November 15, 2013 Volume 33 Issue 25


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


Raleigh County Board of Education President Richard “Rick” V. Snuffer has been appointed to chair the West Virginia School Board Association’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee. Snuffer served as WVSBA’s president in fiscal year 2009.

The committee also will include the Council of Past Presidents, which includes all WVSBA past presidents who currently serve as members of the organization’s Executive Board, except for the immediate past president who serves as a member of the WVSBA Executive Committee. That position is held by Jimmy Wyatt (Tyler).

The Council of Past Presidents includes:

  • Jim McKnight (Pleasants) – 1990-91
  • Steve Chancey (Jackson) – 1992-93
  • Arnold W. Harless (Wyoming) – 1996-97
  • William J. Raglin (Kanawha) – 2003-04. (Raglin is the Kanawha County Board of Education’s vice president.)
  • Mary “Sis” Murray (Marion) – 2011-12

At-large members of the Strategic Planning Committee include:

  • Suzanne Oxley, Esq., Cabell County Board of Education president. Oxley will serve as the steering committee’s vice chairperson.
  • Jim Jorden, Ohio County Board of Education president
  • Scotty Miley, Grant County Board of Education president
  • Hanna G. Sizemore, Ph.D., member of the Pocahontas County Board of Education
  • Carroll Staats, member of the Jackson County Board of Education

For more information about the strategic planning process, refer to “WVSBA Enters into Strategic Planning Process,” the column by WVSBA President Gary Kable in this edition of The Legislature.

The strategic planning process will be conducted independently of the association through consultation with Thomas A. Heywood, managing partner of Bowles Rice LLP, which represents the association through Howard E. Seufer Jr., a Bowles Rice LLP attorney who has served as association counsel since 1986.

When embarking on the strategic planning process at its September 6 meeting in Flatwoods (Days Inn), the Executive Board determined a steering committee will aid in the process especially by becoming a “vehicle” or “sounding board” through which Heywood communicates his initial specific strategic planning process aspects or plans. Once Heywood initiates the process, the steering committee will serve as a “bridge” between him and the WVSBA Executive Committee and, as deemed necessary or appropriate, Executive Board. The WVSBA staff will be involved in the process only as determined and directed by Heywood. 

It is contemplated that final decisions regarding strategic planning recommendations or proposals will be forwarded for consideration by the Executive Board by not later than July 1, 2014. This means any proposals can be considered at the September 2014 Delegate Assembly meeting. It should be noted that any proposals that involve changes in the association’s constitution will need to be considered at the fiscal year 2016 Annual Business Meeting. That meeting typically is held as part of the Association’s Winter Conference, meaning it would be held in February 2015.

In announcing goals for the strategic planning process, the Executive Board wants a process that will prove lasting and informative, according to Association Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D. He said previous internal efforts at strategic planning were not successful largely due to being bogged down in biases and detail for which the organization did not have the capability to move beyond, both in terms of association staff expertise and/or Executive Board willingness to complete the endeavor.

According to O’Cull, WVSBA members will receive periodic reports regarding the process from Heywood.



By Jim Wallace

Members of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration hope one more meeting will result in agreement on the recommendations they will give to the state school board, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature. They had hoped to reach that point after two meetings in late October and early November, but the issues proved too difficult to settle in the allotted time. Their hope now is to finish with one more meeting this coming Wednesday.

The biggest issue, and the one they have spent the most time on, is about the role of county school boards. One recommendation they have settled on tentatively calls for conducting a feasibility study to determine whether going to a more regional governance system would result in improved efficiency and effectiveness. Such a regional system would not necessarily be divided along the lines of the current Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) but would be based on West Virginia’s economic centers. In the words of one version of that recommendation, the commission wants to “balance local citizen input with appropriate financial stewardship.”

However, members varied widely over whether West Virginia would be better off preserving the 55 county school districts or consolidating them into fewer districts either formally or through the sharing of services.

Sharon Harsh, director of the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center, has been leading commission members through a methodical process of developing recommendations. Each recommendation is to have a compelling reason, specify the expected results and call for the action necessary to reach those results.

In trying to clarify commission members’ thinking, Harsh said she heard them saying that the county-based system is outdated, but West Virginia is not ready to go to a regional system. “I’m hearing you say that it’s really important in our state because of geographical challenges and our cultural issues that people have a chance to interact with their governing bodies and that there are so many unique differences from county to county to county that only a local board would be fully understanding,” she said. “I hear you saying we need to design a system that has that kind of contact and that kind of personalization.”

“You want to move away from the current, highly regulated system to a moderately deregulated system. I don’t hear anyone in this commission saying throw everything out, let everyone design it from scratch. I hear you talking about a moderately deregulated system that gives teachers more authority but also more accountability.” – Sharon Harsh

At the same time, Harsh said, “You want to move away from the current, highly regulated system to a moderately deregulated system. I don’t hear anyone in this commission saying throw everything out, let everyone design it from scratch.” She added, “I hear you talking about a moderately deregulated system that gives teachers more authority but also more accountability.”


Regionalism leads to much debate.

Commission members had trouble deciding whether more delivery of services should be turned over to RESAs. Although a few members were leaning toward that, others had many questions about taking such a direction. However, they seemed to be more in agreement about the need for realignment of such agencies as the Education Department, the Center for Professional Development, the Office of Education Proficiency Audits and RESAs.

But Tom Campbell, the state school board member who is chairman of the commission, said regionalism is a very complex issue. The sense of community is so strong in West Virginia that he fears what the results would be from too much consolidation, he said.

“I’m a businessperson. There are certain things that financially make sense, but there’s something very important about West Virginia that I’m not ready to throw away and that’s community identity,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got to be very careful, because what we’ve done in this state over the last few decades is to throw our communities away. In some cases, maybe it was justified. I think in some cases it was not, because West Virginia is unique.”

“I think from a business standpoint we need to consolidate functions, but if you take way the sense of community that West Virginians have in their communities, you destroy their feeling of place, their feeling of well-being, and they become dependent.” – Tom Campbell

In some places, Campbell said, the consolidation of schools has gone too far, although he is not against all types of consolidation. “I think from a business standpoint we need to consolidate functions, but if you take way the sense of community that West Virginians have in their communities, you destroy their feeling of place, their feeling of well-being, and they become dependent,” he said. “We cannot change our history. Our history is we’re county-driven.”

Campbell, who represented Greenbrier County for several terms in the House of Delegates, said he used to think it would be good to do away with county lines, at least for such functions as law enforcement, but he has changed his mind. One reason he cited against consolidation in education was that he thought Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, which serves sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from six communities, is “a horrendous mistake.”

 “I don’t like the impact it’s had on the community, and I don’t like the fact that the extracurricular activities have been diminished,” Campbell said. “I’ll conclude by saying, let’s not throw the communities in West Virginia away.”

Sallie Dalton, superintendent of Greenbrier County schools and a member of the commission, noted that the county had about 330 schools in the 1920s and is down to just 13 schools now.

Harsh said the commission must consider economy of scale in all of its recommendations and must find a balance between regionalism and local control. “I don’t think you as a commission can figure that right fit out at this point, except to modify this recommendation to say we are going to hold status quo until we get more data,” she said. “And we don’t want to be making a change just to make a change. It needs to be a change that will really fit our circumstances.”

Campbell said he doubted it would be good to go from 55 school districts to just eight, which is the number of RESAs. “Maybe 55 to 40, I don’t know, but it’s too complex,” he said. “We don’t have enough information at this point. You can convince me. I can be convinced. Right now, I am not. I can’t be.”

“I’m convinced that if you started out today with no county lines, you would not, in the idea of school governance, you would not come up with Wirt County versus Kanawha County.” – Harry Shaffer

Commission member Harry Shaffer said the proposed feasibility study would indicate how to draw school district lines, and he doubted that the best option would be the current borders. “I’m convinced that if you started out today with no county lines, you would not, in the idea of school governance, you would not come up with Wirt County versus Kanawha County,” he said.

Campbell countered that he was afraid that the issue of the size and number of school districts is politically popular, but it’s a red herring. Virginia has about 150 districts, Nebraska has about 300, and many other states have a huge number of districts, he said. “It’s not the number of districts; it’s what the districts do and how many functions the districts have,” he said.

