September 27, 2013 Volume 33 Issue 23


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



By Jim Wallace

When members of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration meet next month, they hope to develop recommendations for changing West Virginia’s public education that will go to the state school board and then to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature.

Unlike the education reforms the Legislature worked on and passed earlier this year, county school board members are having more input into the process this time. Leading members of the West Virginia School Board Association testified to both the commission and a legislative subcommittee reviewing the commission’s progress at recent meetings.

At the commission’s August meeting, two school board presidents – Barbara Parsons of the Monongalia County board and Greg Prudich of the Mercer County board – gave extensive presentations showing how boards are hindered by laws, policies, rules and regulations that prevent them from being effective in improving student achievement – or even having much control over their school systems.

“Education in the United States is a federal concern, a state responsibility and is conducted with local control,” Parsons said. “In general, the strength of almost all school relationships begins with the school board, which is a local body elected by the citizens of the district.”

A century ago, every school had a board, she said, but the need for greater efficiency led to changes. She suggested that West Virginia’s education system is now at a similar turning point.

“If [neither] this committee nor the state did anything about efficiencies, the economic conditions would force it,” Parsons said. “It’s out of necessity it will occur.”

The question, she said, is whether to be proactive or let fate take over.

“We have a system in the United States of addressing a lot of social issues and economic issues through the education system. It is the one, single system that touches everyone. It is the most unified system in the nation for approaching an issue.” – Barbara Parsons

“We have a system in the United States of addressing a lot of social issues and economic issues through the education system,” Parsons said. “It is the one, single system that touches everyone. It is the most unified system in the nation for approaching an issue.”

The issues schools are expected to address include obesity, poverty, race relations, sexual harassment, bullying and drugs, she said, and they are supposed to fix the breakdown in society in 180 days a year and seven-and-a-half hours a day.

Accountability is another problem Parsons pointed out. With the federal, state and local governments involved, it’s hard to say who is really accountable for the education system, she said.

“As every level of government gets involved in managing schools, it creates real confusion for the people who want to know what they’re doing and why aren’t they doing it,” Parsons said. “When accountability is unclear, there is no accountability.”

As an example of what that leads to, she said, teachers are taught to be professionals in the delivery of education, but then the system doesn’t allow them to do what they’ve learned to do. That’s why teachers’ unions try to intervene, she said.


Other education systems provide some guidance.

Parsons’s research on the matter included examining how other governments in North America and elsewhere have addressed issues of school governance and administration. For example, she said, the Ontario Ministry of Education has a governance review committee that determined: “Governance is the exercise of authority, direction and accountability to serve the higher moral purpose of education.”

After citing several sources on the meanings of governance and administration, Parsons said governing is strategic, and administration is tactical. In other words, she said, strategic is where we are going, and tactical is how we get there.

West Virginia is not alone in looking for better forms of governance for school systems, she said, because she examined similar initiatives from Missouri, California, Vermont, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Nevada, Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Prince Edward Island, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), China, Finland, Japan and Germany. (A list of her sources is available at the end of this article.)

Parsons also examined the duties of West Virginia school boards, as laid out by state law, and found that only four are strategic: establishing schools, closing schools, consolidating schools and entering into agreements with other counties. She said a number of other duties are spelled out in excruciating detail, but nowhere does the authority conferred on local school boards address student success or achievement, qualifications and performance of staff, quality improvement, fiscal accountability or school management.

A study by the Brookings Institute says governing systems that provide strong, substantive oversight but few operational constraints are more likely to produce better outcomes, she said. Among her other findings were that:

  • In other countries, education gets more respect.
  • Rural schools often perform well, but education policy frequently is based on the troubles of urban schools.
  • Several states have done more with regional education agencies than West Virginia has.

“I’m beginning to get the sense that we have a system that’s so busy checking up on everybody, nobody has time to actually teach kids.” – Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell, the state school board member who is chairman of the commission, said in response to the presentation from Parsons, “I’m beginning to get the sense that we have a system that’s so busy checking up on everybody, nobody has time to actually teach kids.”

“That’s the question,” Parsons said. “Should we spend all of our time just complying with the minimum standards that the government sets, or should we do a little better job than that?” She added, “If you’re held accountable to a standard, for a lot of people, that becomes the minimum and the maximum.”


Prudich pleads for more freedom for school boards.

When it was Prudich’s turn, he pleaded for the commission’s help. As a longtime school board member, he said, his passion is local freedom, a freedom he longs to have.

“Local control is a myth,” Prudich said. “There is no local control. What we need to do is enable local school boards. There is too much prescriptive policy, so we have difficulty innovating and improving our local school systems.”

There has been much discussion across the nation in recent years about charter schools, but Prudich said he would like West Virginia to consider having “charter counties.” He suggested that McDowell County is close to being a charter county because the state has loosened many restrictions on it in the hopes of correcting a myriad of problems. In his neighboring county of Mercer, Prudich said, he and his colleagues get very frustrated dealing with 787 pages of statutes related to education and 4,749 pages of state school board policy.

“What the state must do is set aspirations, goals and expectations. It should then permit the local school systems in their own unique ways to meet those goals and expectations. It is the state policymakers’ place to tell us where we need to go; it is not their place to tell us how we get there.” – Greg Prudich

“What the state must do is set aspirations, goals and expectations,” he said. “It should then permit the local school systems in their own unique ways to meet those goals and expectations. It is the state policymakers’ place to tell us where we need to go; it is not their place to tell us how we get there.”

Too often, the policies are more than goal-setting; they’re procedures and directives, Prudich said. There are 45 policies that each exceeds 20 pages, and 28 that exceed 50 pages, he said.

“Policies of that length are simply not policies; they represent micromanagement,” Prudich said.

