News

July 2, 2014 - Volume 34 Issue 20

 

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

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Board of Education has hired Michael Martirano to serve as the state’s next superintendent of schools. Board members voted unanimously to approve his selection on Tuesday. They also voted to pay him $230,000 a year.

For almost a decade, Martirano, who is 55 years old, has served as superintendent of schools in St. Mary’s County in southern Maryland, where his salary has been $216,000. He has a doctorate in education and school management from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Before becoming a superintendent, Martirano worked as a teacher and a principal. He grew up in Frostburg in Maryland’s panhandle, which is just north of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

Martirano was among more than 60 candidates considered for the state superintendent’s job and was one of three finalists the state board interviewed in June. The board spent about $43,000 on a nationwide search to fill the position.

Because his current contract requires him to give 90 days’ notice before leaving his current job, Martirano is expected to start his West Virginia job in the fall. In the meantime, Chuck Heinlein again is serving as state superintendent. Heinlein did the same for several weeks in November and December 2012 after the state board fired Jorea Marple from the superintendent’s position. When Jim Phares took over as state superintendent at the beginning of 2013, Heinlein returned to his position as deputy superintendent. Phares retired on June 30.

 

 

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently participated in a bill signing reenactment in Morgantown. Among the bills he reenacted signing was House Bill 4619 which relates to Innovation School Districts. That legislation was adopted during the West Virginia Legislature’s 2014 Regular Session. Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, West Virginia School Board Association Financial Officer Barbara L. Parsons, Ed.D., Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Frank Devono and Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, are shown standing behind the governor. WVSBA was a strong supporter of the Innovation School District legislation which became effective June 6, 2014. 

 

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Departing state Supt. Jim Phares believes West Virginia's public education system has made unprecedented changes during the 18 months he has served as the leader of the state Department of Education. His proudest achievement has been getting people to realize the necessity to revitalize career-technical education. That includes providing students with more embedded credits at career-tech centers, which he hopes more districts take advantage of.

Those were among Phares’s comments at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Orientation ‘14 conference. It happened to be his last speaking engagement before leaving the superintendent’s position at the end of June. The title of his address was “County Boards of Education: A Call for Voices of Courage.” 

“Everyone has the desire to tell the truth. But only a few have the courage to do so.” – Supt. Jim Phares

Everyone has the desire to tell the truth,” Phares said. “But only a few have the courage to do so.”

It is important for school board members to understand that each of them must have a voice of courage and that they must have a common voice as a board, he said. “While many of you think that you’re going to work in a vacuum by yourself, you’re not,” Phares said. “You’ve now become the local champion for service to children. It is the most noble elected office that you can go to, and for the next four years, you’re not going to be left alone.”

Phares said that, through his 15 years as a superintendent (including work in Pocahontas, Marion and Raleigh counties), he worked with very effective local school boards. He said a board cannot set the bar for success for the superintendent too high.

Section 18-5 of state code establishes the framework and organizational structure for school boards, Phares said, but it is full of contradictions. “If you think the law is logical and makes sense, you’re wrong,” he said. For example, he said, the code establishes a school board as a policy-making entity, an administrative agency and a democratically elected body. 

“The only time you really have power is when you’re in that board room. That’s a tough thing, and it gets a lot of board members in trouble.” – Supt. Jim Phares

Phares warned local board members that if they step out and promise to do something as individual members, they could get into trouble, because they must consider what the other board members want to do. “And the only time you really have power is when you’re in that board room,” he said. “That’s a tough thing, and it gets a lot of board members in trouble.” 

His advice for handling board meetings included: 

  • Adopt your own procedures – and you must follow them. New board members should ask veteran members what the procedures are.
  • Keep accurate minutes, but those minutes are not transcripts and they don’t legally exist until the board approves them. “If somebody wants minutes of the board meeting prior to the next board meeting, you probably ought not give them to them, because until the board says these are the accurate minutes, they don’t exist.”
  • Give adequate notice of meetings – and keep in mind that they are open public meetings but not necessarily open public forums. That means not everyone who shows up gets to speak.
  • The sooner you understand the work of the board, the more successful you’re going to be as a board member.
  • “I think the more transparent you are as a board the better off you’re going to be.” – Supt. Jim Phares

    Use models for decision-making. “I think the more transparent you are as a board the better off you’re going to be.”

The role of the superintendent, he said, is to inform the board accurately, recommend courses of action and implement the board's decisions. For boards to be effective, Phares said, they must:

  • Study and question the information presented to them;
  • Analyze the recommendations;
  • Analyze other alternative courses of action on a logical or systematic basis. 
  • Understand that boards are sometimes limited or constrained by law or state policies, which are almost always initiated by state law. (For example, he said, until it was repealed this year, there was a law that would have penalized school districts’ funding for shortcomings by county assessors.) 

Under the category of county board service encumbrances, Phares included these: 

  1. Don’t be too lawyerly. 
  2. Learn to acquire independent information but do so with the sanction of the county board.
  3. Don’t become bogged down and paralyzed by informational overload. (For example, he said, 75 percent to 80 percent of the information online about the West Virginia Next Generation Standards and Objectives is wrong.)  
  4. Have a quarterly checkup. 
  5. Let the system solve problems. 
  6. Keep the superintendent on his or her toes. 
  7. Finally, have fun. 

Getting the right superintendent is essential for school board.

Phares told the conference attendees, most of whom were incoming board members, that hiring a superintendent is the most important responsibility for a county school board. His elements of effective leadership for a superintendent include: 

  • Being the chief executive officer of the district and leader of the board but not acting independently of the board's vision; 
  • Being the respected leader of the administrative staff; 
  • Being appointed by the board of education; and  
  • Having each entity work for the success of the other. 

“This is the magic,” Phares said about the last point. 

His Ten Not-So-Secret Steps to Success for school boards included:

  1. Appoint the right superintendent.
  2. Serve with integrity, perseverance and faith.
  3. Demonstrate the corporate nature of the board. (Don’t keep fighting against decisions that go counter to what you wanted to do.)
  4. Establish an effective policy-making process.
  5. Actively involve yourself in the establishment of curricula and achievement expectations for students and adults.
  6. Encourage cooperation between the schools and the community.
  7. Encourage training for board members and staff.
  8. Follow your policies.
  9. Monitor yourselves.
  10. Advocate for building capacity in your schools to improve student performance.

Phares said Jamie Vollmer, the speaker at the first session of the conference, was right when he said, “Schools can’t do it alone.”

The elements of operation Phares recommended for school boards included:

  • “The best way to get reelected is to do the right thing for your students.” – Supt. Jim Phares

    Trust is measured in the vote. “The best way to get reelected is to do the right thing for your students.”
  • Your most important appointment – try to get it right.
  • Present/act/move on – the hardest one for many people. “Tell the public what you got to do, act on it and then move on. Don’t keep going back and revisiting it.”
  • Empowerment – “You have an awful lot of authority under the code.”
  • Efficiency – “It’s not the quantity of the time you spend; it’s the quality of the decisions you make.” (The WVSBA can provide free advice to boards on efficiency.)
  • Efficacy – “Do you have a focus? Do you stay on task?”

Phares said he and his school board in Randolph County went through a series of “reality checks” during six months of 2012. They began at mid-year with the derecho (wind storm) and then included a legal battle over a football player’s eligibility, a Friday night fight at a football game and the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy. Through each crisis, he said, the school board stood together and stood strong.

In further comments, Phares said there often is a big difference between reality and perception on certain issues, such as:

  • New hiring practices – “You’ll talk to some of your teachers who’ll say it’s the worst thing that has ever happened. But you talk to your superintendents and principals and the teachers who are there every day. They think it’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to them, because seniority no longer is the factor. It’s one of the factors. Become familiar with it.”
  • Calendar bill – “You have the authority to approve that. Stand your ground. You know, the calendar in Randolph County is going to be much different than Putnam County or Cabell County simply because of the days missed. Before, it was all determined from Charleston.”
  • Innovation Zones – “Delve into that. Ask you superintendent to take a look at it. What state policies do you want to waive in order to be innovative?”
  • Board of education authority – “It’s much greater than what you think.”

Phares left the board members with a few more thoughts:

  • Understand what micromanagement is or isn’t and stay out of it.
  • Do not allow your superintendent to opt out of the tough decisions.
  • An A-F school grading system will be a real opportunity to involve communities as a part of the solution.
  • “Are you going to do real work at your meetings or are you just going to show up?”
  • Get involved in the discussion about what will happen in the future with local boards of education. “I’m not a big fan of consolidating school boards…. What could be versus what will be depends on your mentality.”
  • “What is the right thing to do is not always the most popular thing to do.”

