leigh said it encourages schools to develop relationships with local farmers and obtain much of their food from them.

But Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, pointed out that because of the calendar at most schools, children are not there during the summer when many fruits and vegetables are harvested.

“It’s getting better, Leigh said. “We’re seeing more season extension through the use of high tunnels.” (High tunnels are a type of unheated greenhouses.) She said Barbour County had eight farms with high tunnels that extended their growing season. One greenhouse grew lettuce in April, she said. The program is looking at other ways to keep produce, such as through freezing, Leigh said and noted that Vermont is using dehydration.

When asked what the obstacles to the program are, Leigh said farmers must become registered vendors in the school systems. Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Raleigh, said students in his rural district are encouraged to raise livestock, but he sees few 4H programs on growing fruits and vegetables. Leigh said the Education Department is granting money to districts to get kids engaged in growing food, sometimes in partnership with the Extension Service, Rotary Clubs and other organizations.


By Jim Wallace

Some legislators are getting impatient with the state’s efforts to reduce the rate of pregnancy among teenaged girls. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that West Virginia was the only state to have had an increase in pregnancy among girls aged 15-17 between 2007 and 2009. Not only was the rate up in West Virginia, but the increase was 17 percent.

When two coordinators from the Office of Healthy Schools – Cybele Boehm and Mary Weikle – made a presentation on the subject to members of Health Subcommittee B during their September meeting, a few legislators expressed dissatisfaction with the state’s efforts.

Boehm told the subcommittee that teen pregnancy was estimated in 2008 to cost West Virginia taxpayers $6 million to $7 million. She said 51 percent of high school students (ninth through 12th grade) reported having had sex, which was a bit higher than the national rate of 47.4 percent. About 85 percent of pregnancies among teenagers are unintended, she said.

Statistics also show that young teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school. About 51 percent of teen moms get high school diplomas, while about 89 percent of those who don’t give birth during their teen years, get high school diplomas. Boehm said parenthood is the leading cause of dropping out of school.

About 20 percent of West Virginia high school students reported using alcohol or drugs before having intercourse, she said, and about 40 percent of students reported not using condoms during intercourse.

“Poverty is not only a cause but as well is a consequence of early child-bearing,” Boehm said. “Having a baby during adolescence only makes matters worse.”

About one-quarters of teen mothers go on welfare within three years of giving birth, she said, and the outlook for their children is not very good. Almost 40 percent of the sons of teenage mothers are incarcerated by their late 30s, Boehm said, only 6 percent of the sons of mothers who gave birth at ages 20 to 21 had the same fate. 

“The daughters of teenage mothers are far more likely to become teenage mothers themselves,” she said.

When the CDC issued its report about the rate of pregnancy among teenagers last year, it was about the same time Jorea Marple became West Virginia’s state superintendent. Boehm said Marple decided to address the problem, and in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Resources, the Education Department developed a statewide plan to prevent teen pregnancy. It’s based on a collaborative approach. A joint memo from the two departments went to all county superintendents to request support and resources to address the problem. The Education Department also has offered online professional development to help teachers on the subject of contraceptives. Boehm said that followed a survey of schools that indicated a need for professional development in that area.

The Education Department and DHHR also partnered on the Adolescent Health Initiative and the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which uses four adolescent pregnancy specialists to give about 500 presentations during the school year and reaches about 20,000 teens.


Instruction cannot be limited to abstinence.

Weikle told legislators that the state school board has a strong policy that allows teachers to provide students with comprehensive instruction that promotes enhancement of health and reduction in health risks. She said it is not limited to pregnancy.

“The content standards and objectives derive the curriculum, providing the framework from which county boards of education create a comprehensive health curriculum and address growth and development,” Weikle said. “Health instruction may be abstinence-based, but it may not be abstinence only. It must be comprehensive in nature. Comprehensive sexuality education provides factual information and offers students the opportunity to apply their individual values as well as the values of their families and their communities.”