As an example of what a local school district can do to improve education for students, he cited how the Mercer County system used an Innovation Zone waiver to change the county’s vocational-technical center. It was not an efficient way to make such a change, he said, because it took a year to go through the process. But Prudich said the result is an award-winning school that uses embedded credits, so students can get English and math credits from their vocational classes. The district’s long-term goal is to have a technical high school, he said.

Prudich said he and other local school officials expected real changes resulting from the efficiency audit of the public education system, but during the education reform process of this year’s legislative session, they felt like “the poor step-children” of the system. He pleaded with the commission to find a way to give local school boards more autonomy.


Policies are poor.

Among the policies of the state school board that affect local school boards, Prudich said, there are many that are poorly designed and few that are good. For example, he said, Policy 2510 says education is a shared responsibility, but it lists 10 specific responsibilities for the state board, 11 for the state Education Department, six for Regional Education Service Agencies and only one general responsibility for county boards.

Some policies simply restate the law, Prudich said. Policy 5612 is completely a restatement of the workers’ compensation law, he said.

Policy 2460 takes 23 pages to direct school systems on how electronic resources should be used, including such directions as “Be polite” and “Use proper English,” which Prudich found to be insulting.

One that really irritates him is Policy 4373 on discipline. “We had a detailed, comprehensive discipline plan in our county, and we were told to change it to suit the state’s,” Prudich said. “We asked for waivers and were told no and never told why. That one really, really gets under board members’ skins and I suspect superintendents’ skins.”

Another policy that irritates Prudich is Policy 6201 on floor coverings in schools. “It tells us not only that we should pick floor coverings that are conducive to education – which I don’t know what that means – but that we need to make sure that we train our custodians in the proper care and maintenance of those floors,” he said. “That one was really kind of insulting. I’ll be honest with you. I thought somebody just didn’t have anything to do that day.”

The state school board does have some well-written policies, Prudich said, citing as examples 2312 and 5902, because they are only four pages long each. Policy 5902 is the code of conduct. It sets broad policy standards without telling boards how to achieve them. “That’s a policy,” he said.

Another good one that runs four pages, Prudich said, is Policy 2322, Standards for High-Quality Skills, which lists objectives and standards but doesn’t tell school boards how to achieve them.

But Sallie Dalton, superintendent of the Greenbrier County schools and a member of the commission, warned that there has been talk about rewriting Policy 2322, because some people think it’s not specific enough. She cited the policy on the employee code of conduct as another effective policy that some people would like to rewrite. “I’ve used it for years,” she said. “It’s effective. I can go right to it.”

As bad as many state laws and state board policies are, Prudich urged commission members to look ahead and not back.

“It’s not a matter of whose fault it is that things aren’t going well. It’s taking a look at the situation and going, how do we make this better? The blame game doesn’t serve any purpose. So what we need to do is look at what’s not working, and there are too many policies that interfere with the ability of highly trained professionals – our superintendents – to do their jobs to direct their central office to do their jobs and to allow boards to spend their time talking about things that will improve outcomes and achievement for their students, which is what all this is about.” – Greg Prudich

“It’s not a matter of whose fault it is that things aren’t going well,” he said. “It’s taking a look at the situation and going, how do we make this better? The blame game doesn’t serve any purpose. So what we need to do is look at what’s not working, and there are too many policies that interfere with the ability of highly trained professionals – our superintendents – to do their jobs to direct their central office to do their jobs and to allow boards to spend their time talking about things that will improve outcomes and achievement for their students, which is what all this is about.”

Campbell said the limited authority of school boards hinders their ability to attract good leadership. Many people wonder why they should bother running for school board, because they couldn’t make much of a difference if they would get elected, he said.

Prudich said his board was ready to consider going to a year-round calendar this year but was told it must wait until a policy was established first and then that it must hold public hearings. Dalton said she received a memo saying that guidelines for the school calendar are coming out. She said she found it offensive that the state told local districts they must hold public hearings before making a major calendar change. It’s just common sense to involve the public on such matters, she said.

“If you’re giving me local control, then trust me to have it.” – Sallie Dalton

“If you’re giving me local control, then trust me to have it,” Dalton said.

Doug Lambert, another commission member who is superintendent of the Pendleton County schools, said, “You hit the nail right on the head. It all comes back to trust.” He added that trust has been broken.

Many agree about removing restrictions.

Campbell said one problem is that the School Aid Formula is a proscriptive tool in West Virginia. Most states use formulas to determine how much money each district gets and then leave it up to the districts to figure out how to use the money, he said, but in West Virginia, districts are told exactly how many people to have in each position.

Prudich said, “Let’s start pulling some of this weight off of local school systems.” He said trust must be earned, but you must give people the opportunity to earn trust.

Campbell agreed that the state board needs to do some of that. He said the commission will need to prioritize its recommendations to the board. Prudich said the priority should be to reduce the number of policies and statutes that restrict superintendents and teachers from doing their jobs.

The argument against that is that local boards won’t be accountable, Campbell said, but Prudich said board members are accountable to the public. He suggested that loosening restrictions on local districts could be done incrementally by having a statute that allows counties to opt out and become charter counties. McDowell County already is a model for that, he said.

“They’re free, because they failed,” Prudich said about McDowell County. “It’s been frustrating to watch. Being successful doesn’t get you a lot of resources.”

Lambert said he heard someone from a district that is under state control who expressed reluctance to get out from under that control, because it would mean getting fewer resources from the state. “That really stung me a bit,” he said.

Parsons said a state takeover is a failure on behalf of the state. Instead of taking over a county school district, the state should send in people to help its development, she said.