“What you are going to do for students is worth more than all the grief you will take for trying to do so. I hope this may be the hardest job you’ll ever love.” – Supt. Jim Phares

At the end of his address, Phares left conference attendees with this statement about school board service: “What you are going to do for students is worth more than all the grief you will take for trying to do so. I hope this may be the hardest job you’ll ever love.” The audience gave him a standing ovation.

 

 

 

By Jim Wallace

One of the first things that dozens of mostly new school board members learned at the West Virginia School Board Association's Orientation ‘14 conference is that the public school system is broken. At least that is the opinion of speaker Jamie Vollmer, author of Schools Cannot Do It Alone. 

But the system is not broken in the way that he once thought it was. Coming from a business background, Vollmer served as the executive director of the Iowa Business and Education Roundtable. During that time, he was a harsh critic of schools. He blamed their problems on the people in the system and contended that those problems could be solved if those people would learn to run the schools like businesses.  

His attitude changed after he spent a day working as a teacher’s aide in a western Iowa school system and a teacher confronted him at a meeting. The teacher pointed out that the ice cream company Vollmer formerly led could reject any ingredients delivered to it that did not meet the company's quality standards. But she said public schools must accept all the students sent to them, not just the best ones. 

Vollmer learned that he was mistaken in trying to substitute free-market rhetoric for classroom reality. He also learned that teachers don’t have easy jobs as they stand before the “most diverse, distracted, demanding generation” ever in America.  

At the same time, Vollmer said, the vast majority of people who pay for schools through their taxes don’t have children in school. Further, he said, schools constantly are being shoved around by “a howling group” of special interest advocates. Almost all reform initiatives are built on the assumption of holding teachers accountable, he said, much as he once tried to do.  

“You can’t come into this and think the people are the problem.” – Jamie Vollmer

However, Vollmer said, “You can’t come into this and think the people are the problem.” 

For school boards to be effective, he said, they need to build: 

  • Community understanding; 
  • Community trust; 
  • Community permission to do things differently; and
  • Community support. 

Vollmer said the public school system that Thomas Jefferson created more than two centuries ago no longer fits the needs of America. He quoted Jefferson as saying even back then that the purpose of the public school system was “to rake the genius from the rubbish.” In other words, it was expected to separate the “thinkers” from the “doers,” or those who would spend their lives in manual labor. 

The traditional method of public schools has been to hold time constant, Vollmer said, but when time is the constant, quality is the variable. Put another way, he said, the bell curve of intelligence and the bell curve of student achievement are not the same. He even said, “Schools are psychotic,” because they favor certain types of students. 

“We’re in a jam. Our schools are doing a better job than they have ever done in West Virginia.” – Jamie Vollmer

In 1967, when Vollmer graduated from high school in Philadelphia, 77 percent of the adult workforce was engaged in unskilled labor. He said that is down to just 12 percent now and is expected to keep declining. Schools need to change, because they were designed for an agricultural-industrial society that no longer exists, he said.  

“We’re in a jam,” Vollmer said. “Our schools are doing a better job than they have ever done in West Virginia.” But the gap between what students need and what they learn is growing, he said. 

Vollmer added that polls show fewer people are interested in supporting schools just when great schools are needed most. He then asked attendees to discuss at their tables why they think that is so. Some of the reasons they came up with included: 

  1. The drug epidemic and the resulting situation of having many grandparents who are raising children. Vollmer agreed that many kids are coming to school damaged. Also, he said, doctors and hospitals can save more babies who are born prematurely these days, but when those children reach school, they tend to have more problems like learning disabilities. When Jefferson created public schools, he said, mothers generally stayed at home and took care of children’s problems. Today, children take their problems to school, and the schools then get blamed for not fixing those problems. 
     
  2. Public perception problems. For example, nation-to-nation comparisons don’t necessarily evaluate American students on the same basis as foreign students. Vollmer agreed that they often are not “apples-to-apples” comparisons. He noted that Finland often comes out on top of comparisons of education systems, but those comparisons fail to recognize that more than 26 percent of American children live in poverty while only 1 percent of Finnish students come from poverty-stricken homes.  
     
  3. People don’t believe they are part of the system. Vollmer said one reason for that is that many people in schools “cop an attitude,” assuming they know what’s right for the schools and dismissing other people’s opinions. He said school officials must build thoughtful, positive conversations with their communities. 
     
  4. Kids are a lot different today than they were in the past. Vollmer said students need to know more today than they did in the past. In the old days, he said, many students didn’t go beyond the eighth grade, so comparing today’s students with those of the past is not an apples-to-apples situation. “That other America is not coming back,” he said. Vollmer said 80 percent of West Virginia students dropped out before graduating from high school in the 1930s, and 55 percent did so in the 1950s. [West Virginia had a graduation rate of 80 percent in 2012, according to Education Week.]
     
  5. The older generation is funding the younger generation. Vollmer said there has been a huge demographic change. It’s hard to get people on fixed incomes to pay more. 
     
  6. Misguided priorities – sports are more important to some people than education. “There is a very fundamental misunderstanding of what is important,” Vollmer said. Now, many people also doubt what a good education buys you, he said. Public education has never been more important, but public support is drifting away, he said. 

Schools often hurt themselves.

“The system is profoundly flawed.” – Jamie Vollmer

“The system is profoundly flawed,” Vollmer said. Then he asked what schools are doing to make it worse. After another set of group discussions, these were among the suggestions: 

  1. Schools don’t have open-door policies. Vollmer said there are deep-seated problems with that. 
     
  2. Schools hold public meetings when the public can’t be there.
     
  3. Some boards require people to sign up early to speak at meetings but don’t let them speak until late in those meetings, sometimes after action has been taken on the subjects of interest. Vollmer said that is a national problem. He said it results from an institutional mindset that filters out what the public says. “The farther the decision-maker is from the child the dumber he is,” he said. But Americans have allowed the state and federal governments to usurp local control, he said, and that happened by virtue of the people they elected. However, he said, “The pendulum is starting to swing the other way.”  

Fixing the problems in the system will require building conversations county by county and school by school, Vollmer said, and those conversations must result in the prerequisites of progress: 

“You can’t touch a school without touching the culture of the county.” – Jamie Vollmer

  1. Community understanding, which has two main components:
    • Talk with neighbors about what is in it for them. For example, to persuade them to support a school levy, point out that:
      • The crime rate falls as student achievement improves. 
      • Property values tend to rise as student achievement improves. 
      • The tax base likewise increases. 
      • Teen pregnancy falls as student achievement improves. 
      • Use of hospital emergency rooms for primary care falls as student achievement improves. 
      • Quality of life improves as student achievement improves. 
         
    • Explain what schools are being asked to do. Many things have been added to schools’ duties, and that essentially has schools raising kids rather than just teaching them. Vollmer cited a famous quotation from Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” He also said many people suffer from what he called “nostesia,” which he said is a combination of nostalgia and amnesia. In other words, they believe that schools were better in decades past but ignore how much more is expected of schools these days. Public schools group kids by ages, or as Vollmer put it, date of manufacture, but he said that their home lives are very different with some students receiving more educational supports at home than others do. He called for rethinking how students are grouped in school and what is important to teach them. He added, “We're trapped in a national hysteria of standardized testing.” 
       
  2. Community trust – Vollmer called this the lubricant for change. Once understanding begins to grow, trust comes along. If you get too far ahead of the community, the only thing that will change is the makeup of the school board, he said. “You can’t touch a school without touching the culture of the county,” he said. Building trust gives you permission to make changes, he said. 
     
  3. Community support 

Vollmer recommend that school boards should hold conversations with the public on the community's turf at the community’s convenience. That would not necessarily be on school grounds, he said. In fact, he said, some people have bad associations with schools and don’t like to go to them. The next set of group discussions he assigned attendees was to come up with suggestions on venues for holding conversations with the public. Those suggestions included: 

  • Senior centers – Vollmer said they are especially good locations, because seniors vote more than younger people. Also, he said, seniors remember a time when there was more connection between schools and the community. 
  • A community website, such as the Gilmer Free Press 
  • Churches – Vollmer said they are often overlooked because of misunderstandings about the separation of church and state, but there is nothing wrong with educators talking to clergy. 
  • Farmers’ markets 
  • Community events 
  • Sporting venues 
  • Health clinics 
  • Gun bashes 
  • Civic groups 
  • Professional associations 
  • Restaurants – Vollmer said one district worked out a deal to provide placemats at various restaurants. Initially, the placemats showed student artwork. Then they had an eighth-grade math test and directed people to the district’s website for answers. 
  • School marquees – Vollmer said they can be used to tell people more than just, “Have a nice summer,” as many do this time of year.
  • Libraries 

Vollmer suggested using computer maps to show which groups have been contacted and when they should be contacted again. 

“We need to build a thoughtful, positive conversation,” he said, and that conversation should start with what is going right at the schools. 