Dalton suggested that if West Virginia would consolidate districts, existing school funding would collapse. Campbell called that the heart of the argument.

Commission member Doug Lambert, superintendent of the Pendleton County schools, said at one time he wouldn’t consider going to anything other than a county-based system, but he agreed that a study is needed. “I think we have to see if there is a better way to deliver education,” he said.

Dalton said not every district could be consolidated. “The geography of West Virginia makes everything difficult,” she said.

Commission member Newt Thomas’s approach all along has been to figure out what classrooms should be like for students and work up from that to higher levels of education structure. So he wanted to begin with schools and then determine what districts would need to do for the schools to work as best as possible.

“There are six or seven counties that just don’t get it, and I don’t know what we can do about them. They shouldn’t lead the charge here; the other 47-48 should. And I think that’s very important for us to say.” – Doug Lambert

Much of the commission’s discussion focused on reducing the number of laws and policies on the state level to give teachers more authority to do what they need to do in the classrooms, but Lambert said he thought teachers already have plenty of authority. “What I’m getting at is don’t throw the baby out with the wash water here,” he said. “There are six or seven counties that just don’t get it, and I don’t know what we can do about them. They shouldn’t lead the charge here; the other 47-48 should. And I think that’s very important for us to say.”


More study seems warranted.

Corroborating the need for a study, Harsh said she had examined the minutes of all the meetings the commission held and could find no indication that the commission had examined data around regional models versus local models versus state-level models. “The minutes of your meetings prove that you don’t have the data you need to make that decision,” she said, although the commission found current structures limited the ability to respond to student and school needs. She said the commission also found challenges in funding, the school calendar, professional development, coordination of services and implementation of instructional programs.

Further, Harsh said, the commission found considerable variance in data on stakeholders’ needs across the major areas of study. For example, she said, while there is a need to upgrade the current governance model, the most pressing need is to upgrade the level of training for local school boards and implement other selection processes for board members such as appointments. Additionally, current data are inconclusive about the type of governance model that would allow for more efficient, effective operations yet maximize stakeholders’ access to policymakers, she said. The commission found, however, extensive need for deregulation and flexibility in administering and operating instructional programs and services, she said.

Thus, Harsh said, the commission found that a full feasibility study is needed to determine the appropriate governance model that would ensure efficiency and effectiveness in operating the state education system. She said the commission’s charter from the state school board allows it to do a study but does not require it. Instead of conducting a study over the last several months, she said, the commission’s method of study was to listen to the experts, such as West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard O’Cull, county superintendents and a variety of other people.

Campbell said the commission should be careful about how it crafts its recommendations. Lambert said, “A lot of what constrains us [in school systems] is the governance in what we’re trying to do.” He added, “It’s amazing to me how we’re so governed by policy, procedure and code.”

But Harsh said, “The governance structure is not the issue. Superintendents have already said the costs for operating these [school] boards are really negligible.” Instead, she said, “We need to change the types of work that they do, the regulation, [and] who’s sitting in those chairs.”


Superintendent endorses commission’s work.

State Supt. Jim Phares did not participate in most of the commission’s discussions, but he stopped by to say he liked the suggestion of requiring certain minimum qualifications for school board members. He said he also liked a proposal for school board members to be appointed instead of elected, because with appointed board members, “you don’t have to wade through two layers of tax opposition.”

In addition, Phares said, he would favor finding a way to fund schools that serve students from two or more counties so that no districts are hurt financially.

“You’re on target,” he said. “I’m surprised.”

Finally, Phares said, he knew that both the governor and the Legislature are looking toward passing more education reforms in the upcoming legislative session.

Commission members decided that the compelling reason for finding a more effective governance structure in the public education system is that West Virginia’s per student spending on education ranks in the top 10 among states, but its outcomes rank in the bottom 10. Lambert said the most controversial proposal is to require minimum qualifications for school board members. Harsh said the only real leap in thinking is how changing the governance structure would affect costs and outcomes.

On the issue of instructional goals and professional development, Dalton said, the public education system has plenty of data, but not enough is translated into instructional practice. On the other hand, she said, the high level of regulation and monitoring needs to be reduced.

“If someone needs to be hired to regulate and monitor for the Legislature, then who created the beast? If you put in a thousand laws that require monitoring and you hire people here to monitor me, then who created the beast?” – Sallie Dalton

“If someone needs to be hired to regulate and monitor for the Legislature, then who created the beast?” she asked. “If you put in a thousand laws that require monitoring and you hire people here to monitor me, then who created the beast?”

Her vision of the role of the Education Department is that it would concentrate on having people with expertise to interpret educational research, determine what works best in the classroom and then provide technical assistance and guidance to schools. Currently, Dalton said, too many groups are providing professional development. It’s confusing, because you can’t figure out where they fit, she said.

Campbell suggested recommending the centralization of policy and localization of the implementation of policy. Dalton said she wants the experts at the department level doing research and planning, because that’s what they do best.

“We should strive to develop a system where our teachers are revered and esteemed.” – Harry Shaffer

Shaffer said he thought the whole portion of state code dealing with public education, Chapter 18-A, is the problem. “We should strive to develop a system where our teachers are revered and esteemed,” he said. “My thought was that, if we could raise the accreditation standards in higher education and have a level of certification – a test to become certified to become a teacher – that would raise the professionalism of this profession. In my profession nationwide, 67 percent of the lawyers who graduate from law school don’t pass the bar.”

In addition, Shaffer said, teachers’ pay should be increased. They should be paid like professionals but have competency testing and accreditation standards, he said.

Dalton pointed out that no teacher can be certified without passing the praxis. Also, she said, teachers can get higher pay if they get national board certification. But she added that even though those two things are in place, they don’t translate into higher student achievement.

Harsh said that teaching is both an art and a science. The science part is professional development, she said.

Dalton said she would like to have fewer people in the Department of Education, but those who remain should be the most skilled at data analysis. Campbell said many people see West Virginia’s professional development system as a joke – not what teachers get from it but the way it is organized.

Thomas suggested the commission should say something about the responsibility and accountability of school boards. He also suggested the commission should do something to make a difference in each classroom early in the process.


Commission wants money to be used better for improved performance.

On the issue of funding, the commission is considering a recommendation that, considering that enrollment is declining in most of the state and so is funding available for education, districts need flexibility to use the available funds to ensure they have efficient operations and improved student outcomes.

Campbell said the current School Aid Formula is too prescriptive. Shaffer said that is a compelling reason to change it. Campbell said he thought the formula worked better when West Virginia’s population was growing but not so well now. Lambert said the issue of funding is getting “critical.”

On the proposed recommendation, Campbell said, “It’s not as far as some of us would like but it’s a step in the right direction.”

On the issue of shared services, commission member Tina Combs, who also is a state school board member, said she would like it to have language calling for the realignment of RESAs. O’Cull reminded the commission that the WVSBA had issued a set of proposals that, among many other issues, addressed the RESAs. (Those proposals called for reassessing the existing regions for geographic, financial and performance compatibility, reinforcing the statutory roles of RESAs, and making RESAs accountable to the school districts they serve. For more on those proposals, see the October 24 issue of The Legislature.)

Dalton added that every school district is in dire need of legal services, and they would like to have those legal services provided through RESAs. Lambert noted that his district, Pendleton County, which is the second smallest in the state, spends $15,000 to $20,000 each year on legal issues. Shaffer said RESAs could have a good-sized legal staff.

At the end of the commission’s latest meeting, Harsh said she wanted the commission to emerge with a unified voice. At the next meeting on Wednesday, she said, the members should finish refining their recommendations and then justify those recommendations. She said she intends to call for consensus on all items and then prioritize them.

“We’re not only trying to come up with recommendations; we’re trying to come up with something that’s going to get action.” – Tom Campbell

Campbell concluded the meeting by saying, “We’re not only trying to come up with recommendations; we’re trying to come up with something that’s going to get action.”





If you want to know where West Virginia is headed with education reforms, you should look south to Florida. That’s what more than 200 government, education and business leaders did this month at the education summit held by the Education Alliance at the Charleston Civic Center.

The focus of the presentations and panel discussions was on how Florida reformed its education system over the past 15 years to improve student achievement. The conference was titled, “Excellence in Education: It’s Everyone’s Business.”