Dalton said one change that would help would be to regroup Regional Education Service Agencies. She said Greenbrier County shares more with Monroe and Summers counties than with the other counties in its RESA. Campbell said RESAs could work better, but they’ve never been given enough attention. Prudich said the RESAs should be governed by the counties they serve rather than controlled by the state. Campbell agreed, saying that people in the department think too much control needs to be in Charleston. He said the state needs to take the chains off.

WVSBA President Gary Kable, who is president of the Jefferson County school board, told the commission that the WVSBA is ready to work as a full-fledged partner in facilitating change. Site-based decision-making is the only model that will work, he said. Local boards have many highly qualified people, he said, but they need to have meaningful opportunities to make changes.

Campbell said that seemed to sum up well what the others had said. He said it will be important for the commission to be able to justify any recommendations it makes.

Sharon Harsh, director of the Appalachian Region Comprehensive Center, said her agency is available to work with others who are interested in moving the school system forward. She said her center looks at the structures of education systems and helps redesign them. It also provides a lot of professional development help, she said.

Harsh said first-order change is changing a skill or idea, second-order change is putting a system through transition, and third-order change is systemic change, which is changing the whole system. Often an incremental approach is taken but the system itself never changes, she said.

“What this group is probably going to suggest bottom line is, instead of dictating at the classroom level, accommodation at the classroom level.” – Tom Campbell

“It’s tough work,” Harsh said. “It’s not for the faint-hearted, but [it’s important to] take a systemic approach to our work, meaning that the tentacles of change have to permeate all aspects of the organization, for it to really be sustained and for it to have a lasting effect.” Capacity-building must be focused at all layers of the system, she said.

Campbell said, “What this group is probably going to suggest bottom line is, instead of dictating at the classroom level, accommodation at the classroom level.”


Legislators review commission’s work.

When the Legislature’s Education Subcommittee C met to review the commission’s work, Campbell told members about what the commission was doing, and Prudich gave them much the same presentation he had given to the commission.

Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, asked him, “Do you think we need 55 boards of education to administer education in this state? Is that something we ought to be looking at long term?”

Campbell said the commission had looked at sharing duties and programs across county lines. He said there seems to be some willingness to do that. “I think there will be a recommendation along those lines,” Campbell said. “You’ll probably get several.”

“I think there ought to be some requirements to be on a board of education. I mean we elect five people. We’ve got some people on boards in some of the counties I represent that have no idea about education.” – Sen. Truman Chafin

Chafin then said, “I think there ought to be some requirements to be on a board of education. I mean we elect five people. We’ve got some people on boards in some of the counties I represent that have no idea about education.”

The district Chafin represents includes parts of Wayne, Mingo and McDowell counties and all of Mercer County. He noted that many school boards are the biggest employers in their counties and handle a lot of money, so school board members should have to meet more requirements to be able to serve. But Campbell pointed out that many local school board members are highly qualified.

Prudich told the subcommittee that local boards are the elected officials who are closest to the public, but many board members find themselves handicapped by state laws and policies. He said the 787 pages of statutes governing education in West Virginia and the state board’s 4,749 pages of policies are in addition to federal statutes and policies. He added that the one-size-fits-all approach to education is a failed one.

“The governor’s audit repeatedly noted West Virginia was too top-heavy, too regulatory and too prescriptive in terms of education policy,” Prudich said. Many policies are really directives and procedures rather than policies, he said.

“It is the state policymakers’ place to tell us where we need to go,” he said. “It should not be the state’s place to tell us how to get there.”

As he did for the commission, Prudich told the subcommittee about how Mercer County had improved its career-technical school through a local initiative, but it had to work through the cumbersome process of an Innovation Zones waiver to do it. “Our long-term goal is a technical high school, a technical education academy,” he said. “Quite frankly, the only thing that’s preventing it from happening is money. I’m not here to ask you today for that money.”

Prudich emphasized that the change, which led to a national award for that school, happened because of local initiative in spite of state policy.

“There is more to governing a local school system than hiring a superintendent and paying bills,” Prudich said. “It’s about understanding local dynamics.”

For example, he said, if the state tried to switch to year-round schools on a regional level, it could be a disaster, but if it were done on a local level, it could work. Prudich suggested that year-round schools in southern West Virginia might come about sooner rather than later.

As he told the commission, Prudich told the legislators that local school board members had a lot of hope when the education reform process began, because there was a lot of talk about local autonomy, but school board members were treated as the “poor stepchild.”

“I don’t think it was intended, but from our perspective, that’s how it was,” he said. They didn’t have a seat at the table, even though they asked for it, he said.

“We need more freedom at the local level,” Prudich said. “Data suggest that’s how you improve achievement and outcomes.”

About Chafin’s comments about increasing requirements for serving on a school board, Prudich said he didn’t agree with them entirely, but he could understand them. “The truth is the comment he made can be directed at any public office in the state or in the nation,” he said. “The public is dissatisfied that we’re not doing things better.”

Prudich said school board members believe they can fix the problems in the public education system if everyone works toward the one goal that matters: student achievement. He said many solutions should be considered.


Delegates push back on policies.

About Prudich’s complaint that the state board has too many detailed policies, Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said sometimes policies are put into place as protection against lawsuits. Prudich, who is a lawyer, agreed, but he said policies that merely restate what already is in the law are an insult.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said the state Education Department should set standards for schools, but policies are important. She noted that the Mercer County school board’s policies have a seven-page index. But Prudich said about 80 percent of those policies are mandated by the state.

“Policies aren’t always bad things.” – Delegate Mary Poling

“Policies aren’t always bad things,” Poling said, but she agreed that 4,749 pages of state policies are too much.