Vollmer said Canada several years ago faced the types of problems American schools are struggling with now. He said the Canadians turned things around by devolving more power to the local level. He also noted that Finland, which has a highly rated education system, gives its teachers much autonomy. 

“In the 21st century, poorly educated young people are desperate, and desperate people are dangerous. Public education is a miracle. It is the foundation stone of building the world’s pre-eminent power.” – Jamie Vollmer

“Now is the time to have this conversation,” Vollmer said. It is a moral imperative to unfold the potential of every child, he said, and now it is also the practical thing to do. 

“In the 21st century, poorly educated young people are desperate, and desperate people are dangerous,” Vollmer said. “Public education is a miracle. It is the foundation stone of building the world’s pre-eminent power.” 

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Members of the West Virginia School Board Association like the idea of having the state give them more control over education decisions. The only time attendees at the WVSBA’s Orientation ’14 conference interrupted a representative of the state school board with applause was when she said the state board is committed to letting more decisions about the education system be made at the local level.

That promise came from Donna Peduto, director of operations for the state school board, who ended the conference with an address called “Fully Embracing County Board Service.” Gayle Manchin, president of the state board, had been scheduled to give the address but was busy in Charleston as the board completed its work of selecting Michael Martirano as West Virginia’s next state superintendent, so Peduto substituted for her in Morgantown.

Peduto said the state board’s goal is to have all students graduate from high school prepared for success in high-quality post-secondary opportunities in college and/or career. As part of that goal, she said, the non-negotiable items include:

  • Improve student achievement;
  • Improve graduation rates;
  • Support educators;
  • Prepare students for real-world roles; and
  • Honor the concept of local control.

That’s when the audience interrupted Peduto with applause. She said the state board is committed to devolving power to the local level, because the education efficiency audit conducted a couple of years ago showed that West Virginia’s public education system was too top-heavy. The state board has been trying to shift away from that, she said, but it has been a hard shift for the Education Department.

Peduto said the state board’s goals and visions for the 2014-15 school year include:

  • The national search for a new state superintendent;
  • Full implementation of the educator evaluation system;
  • Implementation of the A-F grading system for schools;
  • Cyclical review of all schools;
  • Reimagining statewide professional development; and
  • Statewide technology innovation.

The state board’s initiatives are closely connected and have common threads, which Peduto said include:

  • Reflecting the board’s emphasis on improvement of student achievement in all schools.
  • Visionary leadership with a clear focus on improving student achievement.
  • Requiring transparency in metrics, including:
  • Educator evaluation and school grading policies
  • Responsibility by every educator and school to improve
  • Clear communication
  • Use of initial school audits as basis for improvement
  • Support for local decision-making

When Peduto spoke, the selection of Martirano as the next superintendent had not been announced yet, but she told the WVSBA members what the state board had looked for in the next superintendent:

  • “It had to be somebody with a laser focus on improving student achievement. The board every day reads about West Virginia being 48th, 49th, and it kind of puzzles them, because they see what great work the educators are doing, but they know something has to change. So this state superintendent will have to be into that right now.” – Donna Peduto

    “First of all, it had to be somebody with a laser focus on improving student achievement. The board every day reads about West Virginia being 48th, 49th, and it kind of puzzles them, because they see what great work the educators are doing, but they know something has to change. So this state superintendent will have to be into that right now.”
     
  • “Then also, they would like a transformational leader that can really articulate the vision of the governor and the board. That’s very important – somebody who would be the face of education. [Outgoing Supt.] Dr. [Jim] Phares has done a great job with that, but we need more of that.”
     
  • “Also, it’s very important to this board that they have a servant leader…. They want a state superintendent that really can build trust and confidence in the position of state superintendent to become that face.”
     
  • “And then they really want a collaborative partner with the governor, the legislature, local school boards and the state school board.” That might seem like a given, she said, “but it hasn’t always been that way.”

Peduto said Gayle Manchin believes the role of the local school boards is critical to the success of the state board. Therefore, she said, one of the first things the state board will want the new state superintendent to do is to visit the local boards.

Further, Peduto said, the state board will rely on the local boards to implement its call to action. The state board and superintendent will look to each local board member for input, support and guidance, she said. West Virginia’s 275 elected county board members bring citizen accountability to the education system, she said, and the constituents are the students.

Peduto then offered “Seven Golden Rules for Board Members,” which she said WVSBA’s executive director, Howard O’Cull helped to develop. They include:

  1. Work as a team.
  2. Have a plan.
  3. Use monitoring and oversight to govern your system to provide decision-making effectiveness.
  4. Get out in your communities.
  5. Make connections with state officials. (Peduto said O’Cull or members of the state School Board Association plans to make quarterly reports to the state board on behalf of the WVSBA.)
  6. Avail yourselves of good county board professional development.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask the right questions.

In regard to the last item, Peduto cited a Danish proverb: “He who is afraid to ask is ashamed of learning.”

The state board and local boards need to work in partnership, she said. That partnership is being fostered in three ways, Peduto said:

  • The state board is trying to model good leadership.
  • The emphasis is on greater state board emergence of policies for local control.
  • That emphasis will be seen in the new superintendent.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

In addition to the Phares, Vollmer and Peduto presentations, attendees at the WVSBA’s Orientation ’14 conference also received advice on school law, parliamentary procedure, ethics, fiscal responsibility, curricular issues and communications.

“The most expensive lawyer you can hire as a school board is the lawyer you hire after you have been sued…. In rare cases, individual school board members can be required to pay damages.” – Howard Seufer

In terms of legal issues, Howard Seufer of the law firm Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, LLC, advised the school board members on the importance of knowing what the law allows them to do so they can avoid making costly mistakes. “The most expensive lawyer you can hire as a school board is the lawyer you hire after you have been sued,” he said. “In rare cases, individual school board members can be required to pay damages.” Thus, he said, preventive legal advice is the best.

Seufer explained that county school boards were created by the legislature, not the West Virginia Constitution, so the legislature can change what school boards can and cannot do at any time. He said school boards can exercise only the power conferred on them by state statute or state school board policy. “School districts are corporations of the most limited power known to law,” he said.

Roger Hanshaw, another lawyer from Bowles Rice, explained parliamentary procedure. He suggested that board members should become familiar with and adopt the Small Board Rules in Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, because they provide some flexibility for boards of fewer than a dozen people on such actions as gaining recognition, seconding motions, limiting debate and participation by the chairperson.

Kimberly Weber, general counsel for the West Virginia Ethics Commission, reviewed provisions of the Ethics Act on use of public office for private gain, nepotism, general gift rules, charitable solicitations and other subjects. She suggested that anyone with questions about ethics should consult the Ethics Commission’s advisory opinions. If the commission has not issued an opinion on a particular issue, someone can request one, she said.

J.P. Mowery, treasurer of the Pendleton County schools, and David McClure, treasurer of the Greenbrier County schools, provided a tag-team review of budgeting and financing issues for school board members. Mowery said personnel expenses generally take up about 85 percent of school boards’ budgets. They said a budget should provide a perspective on what has been done, what is now being done and what should be done in relationship to available resources.

For articles relating to the Orientation curricular content and communications, refer to “Association” news.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s departing superintendent of schools, Jim Phares, used a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Education to give legislators a report on the accomplishments during his 18 months as the head of the Department of Education.

“These are not my accomplishments,” he said, “These are our accomplishments.”

Phares took over in January 2013, several weeks after the state school board fired former state Supt. Jorea Marple. The board already was in the process of searching for the next superintendent when Phares decided to retire on June 30.

“The past 18 months have presented a series of dynamic challenges that gave rise to tough decisions necessary to refine the department from an organization more concerned with compliance to one focused on collaboration and capacity building.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“The past 18 months have presented a series of dynamic challenges that gave rise to tough decisions necessary to refine the department from an organization more concerned with compliance to one focused on collaboration and capacity building,” he said. During that time, the staff rose to the challenges and became more resilient and unwavering in resolving to serve the students and educators of West Virginia, he said.

During Phares’s tenure the Education Department eliminated 33 positions and reduced fulltime personnel costs by $1.1 million for fiscal year 2014 and $1.2 million for 2015. He said that was directly in response to Senate Bill 359, the education reform legislation passed in 2013. “I can’t say I liked it, but I complied with it,” he said. In addition, Phares said, the department established new standards for the use of part-time – or contract – employees and reduced costs for them by half.

Related to those staff reductions, the department took some funding that had been allocated on the state level and reallocated it for use at the regional and local levels. Phares said those moves included:

  • The department repurposed $1.6 million to the Regional Education Service Agencies in each of fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. The role of the RESAs is changing to provide support and technical assistance.
     
  • The department repurposed $1.2 million to county boards and $80,000 to RESAs for professional development on West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives for fiscal year 2014 and another $1.2 million to county boards and $88,000 to RESAs for the same thing in fiscal year 2015. “This has never happened before – never – and they control how they spend that money based on the needs as described by that county and no strings attached,” Phares said.
     