“We must make education our number one priority, ensuring our children have the opportunity to develop the strong foundation needed for lifetime learning.” – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

“We must make education our number one priority, ensuring our children have the opportunity to develop the strong foundation needed for lifetime learning,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in his keynote address to open the conference. “That includes being able to enter college or the workforce. That’s why we are reforming education in our state.”

Tomblin got the Legislature this year to pass a series of reforms, which he called “bold steps, but he said he wants West Virginia now to consider some of the innovative methods to improve student achievement that Florida pioneered largely under former Gov. Jeb Bush beginning in 1999. He said he wants policymakers to be aware of both the best practices and the pitfalls that emerged from the Florida process and adapt what they learn to help West Virginia.

“Implementation of policy is the key to meeting this goal,” Tomblin said. “There’s no cookie-cutter way towards improvements.”

West Virginia already is making substantial changes in the classroom to improve student achievement, he said. “Beginning with our youngest students, our full-day, five-day-per-week, optional preschool program makes us a national leader in early childhood education,” Tomblin said. “It provides them a solid foundation to begin kindergarten.” He said a report from an early childhood task force that is due in January will help chart the future of educating the state’s youngest citizens.

Tomblin also emphasized the effort to make sure children are able to read at grade level by the end of third grade. He said they must learn to read and then love to read so they can read to learn. “By focusing on reading early on, we provide our students the skills to excel in other subjects, such as math and science, both of which are essential in our growing economy,” he said.

In regard to that, Tomblin said, the state board is working to revise teacher education preparation programs at the college level to make sure future teachers have specialized training in reading and that continuing education programs for teachers at all grades are enhanced to include specialized instruction.

“Accountability to our taxpayers, parents and students is an important part of this process,” he said. Through legislation, Tomblin said, the state board has been charged with revisiting the system for holding schools and teachers accountable. He said that Florida’s bold approach, which includes giving reach school a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, has been duplicated around the country and indicated he would like West Virginia to do the same.

Tomblin also said demand for more specialized education will increase as West Virginia’s economy grows, so it’s necessary for the public education system and the higher education system to work together. Noting that he had returned last week from a trade mission to five European countries in 12 days, he said he was asked at every meeting with companies with current operations in West Virginia and with potential investors how the state is preparing its workforce for the future.

“These changes are only the beginning,” he said. “I truly believe that every child in West Virginia deserves the opportunity to receive the very best education possible. Education is the foundation for building a secure life. Improved education systems and increased education opportunities can result in more jobs for West Virginians.”


Florida made big changes.

Mary Laura Bragg, national director for policy and implementation at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, was involved in Florida’s education reforms. She told conference attendees that Florida was stuck in an era of excuses about why students were not performing better in the public education system when reform efforts began in 1999. Among the excuses was that education didn’t get enough money. But Florida leaders decided they couldn’t sustain the divide between the students who came out of school prepared and those who came out unprepared, Bragg said, so they embraced a culture of education reform in which the philosophy is that all children can learn.

Although Florida has a much bigger population than West Virginia, the two states have some similarities, such as high levels of low-income people, she said. West Virginia spends more per pupil than Florida does, but Bragg said that what matters is not how much is spent but what is done with the money.

Before reforms, Florida had eight years of decline in its student achievement rate. Since then, Florida’s fourth-grade students have moved up a grade-level and a half, Bragg said, and Florida improved achievement among at-risk students simply by insisting they can learn.

The principles of Florida’s reform include:

  • Measurement matters;
  • Funding drives behavior; and
  • Competition works.

By going to an A-F system of grading schools, Bragg said, Florida has increased transparency and parental involvement. “When you shine a clear light, you expose things that people wanted to keep hidden,” she said.

“I can’t explain away an F the way I can ‘critically low-performing.’” – Mary Laura Bragg

Because of the new system, schools have used instructional policies and practices to change the way they teach, Bragg said, and public pressure to improve has resulted in higher student achievement and test scores in low-performing schools. As she put it, “I can’t explain away an F the way I can ‘critically low-performing.’” So far 13 states have adopted the A-F school grading system, she said.

Like the reforms in West Virginia, Florida’s reforms emphasized reading policy for kindergarten through third grade students. Bragg said that is because 75 percent of students who read poorly at age nine will struggle for the rest of their lives. Also, 80 percent of students identified as needing special education had trouble reading, she said.

When people complained that holding back students for another year of third grade would hurt their self-esteem, Bragg said her response was to ask what the self-esteem of a high school dropout is. Florida took a hard line of retaining students who couldn’t read, she said, but the policy is first and foremost to provide instruction and intervention to students needing help reading. She said no child is retained based only on results of one test.

In Florida before the reforms, 29 percent of students read at the lowest level, but no one was outraged about that, Bragg said. The outrage came when the state tried to do something for them by holding them back until they could learn to read, she said, but since then, fewer and fewer students have been retained each year, even though the state increased standards. “When it’s time to raise the bar, you raise the bar,” she said. Florida also made reading a huge component in grading schools, she said.

Also like West Virginia, Florida has emphasized the importance of early childhood education. It even put voluntary pre-kindergarten into the state constitution starting in 2005-2006, Bragg said.

On the other end, the state raised its high school exit exam, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), from the eighth-grade level to the 10th-grade level, but Bragg said it needs to go even higher. Since the change, she said, graduation rates have improved and dropout rates have declined.

Another part of Florida’s new system involves providing rewards for successful schools of $100 per student for any school that improves its letter grade or maintains its level. The money came from repurposing existing funds, Bragg said, and more than 2,000 schools have earned recognition awards.

Florida provides flexibility in funding to improve student learning and has prioritized more than $700 million per year for student achievement, she said. To provide equity in school funding, Florida ensures all schools receive 85 percent of the funds they generate from the state funding formula, but it also has given principals incentives to operate efficiently with student achievement as the goal, Bragg said.

Yet another part of Florida’s reforms has been to incentivize rigor. Bragg said very few students in D-grade and F-grade schools took advanced placement tests in the past, but the state now offers free PSAT or PLAN tests for all 10th-graders. In addition, she said, teachers earn bonuses for students that pass advanced placement courses and teachers of those courses get special professional development.

“What gets measured gets done. If we’re serious about this, there are no moral victories in education reform.” – Mary Laura Bragg

“What gets measured gets done,” Bragg said, adding that Florida now has the highest rate for Hispanic students passing AP English. “If we’re serious about this, there are no moral victories in education reform.”

To get more teachers into classrooms, she said, Florida opened multiple routes for teacher education and certification. Included is “adjunct certification” through which a district can reach an agreement with someone with certain education and life experience to teach a class using that background. The example Bragg gave was of a career physicist teaching a physics class.

Florida changed its system for evaluating teachers to include four levels of performance – highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory – as well as its system for compensating teachers. Bragg said teachers now have annual contracts, and student performance, not seniority, is used to determine layoffs. Groups of teachers always know which teachers among them are bad at their jobs, but they have traditionally been very protective of fellow teachers, she said. Changing the system to be able to get rid of bad teachers was a hard-fought battle, and it wasn’t easy to implement, she said, but it was worth it.

“I want those of us who are good teachers to be paid what we are worth,” Bragg said.

As she concluded, she encouraged West Virginians to continue their education reforms.
“You have such an unbelievable opportunity to shape this,” Bragg said, but she warned that the results might not be realized during the political terms of the governor and legislators.

Asked how Florida was able to make the necessary changes, she credited Jeb Bush with being a strong governor. “He was relentless in his pursuit of education reform,” she said.


State board is changing funding model for schools.

“We have a lot of progress to make in West Virginia…. We need to be about it more quickly.” – Lloyd Jackson

Other presenters at the conference included Lloyd Jackson, a former Senate Education Committee chairman and current member of the West Virginia Board of Education, who discussed the need to put more accountability into the public education system.

“We have a lot of progress to make in West Virginia,” he said. “We need to be about it more quickly.”