Asked about the extent of school board members’ input on Senate Bill 359, this year’s big education reform legislation, Prudich said they got to speak to legislators a few times. “But when it got down to the nitty-gritty, we really weren’t involved at all,” he said.

When Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, asked his opinion on conflicting state board policies, Prudich said the problem is more of having confusing policies rather than conflicting policies.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said, “I think we sense your frustration.” He said he’d like to have school board members return to the subcommittee after the commission comes out with specific recommendations for change.


Superintendent argues flexibility would help in coping with budget squeeze.

Lambert told the legislators that his schools in Pendleton County do well in academic achievement, even though Pendleton is one of the 47 counties losing students. “Give us resources and let us make our decisions in a factual manner,” he said. “We will be successful.”

School systems like his can’t keep operating with shrinking budgets, Lambert said. He also warned that one size does not fit all. For example, he said, Greenbrier County has the same number of students as Ohio County but many more miles to cover. He said school boards spend most of their budgets for personnel, and they need more flexibility.

“We are up to our eyeballs in mandates and rules. No one feels threatened by accountability.” – Doug Lambert

“We are up to our eyeballs in mandates and rules,” Lambert said. “No one feels threatened by accountability.”

Lambert called not only for more flexibility in the School Aid Formula but also a 2 percent increase in the local share and more funds for buses.

“There has to be change and change for the right reasons,” he said.


School shared by two counties offers a model for others.

On the issue of improved efficiency, the commission also spent time at its August meeting hearing from Mark Manchin, executive director of the School Building Authority. He told members about how two counties came together to build one new school.

“Efficiency eventually will direct us toward effective, quality education,” Manchin said. He said about $700 million of school construction is taking place, but the need across the state is for more than $2 billion in projects while the SBA has only $50 million to $70 million to spend in any one year. The agency gets about $200 million in requests each year and projects to have $600 million to $700 million available over the next 10 years.

Manchin said Lewis and Gilmer counties received funding for a new elementary school by agreeing to go together on one school to replace two aging schools near the county line. He said the memorandum of understanding between them is a good blueprint for similar projects.

Alum Bridge Elementary is a small, rural school in Lewis County, and Troy Elementary is a small, rural school in Gilmer County. Each is just a few miles from the county line. Manchin said the SBA encouraged both districts to work together to get funding. Building two schools would cost about $20 million, but one school, called Leading Creek Elementary, is being built for about $11 million. The school straddles the county line.

When the Legislature created the SBA in the 1980s, Manchin was a state senator from Kanawha County. He said legislators saw the need to blur county lines, so multi-county projects get more points when competing with others for funding. But he said the SBA and the two counties had to work out issues dealing with administration, seniority rights, transportation and other things. Gilmer was designated as the sending county and Lewis as the receiving county, he said, and an advisory council for the school was formed.

Architect Ted Shriver of Williamson Shriver Architects noted that some teachers already were crossing the county line to go to work.

“Bringing West Virginia regions together is very difficult. There’s got to be a force to make them want to look at going together.” – Newt Thomas

Asked by commission member Newt Thomas if money was the biggest factor in getting the new school built, Manchin said it was. “The chances of being funded were remote individually,” he said. The necessity of replacing aging buildings and the desire of the local school boards were important, he added. Together, the two old schools have about 225 students, he said.

“The process was well done,” Thomas said. “I congratulate you on that, but bringing West Virginia regions together is very difficult. There’s got to be a force to make them want to look at going together. Of course, the funding had a lot to do with it.”
Manchin said, “The force in this instance was the School Building Authority of West Virginia.” He said the arrangement required no changes in state code or state school board policy.

Dalton noted that Greenbrier County has new facilities near old schools in neighboring counties, suggesting that cross-county collaboration might be needed in her part of the state.

Manchin said, “We’re not talking about usurping the local boards of education.” But a number of services could be combined, he said, and many old facilities cannot provide 21st century education.

Commission member Dana Waldo suggested that if there were significantly fewer county school boards, some savings would result and the process of collaboration would be easier.

“The collaboration would be easier,” Manchin said. “The bottom-line number, I doubt, would change that dramatically, because the need is the need.” While he did not endorse reducing the number of school boards, Manchin said the state doesn’t need 55 transportation directors, 55 attendance directors and 55 of other positions.

Tom Campbell suggested the commission could recommend reducing the number of transportation directors to just 10 throughout the state. Manchin said it might be tough to reduce the number to so few because of politics, but Campbell said, “We can recommend what we think is going to work.”

Even though Manchin had said that money was the biggest factor in getting Lewis and Gilmer counties to work together on a school, Scott Raines, the School Building Authority’s director of architectural services, said that wasn’t quite so. He said the real motivation was that both of the old schools were among the worst in the state. Each district realized it couldn’t afford to keep small buildings operating and that it would need a new school, he said. Also, Raines said, the Gilmer County school system had “horrible” schools and was in deficit.

“The real catalyst here was not necessarily the money, but the real catalyst was the need in both counties,” he said.

Manchin added that need drives everything in the SBA’s decisions.

Shriver said plans for the new Leading Creek Elementary School were tailored to desires of staff members from both old schools. He said the art and music teachers were travelling among schools but wanted to be able to teach fulltime at one school. They wanted art and music rooms instead of a media center, he said, and with computers in the classrooms these days, there is less need for a media center in a school. So the school is being built with art and music rooms.

Campbell called the agreement between the two counties “an excellent model” for other counties to consider.

Because Campbell wants the commission to have its recommendations ready by sometime in November, he said it might meet more often in than the monthly meetings members have been holding.


Resources on school reforms are many.