  • The department repurposed $89,000 to county boards for covering costs of the Policy 5000 hiring practices.

“Our teachers know what they need as far as professional learning is concerned. It’s my hope that, with the help of the legislature and the board of education and the new state superintendent, that will become a reality.” – Supt. Jim Phares

An issue not yet settled, Phares said, is time for teachers’ planning and consultation. “Our teachers know what they need as far as professional learning is concerned,” he said. “It’s my hope that, with the help of the legislature and the board of education and the new state superintendent, that will become a reality.”

Another change that is coming is for the Office of Education Performance Audits to audit every public school over the next two years. Phares said the department repurposed three positions totaling $300,000 to OEPA to support school audits and another $50,000 for an additional secretary’s position that will be necessary to manage the data.

The department provided $100,000 to the West Virginia School Board Association for leadership development capacity for school board members and $100,000 to the Center for Professional Development to develop principal leadership capacity using leadership modules from the Southern Regional Education Board.

“We know that you might be able to get away with a bad superintendent in a county, but you can’t get away with a bad principal,” Phares said. “I hate to use the word ‘bad,’ but let’s say ineffective principal, because ineffective principals can drag a school down.” The hope is to make ineffective principals effective, he said.

The department has provided $150,000 to the Center for Professional Development to develop a pilot program to enhance Advanced Placement (AP) instruction in math and science. “AP instruction is important, because we have focused on the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] results, and we know from the research presented that we have both internally and also nationwide that, if you want to improve the NAEP scores, students have to take more rigorous courses,” Phares said.

Related to the changes the department has made, he said, legislation has opened the school calendar, enhanced career-technical education, and required reading at grade level by third grade. Phares said West Virginia must ensure that students graduate from high school ready to work or go on to post-secondary education. He said the Advanced Career programs from the Southern Regional Education Board will bump up rigor in career-technical education (CTE) centers. In addition, he said, the state school board and the Higher Education Policy Commission have approved the definition of college and career readiness.

“Our goal is to still have students being taught by great teachers in a variety of ways, and we believe that the CTE standards, as well as the West Virginia Next Generation Standards, and the work that our teachers have been doing in looking at the variety of ways they can teach those are going to change the face of education as we know it.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“Our goal is to still have students being taught by great teachers in a variety of ways, and we believe that the CTE standards, as well as the West Virginia Next Generation Standards, and the work that our teachers have been doing in looking at the variety of ways they can teach those are going to change the face of education as we know it,” Phares said.

West Virginia leads the nation in protecting the privacy of our students, he said, and the department has implemented a three-tier data governance structure.

 

Department and board have sought better effectiveness and less bureaucracy.

Other accomplishments of the department and the state board that Phares cited include:

  • Creation of a new A-through-F grading system for all West Virginia public schools;
  • Work with the legislature to repeal 53 education statutes and amend nine statutes.
  • Revision of 36 percent of state board policies.
  • Reduction of redundancy and paperwork.

Among the 34 schools ranked as “priority,” meaning they had the worst performance, 31 improved, Phares said. He suggested that legislators should look at a video on the Education Department’s website about the Richwood High School story. It was the state’s worst high school three years ago and now is one of the best, he said. The improvement occurred because the school, the school board, parents and teachers rallied around, he said and added, “It is a remarkable story.”

Yet other accomplishments or efforts in the works that Phares cited included:

  • The online educator evaluation system was implemented statewide for the 2013-2014 school year for all teachers, administrators and counselors.
     
  • The department repurposed the Office of Professional Preparation with a focus to provide high-quality, professional and timely responses to communications from the field and licensure processing. An online, paperless processing system for certification and licensure is being developed to expedite that work. “Teachers shouldn’t have to wait five to six weeks to find out if they’re certified or not,” Phares said.
     
  • Policy 3236 on Innovation Zones is being revised to incorporate language to create Innovation Zone Districts.
     
  • A comprehensive early warning system will be available for kindergarten through 12th-grade students this fall. “We won’t have to wait until they finish middle school to determine if they are in danger of dropping out,” he said.
     
  • Under student support services, the department has implemented a program to monitor the financial activities of county boards to proactively try to keep them from incurring deficit spending. “We asked them to encumber their salaries,” Phares said. “What that meant was that on their monthly statement they had to show the salaries that they owed. For those of you in business, you think, well, that’s a simple thing, but it had never been done before. There was a little acrimony out there, but we got them to do it. They can now monitor and track [salaries]. The number one reason that most counties fall in state intervention starts with deficits.”
     
  • The department and board developed Policy 3234 on the school calendar.
     
  • The department implemented the Feed to Achieve Act and “wholeheartedly endorsed it.”
     
  • The department has gotten 35 districts to participate in the Community Eligibility Program (14 of them countywide). “Because of their free and reduced [-cost] lunch level, they now have students who can eat without cost,” Phares said. That includes 335 schools representing 85 percent of all eligible schools in the state and more than 110,000 students.
     
  • The department implemented a Web-based facilities maintenance program.
     
  • The department is providing ongoing guidance to local education agencies about the Affordable Care Act.
     
  • The department has been highly involved in the conversion of the state’s mainframe legacy systems to the new system called wvOASIS. That includes testing, input and training.
     
  • Universal pre-kindergarten has expanded further.
     
  • The department published School Readiness Profiles to provide county early childhood teams with various forms of data to make data-driven decision about the scope, intensity and quality of early childhood programming.
     
  • The department has put great emphasis on ensuring that all students can read at grade level by the end of the third grade.
     
  • The department implemented online administration of WESTEST 2. “It was a highly successful move prior to the Smarter Balanced Assessments coming next year,” Phares said. “We wanted to find out and determine if we had the broadband, if we had the software capabilities and if we had the hardware capabilities.”

Phares welcomed the approval by the Division of Purchasing of the first-ever multi-state purchasing agreement to permit West Virginia to leverage the capacity of other states in obtaining services for the Smarter Balanced Assessment. “This means it will cost us less to assess the students than it did previously simply because there are more of us in the cooperative,” he said.

Other improvements Phares said occurred during his time as state superintendent included:

  • Professional development has been streamlined and made much more relevant by providing RESA-based training-of-trainers in lieu of statewide, large-group training sessions.
     
  • The Office of Research has provided more than 14 high-quality research reports. “This is massive,” Phares said. “This is about one a month, and the requests came from many different folks – our board, the governor’s office and this body.”
     
  • The department collaborated with the sponsors and supporters of the Move to Improve initiative to place into Policy 2510 the provisions requested by legislative action for children to have more physical activity.
     
  • The department developed the Community Schools Policy. “And we’ve monitored what’s going on the West Side of Charleston, and I’m pleased to say they’re still moving forward,” Phares said, adding that new partners are joining on almost a weekly basis. “And there is better communication now between Kanawha County and the West Side than there has ever been before. Your emphasis and your interest in that has been a catalyst for that improvement.”
     
  • The department revised the driver’s education policy to reflect legislative changes.
     
  • Under technical, adult and institutional education, Option Pathway graduates continue to increase. One of the highlights has been providing diplomas to graduates of the Mountaineer Challenge Academy in Preston County. Prior to 2013, they didn’t get diplomas. Since then, they have gone through three cycles of graduates, and more than 200 students have received diplomas. In the latest class, 86 got diplomas.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked Phares to explain what effect providing diplomas to Mountaineer Challenge graduates has had on county school districts. Phares explained that, prior to the change, Mountaineer Challenge graduates got only GEDs [General Educational Development] certificates and were counted as dropouts in their home counties. That’s no longer so. “So it’s had a tremendous impact, and the counties have been tremendously supportive of the diploma program, as well as the Option Pathway that’s in many of our tech centers,” he said. “They’re actually decreasing the number of dropouts.”

 

Career-tech education gets new emphasis.

Phares said the department has been rebuilding bridges with the Southern Regional Education Board, which has resulted in adding 26 High Schools That Work sites, 14 Tech Centers That Work sites, and seven Advanced Career sites (which will double in 2014-15). It has embedded math and English courses into career-tech centers, which means students won’t have to drive back and forth between those centers and their home high schools to get math and English credits, he said. Careers in counseling have been enhanced, he said, and the teacher preparation program at West Virginia University Institute of Technology has been enhanced and broadened.

West Virginia now has had 84 sites implement simulated workplace program, Phares said, and that number will increase to 230 in 2014-15. Related changes include:

  • Tech center standards have been integrated with West Virginia Next Generation Standards.
     
  • The Adult Basic Education curriculum has been revamped and aligned with Common Core standards. The program now offers 154 classes statewide with 20 of them on the nine community college sites and 18 at institutional education sites. About 20,000 adults are served annually by the program. Through a partnership with Microsoft, classes on basic information technology skills will be available to all the students who want them in the coming year.
     