Weikle said the program places strong emphasis on decision-making and goal-setting. She said revisions were made to the health content and standards last fall to increase the rigor of the objectives.

The Education Department also has the Health Education Assessment Program (HEAP), which is one of the first to measure health knowledge and general program effectiveness. Weikle said HEAP is mandated by state code for grades six, eight and the year students take health in high school. It’s conducted online every year, she said, and last year was the first time the department did it fully in house instead of contracting it out. She said teachers can view students’ scores as soon as they finish the assessment, which allows better programming and planning.

Boehm said the department has eight regional school wellness specialists with a work plan that includes pregnancy prevention. She said they look at the data and coordinate efforts at both the county level and the school level.

“It really takes a collaborative effort, but it also takes a whole community in addressing this issue,” Boehm said. “It takes community members. It takes the schools. It takes key leadership people, health care providers, health and human service agencies, community-based organizations, parents and teens to tackle this issue in a comprehensive manner.”


Legislators are not happy.

But Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, was among the legislators who expressed dissatisfaction with state efforts to curb teen pregnancy. She said they couldn’t ignore the bottom line.

“You have all these plans in place, and you can sit and tell us all these things you’re doing, but it’s not working or we wouldn’t have the 17 percent [teen pregnancy increase],” Poore said. “So what has the Department of Education done to revamp its implementation? I wonder if it’s the implementation versus the actual plan.”

Poore asked if the Legislature should mandate a program to be done a certain way instead of leaving school districts with leeway.

“I don’t want any more teen pregnancies if we can prevent it. I don’t want children to drop out of school because they don’t feel they have a future because they got pregnant.” – Delegate Meshea Poore

“I don’t want any more teen pregnancies if we can prevent it,” she said. “I don’t want children to drop out of school because they don’t feel they have a future because they got pregnant.”

Weikle responded that a state board policy recommends what resources schools should use, and they can pick between two textbooks, but local officials have the final decision on what other resources are used.

When Poore asked if she was satisfied with the results, Weikle said she wasn’t. Poore then suggested the state is wasting its money.

“We know our students have the information,” Weikle said. “We know that they know what’s going on… Many times they ignore the information and assume the perceived risk. I don’t have a program for that. That’s why I say it’s going to take the community. I would say more than likely we do need better partnerships and collaborations so that the values we want our children to have are the same values that are in the community.”

Poore said, “I just really want the problem to be fixed or at least reduce the number.”

Weikle said some progress has been made in the past year in certain counties that had not done enough previously. 

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said, “There may be a bit of a disconnect on when kids are getting this training or this information and when they need it. I realize it needs to be age-appropriate, but it appears to me the time we’re starting to see the teen pregnancies they have just started seeing the bulk of these classes.”

Weikle agreed with him. She said some students get the information in high school during their sophomore year instead of their freshman year. She said some instruction should start as early as fifth grade. But she said scores show most students understand the information when they get it.

“The knowledge is there,” Weikle said. “Are they making the wise choice? Are they using decision-making skills?”

Delegate Cliff Moore, D-McDowell, wanted to know why McDowell County, which he said has the biggest teen pregnancy problem, doesn’t have its own program. Boehm responded that the department has had some prevention efforts in McDowell County. But Moore said he would like McDowell County to have a strong program like the one in Kanawha County.

“Please, please come to McDowell and do something,” he said. “This is totally unacceptable, and I don’t know what to do… We don’t have anything of significance that is making an impact in McDowell.”

Boehm said Education Department officials have made several trips down there and worked with counselors and the superintendent.

“I appreciate that, but practically, it’s not working,” Moore said. “So what can we do to reexamine where we are, try to figure out where we’re going and design something around that to prevent these pregnancies in McDowell?”

Boehm said the state is looking at all the barriers there and hopes to make the schools the resource centers.