Here are the resources that Barbara Parsons consulted for her presentation to the commission:

“Charting the Way,” March 2012 final report by the Education Governance Commission of Prince Edward Island found at

Governing American Education – Why This Dry Subject May Hold the Key to Advances in American Education, Marc Tucker, 5/2013:

“Education Governance in The United States:  A 2007 Report” by Brian Melman, Intern, Vermont Department of Education, 2007

“The Political and Policy Dynamics of K-12 Education Reform from 1965 to 2010: Implications for Changing Post Secondary Education,” Michael W. Kirst, Stanford University:

Handbook – “Good Governance: A Guide for Trustees, School boards, Director of Education and Communities,” Ontario Ministry of Education.

Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century:  Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform, Paul Manna and Patrick McGuinn, editors. Brookings Institution. 424pp
The Failures of U.S. Education Governance Today, Finn and Petrilli, contributing editors to “Rethinking 21st Century Governance.”

“The Condition of Education 2013,” Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics:

Vermont Agency of Education, “Voluntary Mergers a Move in the Right Direction,” opinion piece submitted by Armando Vilaseca, Vermont Commissioner of Education, “Communications from the Commissioner” newsletter added 5/24/12.

“Governance of K-12 Public Schools,” also “County Offices of Education” found at EdSource:  Engaging California on Key-Education Challenges,

“Effective Best Practices of School Boards:  Linking Local Governance with Student Academic Success,” report by Brenner, Sullivan, Dalton for the Leadership Research Council of El Paso, IPED Tech Reports, Paper 15.

The Lighthouse Project learning tools available to School Boards and Associations – web-based training and DVD and related materials available at Online Learning Center at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) – a series developed with Missouri School Boards Association and the National School Boards Association at:

“Seeing The Light,” American School Board Journal, August 2009, LaMonte and Delagardelle, compares school boards in high achieving districts with low achieving districts. Summary Information or full report on the Lighthouse Project at:

 “School Governance,” JKT Consulting white paper found at: http//jkt –

“Eight Characteristics of Effective school Boards: At a Glance,” posted January 28, 2011:

“The law and its influence on public school districts: An overview,” Center for Public Education, found at:

CCSESA: California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, “County Superintendents,” also “Resource Allocation Strategies for Student Success” and region map found at

“The Condition of Education –Closer Look 2009 – US Performance Across International Assessments of Student Achievement,” Executive Summary by Institute for Education Sciences (ies), National Center for Education Statistics found at  and “Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools: What Works Clearinghouse” Guide.aspx

“Why School Boards? Five Reasons for Local Control of Public Education,” National School Boards Association found at:

“The Global Challenge:  Education in a Competitive World, Quality Counts,” 2012, 16th Edition of “Education Week.

“What Happens to Finland’s Well-Educated Young People?” Nancy Hoffman, Education Week, July 31, 2013.

“Effective Pubic School Governance: Best Practices, Governance Structures and Characteristics of Effective School Board Members,” white paper prepared by the Education Funders of St. Louis Affinity Group, June 2007; available at:

“School Governance, Learning from the Best,” found at:

“School Boards circa 2010 -Governance in the Accountability Era,” Hess and Meeks, NSBA publication found at:

Educational Governance – Comparisons of Some Aspects of School Decentralization in the Context of Globalizing Governance, Holger and Dawn, 2007:

“Reflections on Developments in School Governance:  International Perspectives on School Governing Under Pressure,” McConnolly and James. Education Management Administration and Leadership, v. 39, n4, p50-509, July 2011, found in:

School Choice and School Governance: A Historical Study of US and Germany, Jurgen Herbst, N.Y., Palgrave McMillan, 2006. Reviewed by Mark Bullock, University of Illinois, 2006:

“Local School Boards Under Review: Their Roles and Effectiveness in Relation to Student’s Academic Achievement ,” Deborah Land, Johns Hopkins University, 2002, Report #56.
UNESCO “Education for All Global Monitoring Report,” 2009

“The Invisible Hand of Ideology and Perspectives from The History of School Governance,” Timar and Tyack, ECS:

“The Diffusion of Governance Reform in American Public Education,” Wong and Langevin
“Focus On: P-16/20 School Governance” by Tim Weldon , education policy analyst for the Council of State Governments. 16pp

Who’s In Charge Here? The Tangled Web of School Governance and Policy by Noel Epstein, consultant to Education Commission of the States, 2004: to download. 302pp

The Leadership Issue Project -“Redefining and Improving School District Governance,” Plecki, McCleery and Knapp, October 2006, University of Washington Center for Study of Teaching and Policy at UW. Funded by The Wallace Foundation: or

PISA – Program for International Student Assessment:



By Jim Wallace

State Supt. Jim Phares has told legislators that several elements of education reform are moving forward, and more are under consideration. The changes include policies on hiring practices, school calendars, leadership training and making sure high school graduates are ready for college or careers. He also said the early childhood education program has exceeded its goals, and higher goals are now being considered.

Some of those changes are the result of the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 359, the big education reform bill, earlier this year. Phares provided his updates during a meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Many school boards have been interested in expected changes in the state school board’s policy on school calendars. Phares said draft timelines should be ready by the end of September and a new policy should be in place by November. He said it looks as though the state board will not need further legislation to make the planned changes.

Changes in Policy 5000 on hiring practices are complete, Phares said, since the board approved new procedures on designated hiring and transfer of school personnel. He said the policy gives educators a strong voice in the hiring of school teaching teams for the first time ever. More than 1,000 teachers had been trained in the process by mid-August, and the number was growing, he said.

There had been some confusion over whether districts should pay teachers for time spent on learning the new process. Phares said the Education Department has a fund to compensate districts for paying teachers who use off-contract time for training in the process. He said every teacher has the opportunity to take online training to be eligible to serve on faculty senate committees involved in the new hiring practice.