Jackson said West Virginia is making a switch from an inputs-based model of funding public schools toward a standards-based accountability model. He indicated that the school board might want to use an A-F grading system for schools similar to Florida’s. “None of us is pleased with the current system,” he said. But he noted that Senate Bill 359, this year’s major education reform legislation, placed authority for school accreditation with the state board, which is redoing the policy. The board wants a new grading system that is more transparent, accurately reflects results, involves more onsite review and includes more incentives, including financial incentives, he said.

“We would hope that those could be translated into financial rewards,” Jackson said. “I can tell you that it will take legislation for that to happen, but I can also tell you that the policy we are developing at the board will accommodate both an easy grading system and a financial incentive system if that policy is adopted, whether or not it’s funded.”

In regard to building capacity, he said, inputs still matter. “We have to build capacity for our schools in West Virginia,” Jackson said, but he added that some of the changes would not be cheap. Building capacity will require fair assessments and measuring performance, he said.

“West Virginia today is on the cusp of doing a lot of things,” Jackson said.


Grading system for schools should be transparent.

Also addressing the subject of accountability was Christy Hovanetz, who was involved in Florida’s reforms and now is a senior policy fellow for the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

She said fundamental principles of school grades include:

  • A grading system that people understand improves transparency.
  • A-F starts conversations, because people don’t like to be F’s; they like to be A’s.
  • Measurements should be based on outcomes.
  • Balancing proficiency and learning gains helps level the playing field and assures high-level schools don’t rest on their laurels.
  • Students need to know what’s required of them.
  • Make sure growth ensures success in the future.
  • Focus on the lowest 25 percent of students in each school to ensure every school is accountable for them regardless of race, gender and other factors.
  • Standards must be aspirational and attainable.

Giving schools grades of A to F really means something to people, Hovanetz said. To come up with those grades, she said, Florida tests in reading, math, writing and science to find out the percentage of students who are proficient and the percentage of students making progress in reading and math. For high schools, the state added components, including graduation rate and at-risk students’ graduation rate, she said.

“It costs a lot less to train a teacher and to get kids to pass an AP exam in high school than it did to actually send them to a university to take that course.” – Christy Hovanetz

Another part of Florida’s reforms was a requirement that colleges and universities accept certain levels of grades in advanced placement (AP) courses for college credit. Hovanetz said that saved money for the state. “It costs a lot less to train a teacher and to get kids to pass an AP exam in high school than it did to actually send them to a university to take that course,” she said.

More and more Florida students are earning college credits while in high school, Hovanetz said, and fewer are taking remedial courses in college. In addition, she said, more students are considering college, so the first-time college rate has increased. She called it a good return on investment.

Hovanetz said that, during the first year after Florida implemented its grading system for schools, there were more D and F schools (677) than A and B schools (515). After that, without changing standards, instructional practices changed so much that there were more A and B schools than D and F schools the second year, she said, and in the third year, there were twice as many A and B schools as D and F schools. Teachers and principals had the incentive to change, she said.

The system also began providing financial rewards to schools that performed well, Hovanetz said. The legislative intent was for the money to go to staff bonuses, but schools were allowed to use it for any non-recurring expenses, she said. “We think it’s an awesome incentive for schools to improve,” she said.

Asked what arguments were made against the A-F system, Hovanetz said some people said it wasn’t fair, some school officials thought they were better than their grades, and others complained they didn’t have enough resources.

Hovanetz said Florida leaders determined that kids can learn no matter what their circumstances are. She said they had to walk people through the components of the new system, and that took a lot of one-on-one discussions. In that regard, she said, West Virginia is fortunate to have county districts, she said, indicating the process would be easier with fewer districts. 

Asked about the status of education reform in West Virginia, Jackson said Senate Bill 359, this year’s big reform legislation, gave the state school board the flexibility it needed. By next year, the board will develop a new policy on grading schools, he said.

“Whatever system we do adopt, at least we have the ability to do that as a board of education and not have to go back and go through that process again [with the Legislature],” Jackson said. “Clearly, the board for the first time is going to adopt an accreditation system that will allow for [financial incentives].” However, he added, there won’t be any financial incentives unless the Legislature provides funding for them.

In addition, Jackson said, the board is looking seriously at teacher preparation and professional development and will make recommendations to the governor and Legislature. He said the board sends a thick report each month to the governor about what it is doing on the subject of accountability.

Ralph Baxter, a lawyer and businessman who served as moderator for the session, concluded the portion about accountability by saying, “As a small state, each one of us can have an effect.” 


Reading at young age is important.

Gayle Manchin, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, said the state is putting an emphasis on early literacy because it is a way to ensure better results later on in students’ education and subsequent lives. “Third grade is a critical marker of later school and life success,” she said, because students who cannot read at grade level start dropping out long before age 16, when they can legal quit school.

The state board has an advisory committee on a comprehensive approach to early learning, Manchin said. That approach includes improving the quality of instructors who teach students to read, she said.

“We are raising the bar on the professionals that we put out.” – Gayle Manchin

“We are raising the bar on the professionals that we put out,” she said.

Manchin said West Virginia needs a data-reporting system that will focus on the formative assessment process to gauge children’s learning and describe their progress. She added that early learning depends on having healthy children, so the department is collaborating with agencies that strengthen the well-being of children.

“We have to ensure that a definition of third-grade literacy truly reflects the breadth of skills and knowledge that research says children need to succeed in third grade and beyond,” Manchin said.

West Virginia has joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which is a national collaborative, she said. By joining the campaign as a state, Manchin said, West Virginia will have access to research, national leaders and peer-learning opportunities.

Also on the subject of early literacy, Cari Miller, a policy advisor for the Foundation for Excellence in Education who was involved in Florida’s changes, said it was important to end social promotions of students from one grade to another, because almost one-third of Florida’s third-graders could not read at grade level before the reform process began. She said the law provided six good-cause exemptions, including two performance-based options: alternative statewide assessments (provided twice, once at the end of third grade and again at the end of a summer reading camp) and a student portfolio (an accumulation of student work showing mastery of reading skills).

“Retention for retention’s sake does not work, but Florida did not do retention for retention’s sake. The goal of retention was to ensure all kids were ready by the end of third grade for the more rigorous coursework to come.” – Cari Miller

“Retention for retention’s sake does not work, but Florida did not do retention for retention’s sake,” Miller said. “The goal of retention was to ensure all kids were ready by the end of third grade for the more rigorous coursework to come.”

To help students avoid the possibility of retention, Florida has been giving them early literacy screening as early as kindergarten, she said. It is administered in the first 30 days of school to identify kids who might have difficulty in reading and to provide more information to teachers to help them meet kids’ needs. Parents of kids with reading difficulties are identified immediately and brought into the process, Miller said, and individual reading plans are developed.

When students in Florida are retained, they receive more intensive intervention. Miller said districts are required to have summer reading camps, assign highly effective teachers to work with retained students, and to provide them with a minimum of 90 minutes of reading instruction, as well as daily intervention targeted to each student’s needs. She said their parents are offered workshops and home reading plans to support a love for literacy in the home. Parents also are offered the option of having mentors for their children and tutoring outside of the school day, she said.

“Without effective implementation, a policy is worthless,” Miller said. It starts with leadership and includes professional development for teachers and parents, comprehensive assessments, research-based instruction and intervention, summer reading camps and state partnerships to raise awareness of the importance of literacy statewide, she said.

In the first year after Florida adopted its new policy, retention skyrocketed, Miller said, but reading achievement increased in the years that followed and retention declined. The level flat-lined in 2007-2008, she said, calling it “a clear example of, when you take your foot off the pedal, a lot of people get complacent.” She said Florida then raised the bar by using a new assessment with a higher cutoff score.

Schools are not waiting until third grade to take action but are intervening earlier with more students retained in kindergarten through second grade, Miller said. The results have been better with minority students and students with disabilities, she said, and Florida cut in half the number of students identified as learning disabled by focusing on reading ability. She said research has found that students retained in third grade made more significant gains than those who barely made the cutoff for promotion, and minority students had the most gains. By seventh grade, those students still performed better in both reading and math than their peers who had just made the cutoff, she said.

Miller said she was a teacher in a school with a high number of minority students and students eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches when Florida’s policy was enacted. She said many people expressed concern that the self-esteem of retained students would be harmed. But she found that their self-esteem only grew because they became readers and were no longer the students at the bottom of their classes. “Although the retention seems scary for adults, it’s not as scary for kids,” she said, adding that some kids just need more time.