Senator suggests using neighboring counties as a laboratory.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, D-Putnam, said Putnam and Mason counties are both in his district. He wanted to know what Putnam is shown as having a low problem and Mason is shown as having high problem. Boehm couldn’t offer an explanation. Hall suggested it might be because Putnam County is more affluent with a lower rate of unemployment, while Mason County has more poverty. He said they could serve as a “laboratory” to study the teen pregnancy problem.

“You’re really getting at the complexity of human decision-making quite frankly. You have to dig deep inside why people do what they do.” – Sen. Mike Hall

“You’re really getting at the complexity of human decision-making quite frankly,” Hall said. “You have to dig deep inside why people do what they do.”

People can know what’s right and still make bad decisions, he said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence that we can just educate somebody to make the right decisions,” Hall said.

Delegate Bobbie Hatfield, D-Kanawha, said more students need early intervention. “We have a crisis here in this state,” she said. “Early intervention has to be implemented.” Hatfield noted that a group of students at Capitol High School meets with other students to help them through the process. She suggested that could be an example for other counties.

Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, said she recalled receiving sex education in the sixth grade. When her kids were in school, she volunteered in the schools and learned there were third-graders who believed in Santa Claus and others who knew what condoms were. She said poverty and unemployment contribute to the problem, because people who are unemployed are at home watching TV shows about girls who are pregnant at 16 and paternity questions.

“The kids are exposed to extreme conditions that we weren’t exposed to,” Miller said. “But you can’t legislate morality.”

One of the solutions she has proposed in the past is to teach fetal development so kids know what’s going on in their bodies.

Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, wondered whether some counties are doing better than others perhaps because of school-based clinics, but Boehm said she didn’t have any data on that. When Laird asked whether resources are aligned with needs, Boehm said the department targets priority counties.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he was concerned about teen suicides. “We really need to look at whether it’s federal law that dictates that sometimes we put these children back into the homes of where they’re getting abused,” he said. His brother is a prosecutor and his daughter is an assistant prosecutor, and they have told him they are required to keep the family unit together, even if that is not best for the children. Plymale wanted the subcommittee to look into that issue, but staff attorney Jeff Johnson told him the Committee on Children, Juveniles and Other Issues is doing that. 


Kanawha County schools make stronger effort to deal with teen pregnancy.

At Health Subcommittee B’s August meeting, members learned how the Kanawha County schools are stepping up their efforts to address the teen pregnancy problem. 

Brenda Isaac, head school nurse for the Kanawha County schools, told them the school system is offering pregnant teens a new opportunity this year to go to Chandler Academy. It’s a school for various types of alternative students. This year, she said, it has a section renovated for the needs of school-age expectant mothers and an additional classroom that has been renovated for daycare, although funding for that has not been found yet.

The facility is for at-risk students who are pregnant and not comfortable remaining in their home schools. Instead of going to homebound schooling or dropping out of school, they are encouraged to go to Chandler, Isaac said. The girls receive six weeks of homebound instruction after delivering their babies, she said, and then they return to school.

“These are at-risk students to begin with and we don’t want anything keeping them from school,” Isaac said. “Plus, we want to help them be better moms, if we need to do that.”

Bus transportation is available for the students, and if funding is found for the daycare, the school system will equip the buses for infants, she said.

“Our whole goal here is to prevent dropouts, to help these kids graduate and to help them move on into the next phase of their lives. This is totally a voluntary program, and we encourage students to stay at their home schools, if that’s what they want to do.” – Brenda Isaac

“Our whole goal here is to prevent dropouts, to help these kids graduate and to help them move on into the next phase of their lives,” Isaac said. “This is totally a voluntary program, and we encourage students to stay at their home schools, if that’s what they want to do.”

Kanawha County has eight high schools, she said, and nurses and counselors at those schools can provide the same services that are available at Chandler.

Isaac said about 100 students become pregnant each year. She said the number of them who are middle school students is small but growing. Last year, 12 of the 98 pregnant teens in the county were middle school students. Isaac said they also are welcome to stay at their home schools.