Early childhood program could expand further.

On the subject of early childhood education, Phares said West Virginia has more than met the goals set a decade ago. During the 2012-2013 school year, almost 16,000 children were enrolled in the universal pre-kindergarten program, he said. The original goal was 50 percent collaboration with community programs, but collaboration reached 74 percent during the last school year, he said.

The National Institute for Early Education Research has established 10 benchmarks for quality in pre-K programs. Phares said that, because of Senate Bill 359, West Virginia is on target to meet all of those benchmarks in 2014. He said the institute has recognized West Virginia as ranking fifth in the nation for access to pre-K programs for four-year-olds and fourth for overall spending on pre-K. Almost 84 percent of West Virginia children in the universal pre-K program attend fulltime and 87 percent of classrooms operate at least four days a week.

Phares said the steering team for the program is working on revisions for Policy 2525 to implement a five-day, full-day model for pre-K by the 2016-2017 school year. In addition, he said, the Office of Early Learning has created an online resource to help families to locate pre-K classrooms near them:

Senate Education Chairman bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he had received complaints about the accreditation of pre-K sites by the Department of Health and Human Resources. Clayton Burch, executive director of the Office of Early Learning, said a combined team of individuals from the Education Department, Head Start and DHHR handle those accreditations so that facilities would not have to face separate reviews. He suggested that the facilities Plymale heard from might face separate licensing from DHHR for other services they provide. Nevertheless, Plymale said he would like to pursue legislation that would reduce such problems.

“This has been a long journey on early childhood [education]. I think the collaborative model that has been brought forth has really been good.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

However, on the achievements of the early childhood education program itself, he said he has been pleased to have West Virginia be a leader for something positive, especially when he attends national conferences. “This has been a long journey on early childhood [education],” Plymale said. “I think the collaborative model that has been brought forth has really been good.”




Mingo County gets help from WVSBA.

Also during that meeting, Phares told legislators that the state school board had decided not to remove the Mingo County schools from state control. He said the Office of Education Performance Audits reviewed the school system in March to assess progress on resolving issues that led to the takeover in 2005. The OEPA found improvements in curriculum development, instructional programs and the school calendar, he said, but it found problems with finance, personnel, facilities, transportation and policy development.

Phares said the West Virginia School Board Association with help from Marshall University is providing leadership and capacity training for all members of the Mingo County school board. The WVSBA also is providing the board with guidance on conducting meetings according to requirement for open governmental proceedings, he said.

Noting that the Mingo County school system has been under state control for eight years and still has problems in several areas, Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, asked, “Do you think that over an eight-year period that that’s substantial progress?”

“No, it’s not,” Phares responded. He said the issues need to be revisited.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked if the training the WVSBA is providing is new. Phares said the leadership capacity training is new, and Wayne County board members also have asked to participate in it. He said Education Department officials know they need to work with boards to get them to understand policy development and fiscal responsibility.


New possibilities open for certain troubled students.

The Education Department and state board also are required to take a new approach to addressing the problems of “defeated and discouraged learners” as a result of the Legislature’s passage of House Bill 2861. That new law says that “the public schools should not be deterred from seeking and assisting with enrollment of students in an alternative program that helps remedy the discouragement, lessens skill deficits and facilitates a successful return to public school.”

The code requires the state school board to approve such alternative programs. The board’s criteria for approving such an alternative program are that:

  • The program is accredited to one of the state board’s recognized accrediting agencies.
  • The program has submitted accrediting documentation to the state board.
  • Any alternative program that has begun the accreditation process but not yet received final accredited status must provide evidence regarding the portion of the accreditation process that has been completed. A one-year conditional approval could be recommended pending a review by the Education Department and compliance with the remaining criteria.
  • The program has conducted a Criminal Investigation Bureau background check on all employers.
  • The program has an independent board of directors.
  • The program provides adequate liability insurance.
  • The program complies with county and/or state health and fire safety laws.
  • The program receives an on-site visit by Education Department staff.
  • The program receives official approval during a regular state school board meeting.
  • Approval of the program does not carry endorsement or any obligation for the state or county to provide fiscal or other resources to the approved program.

Phares said there already are providers of such alternative programs in West Virginia.


More is being done on preparing graduates for life after high school.

On another matter, he said West Virginia’s college-ready and career-ready indicators are being aligned to the Council of Chief State School Officers’ standards in knowledge, skills and dispositions. The proposed K-12 indicators for career readiness include: industry-recognized credentials, WorkKeys scores and credentials and career-technical education program completion with either state or national certification. Proposed indicators for college readiness include a composite score of 22 on the ACT. Phares said the department has a meeting scheduled in October with higher education officials to facilitate a discussion leading to an agreement on the definition of college-ready and career-ready as well as consensus on the indicators.

The Education Department is working with a $65,000 grant with the higher education systems on that effort, he said. In addition, Phares said, the state board has a special commission working on the matter, and the Governor’s Commission on Workforce Planning is working on it, as well. He said he expects to report back to the Legislature in December on all that work.

Phares said the department has established many career-technical education special project sites and also is working with 29 high schools in conjunction with the Southern Regional Education Board on teacher training and literacy development to have students ready for work when they come out of high school.

But Plymale, who was looking at a map showing the career-technical education special project sites, expressed concern that programs were not being implemented uniformly across the state. Some counties had “High Schools That Work,” some had “Tech Centers That Work,” some had advanced career sites, some had simulated workplace sites and 23 counties had none of them. Plymale noted that the only two counties with all four of the programs were Marion and Randolph, where Phares had served as superintendent.

Phares responded that it takes time and effort to establish those programs. He said many districts are eager to set them up for both middle school and high school students.