Asked about dealing with students who come from homes with low levels of parental support for reading, Manchin said West Virginia has a number of good programs to provide books to children in their homes. She said parents also must be trained to recognize that reading is critical to their children’s future.

Miller said Florida also has programs to support parents. She said the workshops for parents are designed to be interactive and fun and to allow parents to bring their children with them.


Panel members offer various reactions to Florida’s reforms.

The education summit also featured a panel discussion that allowed 10 West Virginians from different perspectives to react to the earlier presentations.

“I don’t care for the word ‘excuses,’ because I feel like that is actually the challenge of what we face and the reality of what we face. Those excuses are poverty and single-parent families, children living without their biological families.” – Christine Campbell

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, took exception to Bragg’s comments about no longer accepting excuses for students not being able to read at grade level. “I don’t care for the word ‘excuses,’ because I feel like that is actually the challenge of what we face and the reality of what we face,” she said. “Those excuses are poverty and single-parent families, children living without their biological families.”

The Common Core standards, which West Virginia is adopting as its Next Generation standards, are a step in the right direction, Campbell said, but they will take time to implement. She said teachers need more of a support system in the classroom.

            “We’re all looking for positive outcomes,” Campbell said. She liked what she heard about improving teacher preparation programs, but she said the talk about alternate teacher certification efforts gave her some angst. She said teaching must be treated as a profession.

The other panel member speaking from the perspective of teachers was Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. He said he sees great things happening in West Virginia classrooms, all revolving around the quality of teachers.

“We realize that public education is going to have to change,” Lee said, and the teachers’ voice must be a part of it. “The more we involve the teachers the better the reform will be.”

Putnam County Supt. Chuck Hatfield said he found it encouraging that everything being discussed was about students. He said his school system has led the state because of an initiative on early childhood education. “That’s where it starts if you really want to make systemic changes,” he said.

Cabell County Board of Education President Suzanne Oxley said she thought West Virginia was off to a good start in reforming its education system. “The local piece is very important, too,” she said. A key point she took from what she heard about the Florida system was that officials took the attitude that all students can learn. She also was encouraged that retaining students who cannot read at grade level can turn into positive self-esteem.

In addition, Oxley said Cabell County has restructured its high schools and middle schools to emphasize the “new three R’s”: relevance, relationships and rigor.

Blake Humphrey, a Wheeling Park High School student who is the student representative on the state school board, said he thought the summit was an excellent way to start conversations about education reform. West Virginia doesn’t need to imitate Florida but should take some ideas from it, he said. Specifically, he said, adopting an A-F grading system for schools should encourage improvement, and he thought requiring literacy by the end of third grade is essential. Also, he said, retention is not so scary for students and actually does them a favor.

“We have forgotten that all children can learn.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“I think we have so much opportunity to do so many great things here in West Virginia,” Humphrey said.

Offering a legislative point of view, Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said discussions of education reform must continue, an emphasis on early learning is a necessity, and interventions for students struggling with reading must occur. He said accountability is necessary, but teachers and others in the education system also must have flexibility to achieve. Perry is vice chairman of the House Education Committee.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said, “We have forgotten that all children can learn.” He said teachers and parents need transparency in the system, and an A-F grading system for schools would provide it. He called the third-grade literacy initiative one of the greatest aspects of West Virginia’s education reforms. Plymale said the system also must look differently at teachers’ compensation.

A few other panelists offered opinions from the perspective of the business sector. Steven Hedrick, chief executive officer of the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC), said, “I love the fact that Florida played to win.” He endorsed Florida’s refusal to accept mediocrity and its no-excuses mentality.

Joe Letnaunchyn, president and chief executive officer of the West Virginia Hospital Association, said, “Education is a big deal for us.” He said hospitals employ about 40,000 people in the state, and they need people who are trained and educated in basic skill sets to fill jobs that pay well. That’s especially so because of a predicted shortage of nurses in the next three to five years.

Finally, Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said he was struck by the competence of the presentations and the effects of using data. “They really were talking about what did happen,” he said.

“Jobs are the heart and soul of every community,” Roberts said, but just a relatively small number of adults work at meaningful jobs. He said chamber members rank education as their number one issue.


Caperton urges West Virginia to move ahead of Florida.

At the end of the summit, former Gov. Gaston Caperton led a question-and-answer session. After his eight years as governor, Caperton served 13 years as president of the College Board. During that time, he said, he had the opportunity to work with Jeb Bush, during Bush’s time as governor of Florida, to put together a program for advanced placement courses. He said he told Bush it would take a full eight years of his time as governor to get it done, but Bush committed to it.

Florida’s success was “quite remarkable,” Caperton said. Thirteen years ago, West Virginia was ahead of Florida in test scores, but West Virginia has fallen way behind, he said, so now is the time for West Virginia to move ahead of Florida. “I think we can get back to the place of real leadership in education,” he said.

Dave Mohr, chief policy analyst  for the House Education Committee, asked whether Florida gave attention to numeracy the way it did to literacy. Miller said no specific process has been established for numeracy, but added that reading is essential to being successful in any subject.

Asked where West Virginia goes from here, Jackson said, “With what the Legislature did, there are several areas where the state board will be able to effectuate changes that I think the public and you want to see.” One aspect of change will be in accountability and the designation of schools, he said. On the issue of teacher preparation certification, he said, the board always had authority to certify schools of higher education but has never used it to drive teacher certification. He indicated that board would do that now.

On professional development, Jackson said, “The Legislature took the wraps off of that for us.” However, he said the Legislature did not relinquish its control over the school calendar but still controls it, so he called the legislative reforms “a mixed bag.”

“The board intends to create a school accreditation policy that would avail itself of the ability to give financial rewards if those were ever approved by the Legislature.” – Lloyd Jackson

“The board intends to create a school accreditation policy that would avail itself of the ability to give financial rewards if those were ever approved by the Legislature,” Jackson said. “We can’t budget money; they can.”

Asked by a businessman about the possibility of having year-round school, Jackson said Senate Bill 359 opened up the calendar to 48 weeks of instruction. He said districts want to have control of that and not have it imposed on them, so it’s a county-by-county initiative.

“Any county in West Virginia that desires to go to year-round schools can do that,” Jackson said, although he added it likely would be controversial.

Mike Kelly, principal of Herbert Hoover High School in Kanawha County asked how Florida distributes the incentive money for schools. Hovanetz said the money is given directly to each school that earns it, bypassing school districts and collective bargaining. Teachers in some schools have chosen to use the money for nonrecurring expenditures, she said. To overcome a problem with some schools being undecided how to use the money, Hovanetz said, legislators amended the law to say that if a school’s incentive money is not spent by November 1, it is to be divided equally among the staff.



By Jim Wallace

West Virginia Department of Education officials are hoping to put their new state longitudinal data system into operation next summer, but they have told legislators it will depend on which vendor wins the contract for working with the state to build it.

Carla Howe, the data governance manager in the Office of Legal Services, said the department has a request for proposals out for a vendor to work as an agent of the state to help build the system, which has been named Zoom WV.

Howe and other department officials met with several members of the House Education Committee to explain plans for the system and to allay fears that students’ privacy might be violated.

Juan D’Brot, executive director of the Office of Assessment and Accountability, said the department expects five outcomes from Zoom WV:

  1. A high-quality longitudinal data system from preschool through 12th grade using certified data;
  2. Information to feed into the state’s P-20 system. (The overall longitudinal data system that will cover students’ data from preschool through college. The Higher Education Policy Commission already has funded it and is serving as the fiscal agency for the system.);
  3. Better educational policy driving student achievement;
  4. Overall better educational decision-making on use of resources, training for teachers and appropriateness of certification programs; and
  5. Automated required reporting that includes only aggregated data that cannot be used to identify individuals. (Half for reports required by the federal government and half for reports required by the Legislature).

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, expressed concern about sharing data with the federal government, but D’Brot said the federal funding the state is getting for the system won’t require filing any information beyond what the state already is sharing with the federal government.

“It’s no new reporting and no granular reporting,” he said. Instead, D’Brot said, the reporting will be about what groups of kids are being served and what the outcomes are.