  • The Office of Institutional Education Programs revamped the service areas of all transition specialists to better serve the 55 county school districts.

In regard to technology, Phares said, flexibility and local autonomy are being granted to districts in the implementation of technology. Before he became state superintendent, he had told legislators that change was needed. Also, before he took the state job, he advocated getting rid of the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS). That system has been replaced at a cost of $800,000.

The department is restructuring its licensing agreement with Microsoft so West Virginia schools will have access to the most current versions of Microsoft Windows operating system and Microsoft Office Professional at no cost to the county districts, Phares said.

Other technology-related changes include:

  • The department is implementing information technology academies in all career-tech centers and high schools.
     
  • The department is collaborating with the governor’s office, the Office of Technology and Mission West Virginia on the “secondlaunchWV” program to provide schools with computer equipment at no cost to help bridge the digital divide. “We take computers from state government,” Phares said. “We repurpose them, scrub their hard drives, put them out there and give them to schools at no cost.”
     
  • Internet access will be upgraded at the state level from 5.5 gigabits per second to 10 gigabits per second. “Our partnership with the Broadband Council, with WVNET and with other providers has improved the capability of us to improve the broadband at minimal cost,” he said.
     
  • A project is under way to make the WVEIS database Schools Interoperability Framework 3.0 compliant. “That means that that no matter what software a company may have it will be able to interface with WVEIS,” Phares said. “That’s never happened before.”
  • During June, the AS400 server that was housed at RESA 3 in Nitro and hosted the WVEIS Student Information System was replaced.

Phares said conducting the WESTEST 2 completely online this spring was highly successful. Between April 6 and June 10, 178,273 students were tested. “Our goal is…to try to close that testing window down to move it as close to the end of the year as we possibly can,” he said.

The new format required significant investment in terms of support from the department and the testing company, as well as by local technology and test coordinators, Phares said. “I have to say that the local folks really stood up and held their end of the bargain,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been successful if they hadn’t.”

Phares gave legislators four proposals for moving forward for continued results:

“Many of our counties get into trouble because school boards, quite honestly, don’t have the capacity to lead. They get embroiled in things on a day-to-day basis that they probably ought not to, and there needs to be a training that takes place there.” – Supt. Jim Phares

  1. Examine and review the work of the department and state board staff to create a cohesive, consistent and non-fractured message to be delivered to the schools and the public. Phares said, “We’ve been so busy doing stuff that it’s been very difficult to stop and say, ‘How can we do things better?’” They should do that during the transition of leadership, he said.
     
  2. Review the capacity of the Department of Education to accomplish the expected outcomes of Senate Bill 359 from 2013 and critical state board policies and advocate for reinstatement of funding to accomplish the work. “Those that have delved down into the numbers know that we don’t really have 675 employees that work in Building 6 [of the Capitol Complex],” he said. Those who are there have a tremendous work ethic, Phares said.
     
  3. Establish a partnership to provide a technological approach to closing the gaps on research databases, student data and effective best practices for ongoing day-to-day and on-demand professional development. Provide dedicated personnel to lead a new professional learning system with a focus on middle grades and the establishment of a plan for middle-level learning. “If you don’t have a good middle-level feeder program, it’s going to be difficult to get the success of the new rigorous high school program,” Phares said.
     
  4. Use and strengthen the established partnerships with the West Virginia School Board Association, the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, the Southern Regional Education Board and the Center for Professional Development to develop an alternative leadership preparation program that would encompass the recommendations of Imagine West Virginia. “Specifically, what that means is we’ve got to build capacity at the county level and at the school level,” Phares said. “Many of our counties get into trouble because school boards, quite honestly, don’t have the capacity to lead. They get embroiled in things on a day-to-day basis that they probably ought not to, and there needs to be a training that takes place there. And I know it’s not the most popular thing to say, but I’ve said it time and time again at School Board Association meetings whenever I’ve spoken there, and we’ll do it again. As a matter of fact, one of the things that I think you need to seriously consider is that, when we take over a county, maybe it’s not in addition to replacing the superintendent at the local county, maybe it ought to be the local school board, too. Because I want to tell you, they don’t all get into trouble overnight.”

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, wanted to know if schools are taking full advantage of the federal e-rate program, which reimburses schools 70 percent for what they spend on broadband services. He said the State Education Technology Directors Association has said the standard that should be used nationwide is one megabyte per student at each school, but many school boards have decided to do much less. He said the department should provide recommendations for county boards.

Phares said that, even though school systems can get 70 percent of their costs reimbursed, they still must fund the other 30 percent. “Quite honestly, in some of those counties, they don’t have that 30 percent,” he said. That problem needs to be addressed, because they do need to have enough broadband capacity, but they don’t want to displace teachers to do that, he said.

“I think many times these school boards buy the hardware but don’t think they need the bandwidth to provide the content, and I just want to make sure that you’re making them aware of that from the state department.” – Sen. Mitch Carmichael

Carmichael, who works for Frontier Communications, said, “I think many times these school boards buy the hardware but don’t think they need the bandwidth to provide the content, and I just want to make sure that you’re making them aware of that from the state department.”

“We are, and they understand that,” Phares said. It’s even more important as more schools use wireless tablets rather than computers that plug in for their Internet connections, he added.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said that, if students are taking the year-end tests online, he would like to see them get the results sooner than the beginning of the next school year.

Phares agreed. He said the department’s request for proposals for the next testing vendor has asked for same-day results to be given to the students. “Our expectation is that, within the next testing contract, that that component be put in there,” he said. “We got several reports from test coordinators, teachers and students who all reported that the students were more engaged with the online testing than they were with the pencil-and-paper tests. The reason for that is they’re more comfortable with those types of applications and even probably teachers are.”

The department extended the window for testing this spring because all the schools had to share broadband, but the department learned that the window was way too large. That window will close down, he said, and schools will minimize the time taken for the tests.

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, asked what the biggest impediment to improving the education system is. Phares replied, “We can do so much more when we unite. Even with the acrimony and the discourse, working together we can accomplish more.” He said students must remain the central focal point and the state must give more autonomy to county school districts.

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, asked whether the size of the Education Department would continue to be reduced.

“My opinion is that we’ve cut to the bone and far past it,” Phares said. “I’ve asked the board, and I’ve asked you folks to take a look at that and come up with a reasoned approach.” Right now, many positions are on hold because of the hiring freeze, he said, and he didn’t know if they will be filled.

When Phares finished his presentation, the legislators applauded him.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s schools had better be ready to get grade as well as give them in the upcoming school year. Robert Hull, associate superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability at their latest meeting that the new system for giving schools grades from A through F is ready to go into effect.

Here is the way he said the system will work: The Department of Education will compile the data and assign each school a grade based on the criteria set by the state school board. The Office of Education Performance Audits will review the results of school audits to verify the grades can be assigned without modification and report them to the state board. After that, the state board will accept the grades and release them. High-performing schools will be recognized, and low-performing schools will receive support and assistance.

“The premise of the A-through-F grading system is that we will be measuring through this system what we value in West Virginia.” – Robert Hull

“The premise of the A-through-F grading system is that we will be measuring through this system what we value in West Virginia,” Hull said. Those values include:

  • All students are learning.
  • All students are showing significant improvement rather than just incremental improvement.
  • All students are exhibiting growth at a rate that moves them to proficiency over time.
  • All students are performing at their highest levels.
  • The growth of the lowest-performing students is accelerating.

The grading components include four areas of student performance for high schools and three for elementary and middle schools:

  • Achievement: This includes student proficiency in mathematics and reading/language arts.
  • Student growth: This includes how much students are growing (observed) and how much students are on track to be proficient (adequate).
  • Performance of lowest 25 percent: This includes the accelerated improvement of the lowest 25 percent of students in each school.
  • Graduation rates for high schools: High schools will be awarded points based on each school’s four-year and five-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.

The grade designations will be:

  • A = distinctive student proficiency
  • B = commendable student proficiency
  • C = acceptable student proficiency
  • D = unacceptable student proficiency
  • F = lowest student proficiency

Point System for School Grades

Elementary/Middle Schools

High Schools

Math Proficiency

200 points

Math Proficiency

200 points

Reading Proficiency

200 points

Reading Proficiency

200 points

Math Observed Growth

100 points

Math Observed Growth

100 points

Reading Observed Growth

100 points

Reading Observed Growth

100 points

Math Adequate Growth

100 points

Math Adequate Growth

100 points

Reading Adequate Growth

100 points

Reading Adequate Growth

100 points

Accelerated Performance of Lowest 25% in Math

100 points

Accelerated Performance of Lowest 25% in Math

100 points

Accelerated Performance of Lowest 25% in Reading

100 points

Accelerated Performance of Lowest 25% in Reading

100 points

 

 

Four-Year Graduation Rate

100 points

 

 

Five-Year Graduation Rate

100 points

Total

1,000 points

Total

1,200 points

 

Sample System for Determining Grades

Letter Grade

Description

Elementary/Middle School Score on WVAS

High School Score on WVAS

A

Distinctive proficiency

800-1,000

960-1,200

B

Commendable proficiency

650-800

780-960

C

Acceptable proficiency

500-650

600-780

D

Unacceptable proficiency

400-500

480-600

F

Lowest proficiency

<400

<480

 

NOTE: These score bands are for illustrative purposes only. A formal standard-setting process will be conducted to establish the initial cut scores. Cut scores will be reviewed annually and revised as necessary.