Businesses have responded positively to the simulated workplaces and programs, Phares said. He said 21 sites were established in the first year, and 136 businesses have been identified as partners. He called them true simulated workplaces.

“Students have to apply to get into it,” Phares said. “They have to agree to random drug test. They will be drug-tested. They also are given a simulated balance on their company’s asset sheet…and you’re graded on whether or not the asset grows. It’ll be as true to a life work experience that juniors and seniors will ever have.”

The Education Department is working on memorandums of understanding with the business partners, he said. The department also wants to get feedback on whether the programs are preparing students for workplace skills, Phares said.

“We are working hand in hand with the community colleges.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“I’d say that what you’re going to see in the very near future is friendships will grow out of this,” he said. “We are working hand in hand with the community colleges.”

Phares said he expects to have simulated workplaces in all counties in the future. Some counties need a shift in philosophy or a shift in resources, he said, but it’s tough for counties with tight budgets to take a risk on it and it takes times to work out the collaborative agreements.

Principals can get more training.

Another project the department has been working on is the Experienced Principals’ Needs Assessment. As part of a partnership with the Center for Professional Development, the department repurposed $100,000 for training principals, Phares said. The department asked the center to do a survey of more than 1,000 principals, assistant principals and vocational directors, he said, and the respondents identified 11 high-need topics:

  • Implementing Next Generation (Common Core) standards (77 percent)
  • Understanding Balanced Assessment (76 percent)
  • Improving student achievement (67 percent)
  • Providing support for struggling teachers (59 percent)
  • Dealing with social media, including cyber-bullying and legal issues (58 percent)
  • Motivating students and staff/faculty (57 percent)
  • Making data-based decisions, such as using student assessment, student/family demographics and community needs (54 percent)
  • Promoting technology for enriching curriculum and instruction (54 percent)
  • Observing and evaluating instructional personnel (54 percent)
  • Recognizing and promoting best practices for student learning (53 percent)
  • Involving external stakeholders, such as families, community, business leaders and government agencies (51 percent)

Phares said the first result of that effort is a three-year agreement with the SREB for development of modules that are focused on the first three topics, using data to drive decision-making.

Finally, Phares gave legislators the Compulsory School Age Report. He said information provided by county school systems indicate that the total number of 16-year-olds who dropped out of school decreased 52 percent from 2011 to 2012. He said the total number of ninth graders who were age 16 and dropped out decreased by 36 percent from 2011 to 2012.



By Jim Wallace

Court system officials are asking legislators to make a modest investment in an anti-truancy program with the promise of big benefits for both education and corrections.

Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn and Michael Lacy, director of the Division of Probation Services for the state Supreme Court, asked members of Education Subcommittee A to come up with 50 percent of the funding for the probation officers that several school boards supply to their counties to work specifically on truancy problems. That’s what the Legislature said it would do when it passed House Bill 3157 earlier this year, but it failed subsequently to approve the funding.

Lacy told the subcommittee that eight judicial circuits and eight school boards have board-funded probation officers. Aboulhosn said the Mercer County school board pays about $60,000 for the probation officer in his county (although that doesn’t quite cover all the costs), so for the Legislature to provide 50 percent funding for the eight counties that have such probation officers would cost only about $240,000 a year.

Based on his experience, he said, that funding would return many benefits. When Mercer County started its program two years ago, it had 102 students who were truant more than five days. Since then, Aboulhosn said, the truancy rate has decreased by 72 percent. Those students went from missing an average of four and a half days per month to fewer than 1.25 days, he said, noting that months have no more than 22 school days.

“The biggest key to that has been the probation officer that the school board has provided to the court system.” – Judge Omar Aboulhosn

“The biggest key to that has been the probation officer that the school board has provided to the court system,” Aboulhosn said. His circuit has three other juvenile probation officers who also handle some truancy work, but the extra probation officer handles 70 percent of the truancy cases filed, he said.

But Aboulhosn said the problem with having the school board fund the cost of the extra probation officer is that the school district has a 100 percent levy and no room for growth in its budget. The board is funding the probation officer with existing funds, but it is getting more difficult, he said. Aboulhosn goes back to the school board each year to see if it intends to keep funding the position. He predicted that, if the position is not funded, the truancy rate will skyrocket in Mercer County.

That would be bad for society, Aboulhosn indicated, because the vast majority of the people he sees in his courtroom never graduated from high school. He said about 80 percent of the jail population did not graduate from high school.

“Our belief is, if we keep kids in school and they graduate high school, the chances are we’re not going to see them in the courtroom when they’re adults. If they don’t graduate from high school, there’s an 80 percent chance when they walk out of that school they’re going to end up in prison sometime in their lifetime.” – Judge Omar Aboulhosn

“Education is the key,” Aboulhosn said. “Our belief is, if we keep kids in school and they graduate high school, the chances are we’re not going to see them in the courtroom when they’re adults. If they don’t graduate from high school, there’s an 80 percent chance when they walk out of that school they’re going to end up in prison sometime in their lifetime.”

Aboulhosn emphasized that school systems don’t need the state to pick up 100 percent of the funding for probation officers, just give them a hand. He said they would be grateful for 50 percent of the cost.

“It’s vitally important for Mercer County,” Aboulhosn said. “I think it’s vitally important for the counties that are doing this. It’s making a difference for the young people that are in this program.”

Reducing the rate of truancy by 72 percent is huge, he said, because kids can’t learn unless they’re in school.

“When we’re dealing with truancy, we’re not dealing with just truancy,” Aboulhosn said. “We’re finding that that is just the tip of the iceberg. For the vast majority of the kids we have in this program, truancy is the symptom of a much bigger problem.”

