Commentary

January 4, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 1

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.

 


 

 

 

The ex-school superintendent has not been harmed, but students have.

Ten months after the state Board of Education received a damning report on West Virginia's public school system, it exercised its authority and terminated then-state Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple.

There then ensued a drama in which there was an attempt to cast Marple as a victim of cruel forces.

Mountain State Justice rounded up two plaintiffs and filed suit with the state Supreme Court alleging that the board violated the state's Open Meetings Law.

The board met and fired Marple again, as state law allows.

The board wants to change a public education system that has many of the state's students scoring below average in far too many categories.

Many other state leaders, including many in the Legislature, have also had it with overregulated, overly expensive, ineffective public education.

But beating entrenched interests will not be easy.

Now we have another drama.

Lawyers Timothy Barber, Rudolph DiTrapano, Patrick Maroney and Andrew McQueen say they will sue the state Board of Education, contending that it illegally fired a will-and-pleasure employee.

This group will demand a due-process review of Marple's dismissal, her reinstatement, and what Barber called "damages, serious damages, for harm to her reputation."

Presumably seriously financial - to come out of the hides of struggling West Virginians.

It's obvious that perhaps the most important objective of the suit is to prevent the state Board of Education, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislative leaders from cutting through the obstacles to a better educational system - to prevent reform.

This attempt to brand Marple as a martyr is an effort to reframe the issue so state government continues to focus on the "rights" of the adults who have an economic interest in the school system.

This will not play well in the court of public opinion.

Marple made $165,000 a year. She was fired in accordance with state law.

Her reputation has not been harmed. She retains the high regard even of people who back the board's action.

The adults in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government should reject this ill-chosen attempt to gum up the works and thereby short-circuit reform.

The focus belongs on the right of West Virginia students to a thorough and efficient education at public expense - and should stay right there.

Used by permission of the Charleston Daily Mail. This article was published January 4, 2013.

 

 

By Robert Dunlevy

The Intel Corp. recently surveyed parents and found that many of them are better equipped to talk with their teenagers about drug abuse than math and science. This should concern us all – educators and parents, legislators and employers, community leaders and mentors – because a strong background in math and science is increasingly critical for success in today’s job market.

Unfortunately, the rush to help students improve in math and science has created an unintended "college for all" mentality. This push toward a four-year college degree has put many employers in a vexing spot, struggling to fill openings that require specialized training.

As the West Virginia Board of Education works to address and implement recommendations of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s “Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System,” we must not forget it is vital that public education aligns with work force needs. The board’s audit response,“Audit to Action: Students First,” available at http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/audit-response.html, addresses areas where that alignment can be strengthened.

A recent study commissioned by the State of West Virginia showed more than two-thirds of our state’s manufacturing employers reported a shortage of qualified job candidates in a state where the jobless rate is pushing 8 percent. They say too few job applicants can read a blueprint, operate computerized equipment or successfully tackle the other tasks involved in today’s high-tech manufacturing.

Nationally, in the midst of an economy struggling to grow, there are approximately 3.6 million open jobs in America, indicating a skills gap between what is being taught in our schools and what employers require to fill a position As educators, policymakers and decision-makers, it is our responsibility to address this issue if we want our state and nation to prosper.

We not only want to ensure all students have the opportunity to attend a four-year college but also support opportunities for students to develop skills that a career technical center or a two-year community college can provide. We do so by creating an educational system that is seamless from preschool to elementary school to middle school to high school to post-secondary education to the work force.

Statistically, 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require some education beyond high school but not necessarily a four-year college degree. About half of all employment today is still in the middle-skill occupations.

The term “middle” is misleading in that the jobs are in high demand, require high-level training and skills, and result in a salary that is anything but middle. Middle skill jobs include certifications in information technology, computer-controlled machine operators, surgical technicians, respiratory therapists, aircraft technicians, and building and industrial maintenance workers, just to mention a few.

Addressing the middle skill gap in our state must begin immediately. Among the many challenges is the creation of rigorous and relevant career technical education programs, which are clearly and genuinely partnered with specific community college programs.

Recent passage of House Bill (HB) 436 supports and fosters new and strong career pathways from career and technical centers into community colleges. The bill emphasizes program-to-program articulation from career technical education to community and technical colleges, promoting a proven best practice in transitioning students. Continued support for and implementation of HB 436 will improve the system for middle skill work force development in West Virginia.