“It sounds like you’re doing a great job,” Butler said. But he added that he worried about data being shared with non-education agencies and agencies that have violated data protection policies.

However, Howe said, there are only eight reasons that the department legally could disclose data about individual students. She said they include responding to a court subpoena or a health emergency, or acting when someone’s life is threatened.

Despite those assurances, Butler said he had a document from a group that seemed to contradict what Education Department officials were saying and indicate that personally identifiable data about students could get out. After examining the document, D’Brot said it mixes up two different things.

“This is a very frustrating dialogue that’s going on with U.S. Ed. and the privacy people federally, because for something to be identifiable is something very different than it is personally identifiable information.” – Juan D’Brot

“This is a very frustrating dialogue that’s going on with U.S. Ed. and the privacy people federally, because for something to be identifiable is something very different than it is personally identifiable information,” he said. “Personally identifiable information is everything that can be used to identify an individual, but it doesn’t mean that it’s used to identify an individual.” 

Race, age, state and school are all considered personally identifiable information, D’Brot said. There are provisions to report such information in the aggregate but not in such a way that it can be traced back to any specific individual, he said.

Nevertheless, Butler said, “What I don’t trust is when this information goes out of our hands.” In particular, he expressed concern that West Virginia would be required to share data with other states in a consortium involved in developing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which West Virginia intends to use as a replacement for the WESTEST 2.

D’Brot responded that the data West Virginia will share with others involved in the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be items that show whether it is working well. He said he helped put together the memorandum of understanding on that. Further, he assured legislators that Zoom WV will comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children’s Internet Protection Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. In other words, D’Brot said, someone who doesn’t have an educational reason to have the data won’t get the data. He added that West Virginia is a strict-interpretation state for FERPA.

In addition, D’Brot said, the Education Department is in the process of working with the state school board and others to draft a data privacy resolution, finalizing the Education Department’s data access and management guidance and dictionary, and auditing internal processes to verify adherence to privacy and security requirements. He said that, if a vendor would violate the department’s policy, the department could use a claw-back clause that could strip the vendor of the contract and get back all the money paid to the vendor. The assessment contract alone is worth $5 million, he said.

“It’s a pretty steep issue for a vendor,” he said.

Howe added that the department intends to consider only trusted vendors that understand privacy protections. “We have to make sure we’re picking the right people who won’t violate that,” she said.

In reaction to those statements, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said, “There just seems to be such disparity from what we hear from your presentation and the talk that is out there.”

D’Brot said that might be a result of bad timing with data security problems that have made national news recently.

Old system is long out of date.

Zoom WV is intended to replace the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS), which started in 1990 as an effort to streamline data collection. It includes every county and school and has links to the Regional Education Service Agencies and the Department of Education. D’Brot said the current system supports day-to-day operations, supports technical assistance needs, identifies professional development needs, helps plan education inventories, and monitors and evaluates programs. However, he said, WVEIS does not meet all the state’s rapidly evolving data demands, which is why the state is using a three-year grant to develop Zoom WV. Currently, people who know what they are doing can get the data they need, but there is not a “one-stop-shop” for all the data, he said.

Howe said Zoom WV is needed to provide a single source for high-quality education information that will be easy to navigate, describe what the data mean and explain why the data matter. “We ultimately want this to be a one-stop shop,” she said.

West Virginia officials looked at other states’ education data systems to see what works and what doesn’t. Howe said they included WISEdash, the Wisconsin Information System for Education Dashboard, and Michigan’s MI School Data.

Dave Mohr, an attorney for the House Education Committee, said he understood that all the information that will be put into Zoom WV is available now in paper form. Howe confirmed that Zoom WV will not collect more data but will put it into one place. She said only certified data from superintendents would be fed into it and what will be displayed will be only aggregate data.

Mohr said the state school board has discussed the process of ensuring that West Virginia has high quality educators. He said Zoom WV should help with that.

Chuck Heinlein, a deputy state superintendent, gave an example of how Zoom WV should improve data reporting. The Legislature asked for truancy data, but the department had never defined what truancy meant, so it produced three different reports, he said.

“All three different reports had different numbers in them, because each time we produced a report, a member would say to us, ‘Well, I wanted it this way,’” Heinlein said. “Which is fine, but this system will define also a set of reports and what those reports mean so that, as a policymaking body, you’ll be able to access data that is accurate and certified and defined so that we won’t give you 16 different sets of numbers. We’ll say this is what it means, this is when we collected it, and you’ll be able to have a better sense of what you need to do.”

Howe said the department is in its first year of official, certified data collection for Zoom WV. October 18 was the official due date for data collection, she said.

“We had a 96 percent on-time completion rate,” Howe said. “We’re now at a 98.9 – I think – rate. We just had three hiccups out of the 275 components to be certified. It’s quite an accomplishment on all aspects from everyone’s help.”

The department has been conducting training for its employees on understanding the meaning of data, how to protect data and generally what they can do and what they cannot do with the data, Howe said. She planned to take that training to the counties, she said.

Data-driven decision-making doesn’t mean giving out data to everyone, Howe said, and she would be a watchdog over the data. “It’s my job to be the heavy hand about what we can and cannot do,” she said.



By Jim Wallace

State Supt. Jim Phares has told legislators that the Education Department is working on several programs and initiatives that go beyond the reforms of this year’s education reform legislation, Senate Bill 359.

Among others, he said, the department is working on data governance guidelines, which will include a state board resolution that will guarantee student privacy. The department also is working with counties on critical needs and shortages, he told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Since he became state superintendent almost one year ago, Phares has made an effort to meet with county school boards around the state. He said he is continuing that effort and using it to discuss education reform efforts with board members.

“I believe that the Legislature wants to do what’s right for every county in the state of West Virginia. If I can’t share with them what you really feel about all of this, then I haven’t done my due diligence.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“I believe that the Legislature wants to do what’s right for every county in the state of West Virginia,” Phares said. “If I can’t share with them what you really feel about all of this, then I haven’t done my due diligence.”

The department will do a mid-year assessment of the results of the reforms from Senate Bill 359 and other legislation, he said. Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he wants to know which reforms have failed. He said he is sure legislators will revisit Senate Bill 80, which requires districts to use central office personnel with teaching certificates as substitute teachers.

Related to education reform is the state school board’s decision to change Policy 3234 on the school calendar. Phares said the new policy was developed to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 359 to provide county boards with more flexibility in adopting school calendars to meet their individual needs while ensuring 180 days of instruction. Under the new policy, boards must hold at least two public hearings before adopting their calendars. Phares said the new policy also redefines the instructional term and the employment term.

“They have many different options,” he said of school boards. “There are less ‘shalls’ and more ‘mays.’”

The beginning and closing dates of the employment term have been extended from 43 weeks to 48 weeks, Phares said, and the five Instructional Support and Enhancement (ISE) days have been eliminated. County boards also are required to adopt policies that require minutes of instruction to be added to each instructional day or additional instructional days to be added to recover all time lost due to late arrivals and early dismissals, he said.

Another change in policy from the state board is Policy 2422.8 on medication administration.  Phares said the board has incorporated the new law on epinephrine resulting from House Bill 2729 with revisions from the West Virginia Council of School Nurses. The revisions give county school boards the option of stocking epinephrine under prescriptions and standing orders from licensed prescribers. School nurses would be allowed to administer school-stocked epinephrine to staff members and students who show signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock without prior diagnoses. They also could delegate that duty to trained school personnel.

On another matter, Phares told legislators that allowing students at Mountaineer Challenge Academy to earn high school diplomas and not just the General Educational Development (GED) credential has helped double attendance there. He said not having high school diplomas prevented many academy graduates from getting into the military service, even though they had learned military skills.
“It was a win-win for everybody,” Phares said. “The county superintendents and county principals all signed on.”

In addition, he told legislators the Education Department has taken several actions to strengthen career and technical education. They include adopting a few initiatives from the Southern Regional Education Board:

  • High Schools That Work;
  • Technical Centers That Work; and
  • Advanced Career (Preparation for Tomorrow).

“Career-technical education in West Virginia is integral to preparing students for success.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“Career-technical education in West Virginia is integral to preparing students for success,” Phares said. Career readiness is as important as college readiness, he said, and the Legislature has recognized that by passing several bills on the subject over several years.