The school system wants to involve the students’ parents and families whenever possible, she said, as well as to involve the babies’ fathers when possible. But Isaac said the fathers often are older men who are not in school. Sometimes the girls won’t reveal who the fathers are and don’t want them involved, she said, but in some cases, the fathers are very involved.


Avoiding subsequent pregnancies is desired.

Delegate Moye asked how many pregnancies are intentional, whether the school system is doing anything to address the unintentional pregnancies and whether girls who get pregnant as young teens tend to have second teen pregnancies.

Isaac said a primary goal of Kanawha County’s program is to prevent second pregnancies. She said the younger a girl has a first baby the more likely she is to have a second baby as a teenager. In the past, Isaac said, only 30 to 35 students have gone through the program each year, because transportation was not provided.

“We’re assuming by providing transportation we will have at least 50 percent of pregnant teens choose to go through the program,” she said. “That may or may not be the case.”

“In a lot of cases, these girls have a lot of other issues going on in their lives. Their self-esteem is at a low point, and they see having a baby as having somebody to love, somebody that’ll love them, and they don’t really know a whole lot more.” – Brenda Isaac

Isaac guessed that 50 percent of the pregnancies among younger students are intentional, while older students tend to have more unintentional pregnancies. “But a big problem you see with pregnant teens is low self-esteem,” she said. “In a lot of cases, these girls have a lot of other issues going on in their lives. Their self-esteem is at a low point, and they see having a baby as having somebody to love, somebody that’ll love them, and they don’t really know a whole lot more.”

Kanawha County has many teen pregnancy prevention programs in its secondary schools, and is planning to do more, Isaac said.

Moye said he didn’t expect intentional pregnancies to be as high as 50 percent and asked how that problem could be solved.

“Teen pregnancy is just one of the results of risky behaviors,” Isaac said, adding that students engage in risky behaviors because of peer pressure and because of self-esteem. “In certain parts of Kanawha County, we have a pretty serious self-esteem issue with some of our female students. Male students, too, to a certain extent, but male students aren’t the ones getting pregnant.”

Solving the problem is more complex than persuading the girls not to get pregnant, she said. “It’s what can we do to give these girls more of a purpose in life so that they’re not engaging in risky behaviors,” Isaac said, adding that sex education is still important. She said both the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Resources have some excellent programs that the Kanawha County schools will try to implement.

Although Isaac said 98 pregnancies among students were reported by school nurses in Kanawha County, she is sure some girls dropped out without letting school officials know they were pregnant and others might have had abortions.


Delegate wants program in McDowell County.

Delegate Moore said he was glad the Kanawha County schools are attempting to include fathers in its programs. And he expressed some envy, saying the biggest problem with teen pregnancies is in McDowell County, and the worst outcomes are there, too. “Given that problem, given what we know about the outcomes, why don’t we have a teenage pregnancy program in McDowell?” Moore asked. “And if you can’t answer that: How the hell do we get one?”

Isaac said she would be happy to share anything she learns with McDowell County and promised to speak with the school nurses there. She said she thought the Education Department is very committed to providing resources in every county.

When Delegate Hatfield asked her to tell the subcommittee about a successful program, Isaac described one in Louisville, Kentucky. She said the school system there has a high school for pregnant teens with more than 600 students in the program. They receive health care, parenting classes and on-site birth control to prevent subsequent pregnancies, as well as education, Isaac said, noting that the program has a very strong academic component. She said about 90 percent of the students graduate and about 90 percent of the graduates go on to post-secondary education. Although Kanawha County doesn’t have as many pregnant teenagers, Isaac said, it would be nice to provide something along those lines. She noted that the program in Louisville receives much financial support from the state.

Sen. Laird said he had received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union with concerns about whether there would be any discrimination against students who remain in their home schools. Isaac said she would invite the ACLU to be part of her task force. She added that the students at Chandler Academy will remain on the rolls of their home schools so they can participate in extracurricular activities.


Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mailand former news director of West Virginia Public Radio. He now works for TSG Consulting. He is the author of the 2012 book, A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State