However, an improved system will not meet our needs unless we raise the participation rate of secondary students in career technical programs. One approach recommended in the board’s audit response is to create an effective pipeline beginning at the middle school level. Starting in middle school or even earlier, students must be able to explore career options and requirements, helping them develop areas of interest and understand what courses are necessary for success in any given field.

West Virginia’s policymakers have been on the right track by instructing education leaders in the preK-12 system, career technical education, the community and technical colleges, and our institutions of higher education to work collaboratively to develop a seamless curriculum that allows students to transition from one education level to another. Such a system helps address work force needs not only in the middle skills areas but elsewhere.

Although numerous collaborations have been developed, more are needed. The board’s audit response recommends reinstituting and reconvening the Governor’s 21st Century Jobs Cabinet. Sen. Joe Manchin created the advisory board during his first term as governor to assist with preschool through post-secondary education issues and to coordinate decision-making among the agencies involved in the state’s educational, job creation and economic development efforts. The cabinet would be a beneficial mechanism to ensure collaboration among all entities, without competition for enrollment and without programmatic overlap.

The ultimate goal is for West Virginia’s students to not only achieve high standards of academic achievement but also to readily access and learn the job skills of their future. As we actively engage our students in their learning through real-world experiences mirroring the workplace, students will be prepared and focused on their future careers.

Dunlevy is secretary of the West Virginia Board of Education.

 

 

By Michael L. Queen

In the wake of the mass killing of 20 elementary students and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, school boards in West Virginia are considering what they can do to prevent similar tragedies in local school systems.

I’m not sure that school systems can ever prevent what happened in Newtown.  But I am sure that we have to revisit school safety issues in light of the tragedy.

An individual determined to murder innocent students and adults, even in a school setting, is difficult to identify and even more difficult to stop. Pure evil does exist and we’ll never be able to eliminate it from our country, our communities or even our schools.  But we should have a dialogue right here in West Virginia to discuss possible solutions to making our schools safer.

I am concerned that the school safety discussion at the national level is focused entirely on “guns” rather than improvements to our schools.  And I am NOT advocating that just because a person has a concealed weapons permit that it qualifies them to carry that weapon in a school.  To the contrary, many permit holders have never been in a situation involving a human being shooting back.

Last week, I asked Harrison County School Superintendent Susan Collins to update a report on Harrison County’s 24 school buildings relating to “access” to the schools.  The original report was done several years ago as part of a grant application to the West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA).  Then-Gov. Joe Manchin and the Legislature set aside millions of dollars to help county board of education to make safety improvements to old school buildings.  The SBA grant was designed to provide funding for improvements focused on entrances to schools, first-floor windows and locks on classroom doors.

Harrison County received a grant from the SBA. Along with the SBA funding, Harrison County has invested a couple of million dollars in safety and access improvements over the last six years. I asked our superintendent to update our board of education on improvements still needed at many of our 24 schools.

I believe that the national focus on semi-automatic firearms is taking much-needed attention away from the school safety issues that really make a difference at the local level.  I’m one who believes that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Perhaps my belief comes from being a hunter, a concealed weapons permit holder and the 50-year-old father of one son who attends high school.  I am NOT a member of the National Rifle Association.

We can drastically improve the safety of our schools by improving restricted access to our schools.  If the federal government truly wants to help improve school safety, they should make funding available to help us make the improvements we need.

I’ve received more than two dozen letters and emails from Harrison County residents concerned about what our county is doing in wake of Newtown.  Some have suggested that the Harrison County Board of Education utilize armed National Guard members as well as active and retired law enforcement officers to guard our school facilities.  It’s time that there is a county-level discussion in West Virginia about doing just that.

Harrison County has a partnership with the City of Clarksburg, the City of Bridgeport and the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office to provide armed police officers at the county’s five high schools, the Alternative Learning Center/United Technical Center and Washington Irving Middle School.  The county has four other middle schools and 13 elementary schools.

In response to the interest in school safety locally, I have asked my board members to conduct a special school board meeting in February to discuss school safety issues with members of the general public. Not only should we discuss armed guards in schools, we also need to emphasize the public’s responsibility to follow school safety issues.

Michael L. Queen is president of the Harrison County Board of Education.