Among the changes that have resulted, Phares said, are the development of simulated workplaces at many locations around the state. He said the department expects to have more career-technical education special project sites next year.

Phares also noted that many career-tech students are asking to have their drug tests included as part of their records, because they want to be able to show potential employers they are drug-free. “The businesses that we work with on that are tremendously responsive to that,” he said.


Higher education vocational programs reach into public schools.

At a separate meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System, told legislators that that state has received a $25 million federal grant – the maximum available – for the Bridging the Gap Consortium, a group of 10 community and technical colleges. It is dedicated to expanding and improving education and career training programs in fields that lead to high-wage, high-skilled jobs and careers, he said.

Patrick Crane, project manager for the program, said the focus is to build career pathways in energy, advanced manufacturing, information technology and construction trades. He said student support services will be improved and the use of online learning will be expanded.

The grant is for three years, but the evaluation will be completed after that, Crane said. The higher education system will partner with the public education system to create a seamless transition from high school through college, he said, but Skidmore said it actually will get down to the middle school level.

“We’re talking about career pathways,” he said. “I don’t think we absolutely defined it as [grades] nine, 10, 11 and 12.”

Skidmore also gave legislators a report on the graduation trends for each community and technical college from 2008 through 2012.

“The good news is we’re moving forward and producing graduates,” he said. “We just need to keep doing it.”

Eight of the schools reported that graduation rates were up by 8.4 percent to 315.5 percent. But two schools reported declines: 5.4 percent for Mountwest Community and Technical College and 26.6 percent for Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. Skidmore said Southern’s drop is largely a result of declining population in southern West Virginia and a consequent decline in enrollment.

Another trend he reported is that the community and technical colleges have twice as many female graduates as male graduates. Nationally, a decline in the number of males in higher education is a problem, Skidmore said.

Also at that meeting, legislators heard that the Higher Education Policy Commission has learned that the number of high school students who want to attend college is greater than the number of students who do, and incorrect perceptions about cost could be a reason for that.

HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill said that those are among the findings from a survey conducted of high school seniors about their plans and perspectives. The commission received about 1,400 valid surveys, which provided information on five key areas: academic preparation, high school sources of college information, financial aid awareness, college plans and college decisions.

Hill said the survey is part of an effort to improve the college-going rate among West Virginia students. He said the commission wanted to get at what high school students know and what they don’t know, to make sure the higher education system is providing accurate information and that high school guidance counselors, in particular, are providing accurate information.

Most students in the survey reported they were enrolled in a curriculum pathway leading to higher education. They had high recognition of the Promise scholarship program. About 90 percent said they aspired to go to college at some time, but Hill said that is much higher than the six out of 10 who normally go to college. He said the current enrollment rate is 62 percent.

“One of the biggest findings was that most students do overestimate the cost of going to college, its affordability. So this is the number one issue that we, as a staff, will be working on.” – Paul Hill

“I think even though we rank 45th nationally in the cost of tuition – our tuition is considered very low nationally – most students overestimated the cost,” Hill said. “One of the biggest findings was that most students do overestimate the cost of going to college, its affordability. So this is the number one issue that we, as a staff, will be working on.”

The commission already is conducting several programs during the year to get accurate information about college to high school students, such as the third Student Success Summit that was held in Morgantown in August, he said, but the commission could do more.

“I think the number one lesson here is to get proper information into the hands of high school counselors,” Hill said.



By Jim Wallace

Officials from labor and industry have told legislators they would like to have better relationships with West Virginia’s public schools and the state’s community and technical colleges, but the schools have not been in tune with what industry needs.

“Secondary education does not understand how we operate,” Brett Matthews, director of training for a plumbers and pipefitters union, told members of Education Subcommittee C. “We’re starting to get a better relationship with community colleges, and we’re starting to get some good trades people out of those schools.”

The West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council operates its own training program that is self-funded by members and regulated by the Department of Labor, he said. For pipefitters, the program lasts five years. It requires 1,150 classroom hours before an apprentice can become a journeyman. Matthews said students come to school two nights a week, three hours a night and on some Saturdays. They also need on-the-job training, he said.

But Matthews said the organization would like to get help from legislators in getting more involvement from schools. It would help if schools would explain the council’s curriculum to students, he said.
“It’s a difficult road now because most of our secondary schools are pushing kids toward college,” he said.

 Ted Brady, president of Progressive Electric, a full-service electric contracting company, said his company’s jobs require much skill. He said the partnership between labor and management brings in the leaders from industry and labor to work together to develop programs for the number of apprentices the economy can support. The program has a core curriculum but also the flexibility to tailor training to what is needed in the economy.

Brady said the guidance counselor at his son's high school was amazed at what the labor-industry partnership had to offer. Labor and management fund the apprenticeship programs jointly with the average for industry funding at about 1 percent of gross payroll, he said.

“I believe our apprentices are truly some of the best, highly skilled workers right now,” Brady said. “They come out with the right attitude, and they're ready to work.”

Like Matthews, he said he was proud of the program but believed it needs help in getting the message out about its availability. 

When Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked if any of the training could be done by community and technical colleges, Matthews said, “We’ve tried it in the past, and we don’t get the results we're looking for.” That’s because the instructors don’t necessarily understand what industry needs, he said. For example, Matthews said, he was teaching proper procedures on pipe welding to nine people who came out of local tech schools without that knowledge.

“We have a specific procedure that we use that is what the industry is looking for,” he said. “These technical schools are teaching them to weld on very little pipe. When we get them, we have to retrain them.”

Some apprentices get frustrated about having to go through retraining, and they quit, Matthews said. 


Labor leader wants more guidance from schools.

“The vocational schools have to guide students to figure out what they want to take, because we are very craft-segmented.” – Steve White

Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Council, said, “The vocational schools have to guide students to figure out what they want to take, because we are very craft-segmented. So if you're going to be an electrician, you go into the electrician’s program, not that I want to be an electrician and then later I decide that I want to be a plumber.”

Vocational schools should help students figure out career paths, he said. “They have to get enough so they know what it is,” White said. “The community colleges can do the things that’s beyond the craft training or beside the craft training that we do well. We don’t need the community college to train you to be an electrician per se, but if you want to have your own business and know about bookkeeping, know about estimating, know about communications – that’s all the things that the community colleges can do.”

There is a place for each, he said, so one wouldn’t take the place of the other. Apprenticeship is a combination of classroom training and on-the-job training, White said, while community colleges generally have just classroom training.

Carry DeAtley, associate vice president for academic affairs at New River Community and Technical College, said her school is looking at the different trades to figure out how the community college can fit in. She said the college serves a nine-county area of southern West Virginia and a workforce that covers several generations: high school students, the unemployed and underemployed, people newly entering the workforce, those getting retraining, and career changers.

DeAtley said employers come to the college with requests for training workers. The college also teaches them "soft skills," such as reporting to work on time, she said. For example, she said, the college helped train employees in house for Smith Services, which did $17 million in business in several states last year with 140 employees.

For The Greenbrier, DeAtley said, the college taught not only soft skills but also gaming. The college is talking to the resort about a culinary program, because it is having difficulty getting people into its workforce for that line of work.

Another subject the college teaches is metal arts. DeAtley said that might seem like just a fun class, but it also could provide someone with a job. She said the college teaches entrepreneurial skills for students.

“A lot of this we need to get into the middle schools.” – Carrie DeAtley

“A lot of this we need to get into the middle schools,” DeAtley said, because students need to be aware of their choices.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said legislators have heard a lot about reaching down to the middle school level with vocational program, but she wondered if is there a stigma against vocational studies.

DeAtley said some colleges have tried to get around that by adopting kindergarten classes and then doing yearly projects with the students until they are seniors. It helps for them to become familiar with community colleges, she said. DeAtley said she has spoken at Regional Education Service Agencies’ board meetings to encourage them to consider the college as a partner.

“We have the same goal,” she said, so higher education and public education need to quit segregating themselves.

Education Department has its own career-tech initiatives.

At a second meeting of Education Subcommittee C, state Supt. Jim Phares said the Education Department is trying to do more with vocational education.

“We are paving new ground with advanced career pathways,” he said. “The goal is for simulated workplaces to have students career-ready.”

