Commentary

December 11, 2012 - Volume 32 Issue 25

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 


By L. Wade Linger

Founding father Benjamin Franklin was a true visionary, who said, "Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning."

While Franklin said those words more than two centuries ago, the wisdom in them still applies today. It is a desire for the continual growth and progress of West Virginia's public school students that drives the state Board of Education. We want, as Franklin expressed, for our children to improve, achieve and succeed. This vision for public school students guides our report "From Audit to Action: Students First," our recently released response to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's "Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia's Primary and Secondary Education System."

The board has developed a sincere response to the audit after taking time to collect input from all board members, students, teachers, parents, the West Virginia Department of Education, higher education and several other educational leaders. Ultimately, we are proud of our work. By placing students first, we are setting the stage for meaningful change in our education culture and environment, which has remained stagnant for years.

Public education has reached a pivotal point where change must occur. We do not believe West Virginia students are destined to low performance and failure. Instead, we as a board want to support an optimistic environment where our students, teachers and principals set lofty goals and achieve high expectations. Our work pivots away from why we can't, to focus on how we can achieve.

Highlights featured in the audit response include re-examining seniority to place the most qualified teachers in classrooms, raising the enrollment of secondary students in career and technical programs through a middle school pipeline, supporting whole-school incentives for student achievement, and conducting meaningful conversations about the sustainability of small county school systems.
Another significant board recommendation is to transfer more authority to the local level. While such a move frees counties from some burdensome state oversight, it marks a significant change and is dependent upon the state board and the Legislature working collaboratively to revise state code.

For example, we believe principals should have flexibility with hiring and firing. Current law regarding seniority can make it difficult for principals to hire the best candidate. While seniority is important, other qualities also must be considered. In addition, the West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure should be established to identify West Virginia's own set of teacher effectiveness measures.

The board has begun to release policy bonds that perpetuate building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning. Already, we are reviewing all state board policies to identify those in need of repeal or revision.

It also is time that we rethink our school calendar. The board supports a county's decision to adopt a balanced calendar to allow sufficient time for quality instruction leading to mastery for every student. In addition, we believe West Virginia must streamline the delivery of professional development for our teachers and principals.

All of these changes are not easy, especially in a state like West Virginia, where the economic, social and education challenges are many and the list of obstacles we face continues to grow daily. When our students lag behind their counterparts in other states and nations, when too many of our students fail to graduate from high school, when too few of our graduates go on to post-secondary education, we must act. That's why having forward-thinking decision-makers who are willing to take risks as described in our report for the betterment of children is paramount.

We have about 282,000 students in 728 public schools in West Virginia. The students are why we believe much of the money saved by making positive changes noted in the audit, should be reallocated to education. Doing so will offset the cost of implementing the audit recommendations. Examples of cost savings can be found in examining the school transportation system and transferring Cedar Lakes Conference Center to another agency.

As board members, it is our duty to provide ideas, direction, inspiration and supervision to make certain West Virginia students receive their constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education. While this audit is not a blueprint for the future, it has provided an independent review that has helped us uncover areas where we can improve to better serve students and increase their levels of performance and progress.

The board has three goals for public schools. First, we want students to learn 21st century skills while meeting or exceeding state, national and international standards. Secondly, we want students to develop wellness, responsibility, cultural awareness, self-direction, ethical character and good citizenship skills. Lastly, we want to ensure students graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education and career success.

Implementing our goals with a can-do attitude will help us move beyond the "this is the way it has always been done" mentality to develop an environment that embraces innovative ideas and allows our schools to provide students with the best teachers, best curriculum and best chance for future success.

The state board is dedicated to serious education reform to provide our schools and teachers with the tools, training and flexibility necessary for students to succeed in work and in life. The challenge for all of us is to be a positive force in lives of children's by always making decisions that put students first.

Linger is president of the West Virginia Board of Education.

 

 

By Susan Lattimer Adkins

To say that I am shocked and disheartened by the state Board of Education’s abrupt and improper firing of Dr. Jorea Marple would be an understatement. Education in West Virginia was being reformed with an acclaimed champion at the helm under Dr. Marple’s visionary leadership. This is not just my opinion, but the opinion of countless school administrators, teachers, service personnel, parents, citizens and students across the state. The state board’s predetermined plan to fire the state superintendent without cause, the improper way they chose to execute this unfortunate decision, and the clandestine plan the majority of state board members engaged in to plot her replacement will set education back quite a few years in our state. Public trust has been shattered, politics has prevailed, and transparency has been lost. All of this at such a critical time for education has left many stakeholders stunned and disillusioned. The Supreme Court is now involved, talk of controversy over no-bid contracts is being reported in the news, and the focus has quickly changed from improving public education to waiting on judicial rulings on decisions that seem to have been driven by personal ambitions over what is in the best interest of our students. What a shame that those trusted with supervising public education in our state have elected to pursue this course of action.

The state board members have decided to alter their original plan a bit following the public outcry and protest regarding their decisions. But I fear that it is too little too late. State board President Wade Linger states the board members are focused on the reform efforts outlined in the education efficiency audit of West Virginia’s primary and secondary education system and their subsequent response to this audit. He claims that education was not moving in the right direction under Dr. Maple’s leadership even though she was clearly implementing numerous recommendations from the audit long before the board’s response.  He states what is needed is a forward-thinking leader who will manage West Virginia’s education system. He states the board wants students to learn 21st century skills. He states the board wants students to develop wellness, responsibility, cultural awareness, self-direction, ethical character and good citizenship skills. He states the board wants to ensure students graduate from high school prepared for post secondary education and career success. Those of us who worked with Dr. Marple know that she was actively pursuing all of these goals and so much more.

This coming year was supposed to be a banner year for legislative and progressive change for our schools. But I fear the debacle by the state board of ridding the state of Dr. Maple’s leadership will overshadow any such effort and deeply hurt education in the process. I hope that I am wrong, for the stakes are high. I cannot envision a more serious scenario for West Virginia’s public education system.

All of this adds up to a colossal setback for public education in our state. We all lose when such a distinguished leader is so cavalierly dismissed for what has been characterized as political reasons. The biggest losers, however, are the students. At such a critical time when education should be at the forefront, these actions have caused us to be suspect of the board’s motives and self-interests as opposed to focusing on increasing student achievement and academic success for all. It is a shame that the majority of state board members were so careless in their actions. The public has a right to expect and receive more professionalism and thoughtful leadership than that which we have seen from the majority of the current members of the State Board of Education. I, for one, am deeply troubled by this conduct from those who are charged with such a tremendous responsibility.

Martin Luther King said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Ironically, I saw this quote prominently displayed at the state Department of Education the day I attended the state board of education meeting to speak about my concerns regarding their decision to fire Dr. Marple. This quote inspired me to speak at that time, and it inspires me to continue the conversation. This matters and we need to speak up.

Susan Lattimer Adkins is a grievance manager for the West Virginia Professional Educators Association.