Lacy said Logan County was the first to have a probation officer funded by the school board. He said the other counties that have done the same include: Wayne, Boone, Cabell, Monongalia, Greenbrier, Mercer and Putnam. Some have focused primarily on elementary schools rather than middle or high schools in the belief that early intervention is the best approach, he said. In Cabell County, the probation officer meets with parents and the attendance director to try to divert the kids from coming into the system, Lacy said, and if that fails, the probation officer files a petition for more formal action. He said the probation officer in Cabell County sent out more than 1,500 letters in early August to parents whose kids were truant last year to advise them to make sure to get them to school this year.

Lacy said the qualifications for being a probation officer include a bachelor’s degree, background check, psychological evaluation and related experience.

Aboulhosn said daily average attendance in Mercer County in the first year with the school-funded probation officer went from 94 percent to 96 percent. Each percentage point represents about 95 students, he said.

“Our juvenile drug courts have from the very beginning been an adjunct to what we believe is the effective approach to deal with truancy. We all know that one of the issues with kids unfortunately is that they skip school, drink and smoke pot with their friends or do things like that very often.” – Michael Lacy

Lacy added that every county with a school-based probation officer has a juvenile drug court. “Our juvenile drug courts have from the very beginning been an adjunct to what we believe is the effective approach to deal with truancy,” he said. “We all know that one of the issues with kids unfortunately is that they skip school, drink and smoke pot with their friends or do things like that very often.” One of the requirements for participation in juvenile drug court is attendance in school, he said.







By Jim Wallace

Legislators and higher education leaders have expressed concern about the future of some of West Virginia’s colleges and universities, as well as the state’s ability to have a competitive workforce, if students don’t get better results out of both the public education system and the higher education system.

“We’ve got some institutions that are really financially in trouble.” – Paul Hill

“We’ve got some institutions that are really financially in trouble,” Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale said at a meeting of the Select Committee on Outcomes-Based Funding Models in Higher Education. “I hate to say this, but I think you know when we start looking at it we have so many less high school students graduating from West Virginia now from what we had 10 years ago that a competition of some sort at institutions is going to have to come.”

Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, and Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System, said they share Plymale’s concern and they are trying to do something about it, but budget cutbacks are making that effort more difficult.

“I think, if you ask the presidents in the four-year system, to a T they would all tell you that they support the concept of outcomes-based funding,” Hill said. They understand it and the rewards system associated with it, he said, but they are opposed to going into it right now, because they also are trying to cope with overall state budget cuts of 7.5 percent. The uncertainty of handling both at the same time would make it impossible for the institutions to manage their own budgets, he said.

A big concern is that a large portion of students entering both the two-year colleges and the four-year institutions must take developmental – or remedial – courses just to be ready to take regular college-level courses. Hill said officials have a master plan to improve the situation.

“We’re not completely satisfied with where things are at right now,” he said. “We’ve asked the institutions in their master plan and in their compact back with the state to address this problem. We’re providing some funding to the institutions through a grant from Complete College America in order for them to highlight developmental education programs to move more students through the system. As I say to the institutions, it’s not the number coming through the door; it’s the number you graduate coming out that we’re most interested in.”

Hill said it’s projected that West Virginia’s workforce will need 20,000 more college graduates in the next five years, so the colleges and universities know they must improve their performance. Part of the problem, he said, is the developmental education courses many students must take.

“Those who are in developmental education…it seems to be the quicksand where students get in and they don’t get out,” Hill said. “Students who get into those courses don’t seem to perform well once they go through them.”

The colleges and universities are implementing new methodologies to help students do better, he said.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said 67 percent of graduates of West Virginia high schools who attend community and technical colleges need developmental courses. Hill said the rate is lower at the four-year institutions, but some are close to 30 percent. 

Plymale noted that West Virginia’s public schools are starting to require students to take “transitional” math and English classes in 12th grade if they don’t already have the skills they need by the end of 11th grade. Officials hope that will reduce the need for students to take developmental courses after they get into college. Hill said the higher education system has helped develop those transitional courses. He said recent legislation requiring students to be tested in 11th grade and to make up any deficiencies has helped with that effort.

“We were actually ahead of the game in setting those programs in motion,” Hill said. The Southern Regional Education Board is working with several states on such efforts, he said, so West Virginia might gain additional insights from those other states.

Plymale said Columbia University did a complete review of the efforts in all 50 states and selected four, including West Virginia, to highlight. He said one Columbia official cited West Virginia for having the best policy and the best structure of those four states.

“Obviously, we’ve done some things well in policy,” Plymale said. “We’ve now got to come to the results with the students.” He added that students will need higher skills than ever before to compete in the workforce of the future.

Speaking on behalf of the two-year colleges, Chancellor Skidmore said the need for West Virginia to have 20,000 more college graduates by 2018 is part of a national trend. He said the community and technical college system has been looking at where the schools have failed and why students are not graduating.

“All roads led to developmental education. There is no way that community colleges in West Virginia can be successful if we don’t address the developmental education issue.” – Jim Skidmore

“All roads led to developmental education,” Skidmore said. “There is no way that community colleges in West Virginia can be successful if we don’t address the developmental education issue.”

Although much of the talk about developmental education in colleges goes back to what students need in high school, Skidmore said, only 18 percent of students come to the community and technical colleges directly from high school. The rest are older with many of them in the 20 to 35 age group, he said, so it will take longer for the community and technical colleges to benefit fully from improvements made in high school education. The focus of the two-year colleges will be to scale up their efforts, he said.

“I think that one of the most important things is that our colleges have bought into reforming developmental education,” Skidmore said. “If they hadn’t bought into it, we would be fighting a losing battle, because we can’t make them do something that they don’t really want to do.”


Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for theCharleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.