These changes are a result of the state school board’s adoption of Policy 2320, A Process for Improving Education: Performance-Based Accreditation System. The change began in January, when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in his State of the State address asked the state school board to establish a simple A-F school grading system. The state board then worked with the Department of Education and the Office of Education Performance Audits to develop a system that would unite school accountability and school and district accreditation into a single process. The board put Policy 2320 out for public comment on April 9. The board approved the policy on May 14 and set its effective date as July 1.

Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, asked what type of support low-performing schools would get.

Hull said teams would go in and assign certain school improvement specialists. “Also, they will be working with the districts to help them know what they need to do to support the schools on a district-wide basis,” he said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, expressed concern about having a school’s grades depend on how students do in math and English. “What if you’ve got a great vo-tech school and the students are doing real good?” she asked. Hull responded that the vo-tech components will be factored in.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said much of the state school board’s Policy 2320 is based on Florida’s model for A-F school grading, but Florida made some changes this year. So he wondered whether West Virginia’s plan reflects those changes.

Hull said Florida was the first state to move to a system like this in the late 1990s. Now, 15 or 16 states have done so, he said, but all of them are different. “What West Virginia has done is take the basic concept of it,” he said.

Plymale said Florida had lower thresholds for the grades initially, but it has raised them. Hull said Florida has done that three or four times. He said West Virginia intends to review the test scores annually to determine the grades. Plymale said the challenge will be to articulate what the grades mean.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, said Florida offered monetary incentives for schools that did well. Most of the states with the A-F grading system do that, Hull said, and the Education Department looks forward to discussing that.

 

Online testing went smoothly.

Making his last appearance before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, outgoing state Supt. Jim Phares said the public schools passed a test this spring in preparation for the new Smarter Balanced Assessment, which will replace the WESTEST 2 next spring. Because the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be given online, the Education Department wanted to be sure West Virginia has the technological capability to handle that. So the WESTEST 2 was given online this spring, Phares said, and it went well.

“We had 96 to 99 percent completion rates in all of our math and our English [tests],” he said.

Completion rates were lower in social studies and science, because schools that opted to use the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is related to the Common Core standards, did not have to administer the WESTEST 2 in social studies and administered the WESTEST 2 in science only in grades four, eight and 10, Phares said. Also, he said, only students enrolled in chemistry or conceptual chemistry took the WESTEST 2 science test in grade 11.

The peak for WESTEST 2 online testing was 17,065 students on May 6 at 9:00 a.m. The biggest day for online testing was May 7, when 81,074 WESTEST 2 subtests were administered.

“The more number of users you have, the more wary you are of broadband,” Phares said. “And there [weren’t] any broadband issues whatsoever.”

The total number of students tested between April 6 and June 10 was 178,273. Also during that period, 1,293,289 subtests were administered. Each WESTEST 2 content area (math, reading/language arts, science and social studies) has two subtests.

“We did learn some lessons as we went,” Phares said. “First of all, we found out that the feedback we can give test administrators is much quicker.”

The department corrected 99 percent of the issues within 24 hours, he said. There were a few interruptions, he said. For example, a provider temporarily cut the Internet connection for two counties.

Phares said many people warned education officials warned that they wouldn’t have the infrastructure for the online testing, but they found out that wasn’t a problem.

“In the future, the testing will occur later in the year.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“In the future, the testing will occur later in the year,” he said. That will give teachers more time to get students ready for the test and provide more instruction time. Within three years, the testing should come at the end of the school year, Phares said, and the department wants to be able to give students immediate feedback after taking the test.

“What that will be down the road is that school systems will have the ability to retest those students if they’re not proficient like they do in Virginia or else require them to go to summer school in order to get caught up,” he said. “The more immediate the response the students and parents get the more they can plan for their activities.”

Edgell said moving the test later in the school year would be good, because many students and teachers have figured the school year was over after the WESTEST was given.  

 

Graduation rates increase.

On the issue of graduation rates, Phares had good news to report to legislators, based on the “Diplomas Count” report in Education Week about 2012 graduation rates. West Virginia’s graduation rate of 80 percent was a gain of two percentage points since 2007.

“I think it’s important to note that West Virginia is not 49th or 50th in diplomas,” Phares said. “We’re in the middle of the road.”

Two other states also had graduation rates of 80 percent, 26 states had higher rates, and 21 states and the District of Columbia had lower rates.

In the period from 2007 to 2012, the nation’s average graduation rate increased from 74 percent to 81 percent. Four states – North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont and Wisconsin – had 2012 graduation rates that exceeded 90 percent, a level no state had reached in 2007.

“I’m saddened that you are leaving and not going to be working as the superintendent. I think you’ve done a tremendous job, and I’m sure many of the members here share the same feelings.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

As Phares finished his report to legislators, Plymale told him, “I’m saddened that you are leaving and not going to be working as the superintendent. I think you’ve done a tremendous job, and I’m sure many of the members here share the same feelings.”

Phares responded that the state school board, the Education Department, the administration and the governor’s office have worked together. “As I told the board, it was really refreshing to work with so many people that kept students first in their deliberations.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The governor and the legislature want to make sure that West Virginia students can read at grade level by the end of third grade, but an Education Department official has told legislators that they have failed to provide funding for the program dedicated to that.

Clayton Burch, executive director of the Office of Early Learning, told members of Education Subcommittee C that funding got lost in the shuffle as a program targeted at critical skills for third-graders and eighth-graders was replaced with the program for third-grade literacy.

Work on closing the third-grade literacy gap began more than a year ago, when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made it a priority. Burch said the state then got involved the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This spring, the legislature changed a section of state code replace the critical skills program for third-graders and eighth-graders with a comprehensive literacy approach for kindergarten through third grade, he said. The campaign focuses on what goes on in the classroom, where students come from and how to get them to reading on grade level by the end of third grade, he said.

Unfortunately, Burch said, the program doesn’t have a lot of data to fall back on. It has third-grade data, fourth-grade data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and some pre-kindergarten outcome data. “Other than that, it’s a complete black hole from kindergarten through third grade what’s happening in our classrooms statewide,” he said.

“By the time a child of poverty comes to kindergarten, there’s potentially a 30-million-word vocabulary gap,” he said. “To think you can close a 30-million-word vocabulary gap just in kindergarten – it’s not going to be done.” – Clayton Burch

The national campaign says schools cannot close the gap alone, Burch said, and that’s because children are affected by such other issues as poverty. “By the time a child of poverty comes to kindergarten, there’s potentially a 30-million-word vocabulary gap,” he said. “To think you can close a 30-million-word vocabulary gap just in kindergarten – it’s not going to be done.”

That’s why a comprehensive approach for kindergarten through third grade is needed, Burch said. In addition, he said, the national campaign recommends:

  • Having a comprehensive birth-to-three system, because intervening earlier helps close the gap.
     
  • Curbing chronic absenteeism. “If we can’t get them in school on a regular basis early on, they will struggle for a long, long time,” Burch said.
     
  • Rethinking extended day and extended year programming. A child of poverty tends to regress a month or two during summer break, but a child of an affluent family continues to progress. By the time they reach middle school, they could have a two-and-a-half-year learning gap.

Burch said that, in addition to having a systemic, comprehensive approach, the program also must have measurement. Measurement in kindergarten will begin this coming school year after being piloted this past year in 13 counties, he said. Teachers will record students’ proficiency in English/language arts and math. As that system is replicated in grades one and two, students’ learning can be tracked, Burch said.

But Burch said the problem is that the $6.2 million allocated to the critical skills program in third grade and eighth grade is not in the budget to be reallocated to the third-grade literacy program. “So this will go forward unfunded,” he said.

“I thought the $6.2 million was to be restored.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

That caught Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, by surprise. He said, “I thought the $6.2 million was to be restored.” Burch said the intention was to have funding for the program, but that didn’t happen. He said Louisiana offers a cautionary tale, because it chose not to fund its pre-K system the way West Virginia did, and now, districts are choosing which pieces they can afford. The entire pre-k system is being undermined there, he said, indicating the same could happen with West Virginia’s third-grade literacy effort. Burch said West Virginia wants to have a comprehensive system rather than something like many summer reading programs, which are very generic and not targeted.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said some districts are having trouble getting speech therapists and other specialists needed for a comprehensive program. Burch said that’s one thing the national campaign is helping with. He added that the framework will allow for much decision-making to occur at the local level after the program is funded.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said not all parents take advantage of the programs already available, so he wondered whether teachers would have flexibility to determine what students need.