Academic courses, such as mathematics and English, are being embedded into career-technical courses, Phares said. “The English curriculum, which is driven by the West Virginia Next Generation standards, relies on relevance – relevance of teaching them to read technical manuals,” he said. “It’s a whole lot different from reading Shakespeare or Beowulf or other literature.”

Likewise, Phares said, mathematics also is taught based on relevance. “Those students who perceive relevance in the math and understand how it applies to their careers are much more adept at learning that particular math, even more so than sitting in a classroom and solving problems from a textbook,” he said. “So that’s part of the driving force in all of this.”

But Phares said his fear is about whether there will be enough jobs for the students who are being trained. Some graduates already are leaving the state because they can’t find the jobs they want in West Virginia, he said, and that includes some with certification in pipe-welding.

“Most of these kids that are in these simulated workplaces, they want to take the random drug tests, and they want to have the card that says they were drug-free so they can have it on their resume when they go over to the Labor Department to get their journeyman’s card or to get whatever cards that they need.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“Most of these kids that are in these simulated workplaces, they want to take the random drug tests, and they want to have the card that says they were drug-free so they can have it on their resume when they go over to the Labor Department to get their journeyman’s card or to get whatever cards that they need,” Phares said. “They show that card there, and they wear it like a badge of honor.”

Those students have gotten the message from businesses that that they cannot have a drug background, he said.

Kathy D’Antoni, associate superintendent in the Division of Technical and Adult Education, said about 45 percent of students opted for mandatory drug tests. “I just hope the novelty doesn’t wear off,” she said. “It’s a whole different mindset.”

Phares said, “There will be a lot of subtle behavior changes that will take place.”

The Education Department is working with the Community and Technical College System and Workforce West Virginia for a seamless transition, so students don’t have to repeat courses in college that they took in high school, he said.

“Our relationship with community and technical colleges is changing,” he said.  “Even though we may get them job- and career-ready, [for] most of the jobs that are still out there, they need additional college training, not necessarily four years of college, but they need to go to community college.”

Phares said the department plans to look at a manufacturing/logistics curriculum for middle schools rather than waiting until ninth grade to try to catch students’ interest. He said the students would get counseling and opportunities to work with their hands as well as with their minds.

The changes started with Senate Bill 359 and legislators’ work on education reforms. Phares said. “You’re going to see good things,” he said, but they might not happen as fast as some would like to see them done. The department wants businesses to say within three to five years that they will hire first those students who have come out of the career-tech programs.

“I think it’s also important as we’re doing this, like teaching middle school children manufacturing, that we don’t pigeonhole them.” – Delegate Jim Butler

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said, “I think it’s also important as we’re doing this, like teaching middle school children manufacturing, that we don’t pigeonhole them.”

Phares responded, “The process is to get them to think about what they want to do and to add to their options.”

Every career-tech program will become a simulated workplace within three years, he predicted.




By Jim Wallace

A legislative resolution is causing West Virginia’s state school board and Education Department to work more closely with the higher education system on improving training for teachers.

Donna Peduto, director of operations for the state school board, told members of Education Subcommittee A that House Concurrent Resolution 156, which requires study on establishing a comprehensive educator career development continuum, is guiding much of the work right now. She said the state board formed a High-Quality Educator Committee led by Lloyd Jackson and Gayle Manchin.

The resolution calls for encouraging middle school and high school students to consider going into teaching. Peduto said that, during the last school year, 574 students were enrolled in a class called Career in Education that is being offered in 28 schools in 24 counties.

Another part of the resolution is about increasing the academic and professional practice preparation of graduates from teacher education colleges. Peduto said that has resulted in the formation of a higher education stakeholders’ group that also includes people from the public education system and the business community. The group first met in May, and since then, it has expanded to include about 80 to 100 people, she said. They are working on four areas:

  • Strengthening admission requirements for entry into educator preparation programs;
  • Transforming educator preparation to a clinical-based approach that would put students into classrooms sooner;
  • Enforcing a high standard of candidates’ completion rate; and
  • Collecting and using employment data to improve educator preparation providers.

Peduto said a steering committee is preparing a white paper on the subject and the state has submitted a grant application for funding from the Benedum Foundation. She said another Benedum grant is being used for reimagining professional development to meet locally determined needs. In addition, she said, the Education Department’s Office of Research has prepared a paper, “Creating the Context and Employing Best Practices for Teacher Professional Development,” which is available online at:

In March, each county school district submitted plans about how it would support teachers at all levels, Peduto said. That is to lead to a report, West Virginia Support for Improving Professional Practice, that will be updated annually and revised as additional data are available from the new educator evaluation system, she said. The Center for Professional Development is working with the Education Department to deliver leadership training, she said.

Another development is that the department now has an online training module and online courses for pre-kindergarten aides. Peduto said almost 7,000 aides have been trained online. Also, she said, the department has repurposed staff members to the Regional Education Service Agencies to work on professional development.

Further, the legislative resolution calls for establishing a progression of required continuing education for periodic certificate renewal. Peduto said that would require a state school board policy change, and a committee is working on it.

A few changes will require more legislation.

Aligning course work and professional development allowed for salary progress, as called for in the resolution, also would require a policy change, as well as a change in state code, she said. The stakeholder committee will provide language to the Legislature for the requested change, she said.

Another part of the resolution that would require both a policy change and a code change is the call for establishing a pathway for master teachers to progress in teacher leadership positions without leaving the classroom completely. Again, Peduto said, the stakeholder committee will provide language to the Legislature.

“Currently, teachers select the professional development they choose to participate in as they move up the salary schedule…without any requirements for the type of professional development.” – Betty Jo Jordan

When Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked what policy changes are required, Betty Jo Jordan, executive assistant to Supt. Jim Phares, cited Policy 5202, which covers certification. “Currently, teachers select the professional development they choose to participate in as they move up the salary schedule…without any requirements for the type of professional development,” she said. The department is looking at requiring professional development to be related closer to the content that teachers must teach, such as requiring a math teacher to take most of his or her professional development training in mathematics.

Asked what is being done about professional development for administrators, Jordan said the Center for Professional Development is responsible for training new principals and has been working with Supt. Phares and the Southern Regional Education Board on more focused professional development. As a result of a survey of principals and assistant principals, the center is providing a module on using data for decision-making, she said. In addition, she said, administrators need more field-based training rather than college-based courses so they can understand better the day-to-day decisions in running a school.

Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent in the Division of Educator Quality and System Support, said the department is in the process of completing training at each of the Regional Education Service Agencies. Many districts have opted to bring in principals for that training, she said. Every RESA has taken advantage of training for central office staff, but it has been up to the superintendents to decide whether to include principals, she said.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked whether the department is working with higher education institutions to align training for teachers. Blatt said that’s a huge part of the work of the High-Quality Educator Committee and the stakeholder group. Higher education institutions have been involved in addressing their teacher education programs with eight of the 10 people on the steering committee coming from higher education, she said.

“Part of their discussion has been on how they can make their teacher education programs more uniform,” Blatt said. They want to make sure teachers can handle the Next Generation content standards the state is adopting and that training for teachers is consistent from one university to another.

Asked whether state code prescribes the number of years of teaching required for someone to become a principal, Jordan said there is nothing in code, but state board policy does cover it. Blatt said many districts require a minimum of three years of teaching experience for principals.

“While that sounds very minimum and a small amount of experience, with the lack of principals that we have in the state right now and individuals willing to step into those positions, we have some second- and third-year teachers that have stepped into principal positions, especially in some of our low-performing schools,” she said.

To get more seasoned teachers to become principals, Blatt said, some counties have principal-preparation modules and have recruited strong teacher leaders to take them through two or three years of training.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said there are a large number of teachers with certificates to be administrators but not enough of them who are applying for administrative positions. Blatt confirmed that there are about 4,000 teachers certified to be administrators, but many are not applying for positions as principals.

Asked whether the possibility that some districts might go to year-round school would interfere with professional development for teachers by giving them less of a summer break, Blatt said the higher education stakeholder committee will look into that. Also, she said, Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, is doing a lot of work to get school boards more in tune with achievement data and teacher retention data.

Jordan said the Education Department will look at organizational development to help county boards adapt to the new way of teaching and learning required by the Next Generation content standards.


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.