“Yes, there is now flexibility for classroom teachers,” Burch said. “All the time restraints in Policy 2510 are removed. That helps us do this.” He added that there is a clause in the policy that would allow a school to require a student to attend a summer reading program to be allowed to move on to the next grade.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, wanted to know if the plan is to devote more school resources to readiness. Burch said that is not the plan, but school districts will have more flexibility in using funds where they are needed most.

Espinosa also wanted to know whether the program’s data will be reliable. Burch said the department has been working on the pre-kindergarten system for the last four or five years and worked directly with the National Association for Education Research.

“We want a system that is statistically sound.” – Clayton Burch

“We want a system that is statistically sound,” he said. “We want a reliable system so that every teacher, when they go onto that reporting system, they’re reporting on the same thing.” After working with the pre-K teachers the past few years, he said, their completion rate is about 95 percent. 

A report last year said three out of four third-graders were not reading at grade level, Espinosa said. Burch said much money was invested in various reading initiatives over the years, but they had little effect. However, he said, that is about to change.

There is “a sense of urgency,” Burch said, and the state board has asked him to revamp his entire office in a logic model that is used in the business world. “If you say these are your outputs, we want to see a logic model that backtracks that you’re going to meet it,” he said.

In addition, Burch said, his office is meeting with the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center quarterly to measure progress on the indicators. He then must report quarterly on each piece to the state board. Also, he said, the entire job for the new English/language arts coordinator for pre-K through fifth grade, Charlotte Webb, has changed. She must show how any move she makes will help to close the literacy gap, he said.

 

Early childhood group is extended.

On another matter, Burch said, the Early Childhood Advisory Council is finishing its third year and will continue. The council includes representatives of the Department of Education, Head Start, the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Home Visitation program, county school superintendents and businesses. Its work includes family engagement, healthy children and the Birth-to-Three program.

Burch said the council is working with community and technical colleges on common course syllabi for early childhood education. Core competencies for early childhood professionals are being revised, he said.

“The council will really be shifting its efforts here in the next year around health-related issues,” Burch said. “I know we’ve been pressured in the past not to so heavily focus on just the pre-K issues but really extend and focus on the Birth-to-Three, mental health, health – really those key elements we’ve been describing as essential for school readiness.”

One of the biggest projects Burch said the council will work on is a childhood data-gap analysis, which involves having linkages to all the systems. He said only pre-K through 12th grade have comprehensive data now. 

The council is different and separate from the Governor's Early Childhood Planning Task Force, Burch said, and it is waiting for the task force’s recommendations. 

As the council begins its fourth year, he said, it has revamped some of its membership. Burch said Jackson County Supt. Blaine Hess will represent local education agencies. He said the council also recently added members from the medical field, from pediatric neurologists, child welfare, and family care providers. 

Plymale said he would like to bring in national experts to speak to legislators in September, when they next will meet in Charleston. He indicated that would be in preparation for receiving recommendations from the governor’s task force. “Whatever recommendations the governor makes still have to come through the legislature, and I would like for us to move in that direction a little bit more and not just listen to them,” he said.

In national meetings he has attended, Plymale said, he has heard others talk about the great strides West Virginia has taken in taking the lead in development a comprehensive early childhood program. “I want to make sure that, as we do this, we are doing it with all of the elements and have a plan for the next four or five years,” he said.

Burch said the National Governors Association just brought in 20 experts from around the nation to discuss what a comprehensive early childhood system looks like. He represented West Virginia at that meeting. He said other states are looking at West Virginia because of the collaboration with Head Start and child care and the comprehensiveness of the pre-K program. Therefore, he said, he hopes the task force’s recommendations for birth through age five stay in line with what West Virginia has done with the pre-K system.

“I hope you’re really buying into this idea of working with your birth-to-three and birth-to-five community, because the issues you’re going to be tackling are unlike issues we’ve tackled before.” – Clayton Burch

Plymale said the legislature promised to follow up the pre-K program with something for birth to age three. “We seem to want to protect children up until they’re born, but they we forget,” he said. “We need to make sure that, no matter what your ZIP code or anything is, we give them an even start or fair start as it relates to health and education.”

Following up on that, Burch said school readiness isn’t just a child’s knowledge of certain things before entering kindergarten. “It’s really the status of a child,” he said. “How healthy are our children when they enter school for the first time, which is a reflection of our community and our society?”

In addition to children’s health, their socio-emotional well-being and the supports parents have are important, Burch said, and poverty is a huge issue. “We’re hoping we can create a system where every five-year-old comes to us healthy and ready to learn,” he said.

“We seem to want to protect children up until they’re born, but they we forget. We need to make sure that, no matter what your ZIP code or anything is, we give them an even start or fair start as it relates to health and education.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said many kids in his county are born addicted to drugs. Burch said that’s a big problem. “This is the beauty of our definition of school readiness, because it really brings the reality of what our county superintendents and school officials are going to deal with,” he said. “I hope you’re really buying into this idea of working with your birth-to-three and birth-to-five community, because the issues you’re going to be tackling are unlike issues we’ve tackled before.”

Burch said that’s why the broad definition of school readiness is necessary. “And we hope that we’re addressing those things, because those are going to be the things are going to mean a lot,” he said.

Delegate Campbell, who has an autistic child, asked whether the state has a plan to identify autism early. Burch said each county is required to have an early childhood council. Initially, there were called the county pre-K teams, he said, but now that West Virginia has universal pre-K, the councils’ work is expanding.

Delegate Espinosa wanted to know how the preparedness of West Virginia students compares to that of other states’ students. Burch said Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma are among the nation’s leaders in instituting universal pre-K, and they all have come to West Virginia in the past year to learn about the state’s comprehensive approach. In the past, he said, preparedness consisted of children knowing the alphabet and how to tie their shoes, but now, it is much broader. It’s not just a child’s readiness but the readiness of the resources of the school and community, he said. Some states don’t even have universal kindergarten, he added.

 

Federal budget fight hurt Head Start in West Virginia.

Also during the subcommittee’s meeting, legislators heard from Becky Gooch-Erbacher, executive director of the West Virginia Head Start Association. She said federal budget sequestration resulted in cutting 451 children and 80 staff members from Head Start programs around the state last year.

“Here in West Virginia, it was very difficult for our Head Start programs, because, believe it or not, since 1965 not one Head Start program had cut one Head Start slot nor had they ever  laid off a Head Start employee because of funding being taken back,” she said. “These are troubling times for our Head Start programs, because we lost 80 professional staff. We had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training those 80 professional staff, and now they’re not available. They have found other employment in that timeframe. We’ve also had to close centers and give up contracts to house children in those Head Start classrooms.”

Most of the programs regained the enrollment that was lost, Gooch-Erbacher said, but some did not regain what they lost either because of not having the space or not having the staff needed.

Federal dollars are tight, she said, and monitoring of programs is much more punitive than it ever has been.

“Keeping our enrollment and ensuring that our enrollment is only serving poor and low-income children and their families is urgent to us,” Gooch-Erbacher said. “Being that we are a universal pre-K state, it is not a requirement for the boards of ed. to request or follow through with the need for income verification. However, at Head Start, we are not supposed to serve who are not income-eligible, and those fall 100 to 130 percent of our poverty line. We also must serve 10 percent of children who have disabilities and special needs that come to us.”

Consequently, she said, Head Start shouldn’t have to serve children above the income limit in a state with universal pre-K. Gooch-Erbacher said another difference between Head Start and pre-K is that Head Start includes regular meetings with parents and provides comprehensive services to meet their needs. Those services can change the whole set of life skills of children, she said.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Some educators from the Mid-Ohio Valley would like to change the date for determining children’s eligibility for pre-kindergarten and to have West Virginia pull back from plans to have all-day pre-kindergarten five days a week. They made their proposals to the Joint Standing Committee on Education.

Melanie Cutright, principal at Lubeck Elementary School in Wood County, said that she and others want the state to move the eligibility date back from September first to June first. She said that mostly would benefit boys, because they mature more slowly than girls. As they progress through school, they become ready to read later than girls and tend to have more behavior problems, which she attributed to their lower level of maturity. Another result of changing the eligibility date, she said, is that all students would be 18 when they graduate from high school.

On the issue of all-day pre-kindergarten five days a week, Cutright said, it sounds logical in theory, but there are logistical issues. For example, she said, it would take away time for teachers’ planning periods and lunches, some schools might not have enough staff to cover for teachers taking lunch breaks or planning periods, and the change could cause some problems with bus routes. Currently, the fifth day is used for staff development, communication with parents, planning and other tasks, she said.

Also, Cutright said, younger children tend to get worn out by Friday. Pre-K is not the same as day care, she said, because it has higher goals and presents harder work for the children.

“Decisions must be based on what’s best for our students.” – Melanie Cutright

Full-day, five-day-a-week pre-K shouldn’t be used to boost enrollment in districts with declining enrollment, Cutright said. “Decisions must be based on what’s best for our students,” she said.

Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, said he retired a year ago from decades of work in the Wetzel County schools, and he agreed fully with Cutright’s statements. He said he had discussed the issues with a pre-K teacher in his district. He added that most teachers distrust the state Education Department because they believe department officials lack enough classroom experience.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, noted that parents have a choice about sending their children to pre-K, because it is not mandatory. She added that it is difficult for some parents to find child care services for just one day a week.

Cutright agreed that parents have a choice about pre-K for their children. “But when they show up at my school to enroll, I don’t have the choice to say no,” she said. Although finding one-day-a-week child care could be difficult, she said, education should be the main reason for having the fifth day of pre-K or not.

Shelly Wooldridge, a pre-K teacher at Waverly Elementary School in Wood County, supported Cutright’s positions. She said adding a fifth day to pre-K would take away teachers’ preparation time. It also would make it more difficult to maintain the required ratio of at least one teacher for every 10 children, she said. About 88 percent of pre-K programs do not have classes five days a week, she said.

In addition, Wooldridge said, she liked the idea of having all students be age 18 at high school graduation by moving the eligibility date for pre-K to June 1.

Campbell asked whether the state should expand the Birth-to-Three program and make it a Birth-to-Four program. Wooldridge said she thought that could be beneficial.

Annette Strimer, a pre-K teacher at St. Marys Elementary School in Pleasants County, said some of her children arrive as early as 7:45 a.m., and some of the afternoon buses don’t leave until 3:50 p.m. Thus, she said, the pre-K children are tired by Thursday. In addition, she said, the elementary schools don’t have any extra time to squeeze in planning periods.

One boy who was held back a year from entering school is now the top student in his class, Strimer said, attributing his success to having more time to mature.

“This will give children in West Virginia an advantage from pre-K through high school,” she said.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said he heard similar opinions from teachers in his district. He is a school bus driver, so he expressed concern about potential problems with pre-K students on buses. But Strimer said that hasn’t been an issue, because the drivers get special training and require the pre-K students to sit near the front of the bus. Also, she said, children with special needs ride on separate, smaller buses.

 

New training requirements have a seniority quirk.

The committee also heard from two people concerned about new training requirements for assistant teachers. Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said someone who would get the training earlier could get preference over someone else with more seniority who would get the training later. He said 900 to 1,000 grievances could be filed over the issue.

White also said the state needs to boost the pay for assistant teachers who receive the certification. Otherwise, he said, there will be a shortage of assistant teachers in early childhood programs within five years.

Kim Sargent, a paraprofessional at Jefferson Elementary School in Wood County, said the new certification requires completion of three key, graduate-level courses. Higher-qualified people could be replaced by lower-qualified people, because seniority will be based on completing the courses rather than experience, she said.

Pethtel said he discussed the problem recently with eight Wetzel County aides who were furious about it. He said those who would be eligible to retire by 2020 were told they would be “grandfathered” in to avoid the new requirements, but they were not.

“Believe me, this is a real problem,” Pethtel said. “We still have time to correct this in the next regular session of the legislature.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia already is ahead of many other states in providing children with pre-kindergarten programs. A task force appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wants the state to do more.

Bob Kiss, secretary of the Department of Revenue and a former speaker of the House of Delegates, has told the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education, that members of the Early Childhood Planning Task Force believe it is important for West Virginia to have more cohesion among pre-K programs. He said the task force, which Tomblin appointed a year ago, is a continuation of the legislature’s adoption of pre-kindergarten programs more than a decade ago, but it is more than that. Kiss is chairman of the task force.

Julie Pratt, project director for the task force, told the committee that the task force has made recommendations to increase participation and quality of early education programs and to strengthen the financing and governance of the system. A full, 48-page report from the task force is available on its website: http://www.wvecptf.org/.

The task force has consulted with dozens of experts and engaged with many West Virginians in developing the report, Pratt said. The Benedum Foundation and 19 other organizations have provided funding, she said.

“The range of services that we provide in West Virginia is pretty typical of most states,” Pratt said. “The problem is we don’t have enough services for all the children who need them.”

Pratt said there are five building blocks for a successful early childhood system:

  1. Sound science – Synapses develop at a faster rate during the first three years of life than ever again. “That’s why we’re so concerned about these years as a window during which what we do with and for young children can make a huge difference,” she said. “It’s why nurturing relationships and rich environments matter so much.” The first year sets the stage for all later learning. When children don’t get the nurturing they need, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, it leads to: adverse childhood experiences; disrupted neurodevelopment; social, emotional and cognitive impairment; adoption of health-risk behaviors; disease, disability and social programs; and early death. “So doing nothing has lifelong consequences, which is another reason that we’re very concerned about early intervention,” Pratt said.
     
  2. Wise investments – The good news is that we know what works and what wise investments can do to create positive experiences. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has found that the earliest investments yield the highest returns. Pratt said, “Children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to succeed in school, contribute to the economy as adults, incur fewer costs to society due to poor health, high dropout rates, poverty and crime.” Economists estimate the return for each dollar spent on early childhood programs ranges from $4 to $9. A Marshall University study shows the return is about $5.20. But West Virginia spends the least amount of money on the youngest children. The spending includes Head Start, Early Head Start, Birth-to-Three, pre-K and home visits. Other states also tend to spend the least on the youngest children. West Virginia’s strongest point is that the state spends much more than most states on children aged three to five because of the universal pre-K program. West Virginians should be very proud of that and grateful that the legislature pursued it. “It’s important to keep in mind that early childhood programs are voluntary, so we’re never reaching for 100 percent,” Pratt said. “There are families that will choose to support their young children in other ways and not necessarily through a public program. But we do think that, through better ongoing outreach, we can still increase some of those rates, and with additional funding, we can implement programs like home visitation around the state.” She said such programs work with families prenatally to age three and are particularly powerful, because they start prenatally.

Senate Education Chairman, Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said his area has a good home visitation system, but he was concerned that a nearby county has one of the worst. Pratt said it’s one of the newest additions to the early childhood programs, so there still is variation in its implementation. West Virginia requires use of only evidence-based programs, she said, so the state should see whether the programs are being implemented according to their models.

  1. Leadership at all levels – “We’ve adapted West Virginia’s School Readiness Framework, because we feel that it really applies to the early childhood system overall,” Pratt said. It’s a community-oriented issue that can’t be solved in Charleston, she said, and it depends on what families and community programs in schools can do. She said collaboration is important for maximizing resources.
     
  2. Quality programs – They need engaged parents, qualified staff, good curriculum and a good environment for learning. The legislature put into statute in 2009 the Quality Rating and Improvement System, but it has not been funded. West Virginia is among about six states that do not have such a system fully in place, Pratt said, but a QRIS advisory council has been doing good groundwork.
     
  3. Positive results – A work group has just finished its work on outcomes and indicators that should be used. Each program separately has many standards and expectations, but the task force is trying to look at what should be achieved as a system by looking at the whole child. That includes looking at: prenatal and child health, social and emotional abilities, family engagement and well-being, and early learning.

Pratt said the task force’s Phase I recommendations include:

  1. Increase participation
    • Local coordination – “It is very much contingent on local organizations and how well they collaborate with each other and the extent they can reach out to families,” Pratt said, because they are essential to make the best use of the programs available.
       
    • Focus on the youngest – “We don’t have enough programs, and starting with the youngest children is really critical here because of the importance of early brain development,” she said. “We would love to see the success of four-year-old universal pre-K be applied to the programs that serve children from birth through age three.”
       
    • Child care access – “The child care system is really the linchpin for a lot of things,” Pratt said. “Parents can’t work – they cannot keep their jobs if they don’t have quality, reliable child care.” It’s a great opportunity to promote early learning, she added.
       
  2. Improve quality
    • Family-level – “We need families involved 100 percent,” Pratt said. “We need to learn from them. We need to make sure that they’re aware of what’s available and how to tell whether or not a program is a quality program.”
       
    • Program-level – A Quality Rating and Improvement System needs to be implemented.
       
    • System-level – All parts should be aligned.
       
  3. Strengthen system financing and governance – Pratt said, “I think West Virginia has done an incredible job in particular areas, and we would like to spread that success to some other ones.”
    • Durable funding streams – “To me, the gold standard is the School Aid Funding Formula that parents from year to year know they can count on the services provided through our public school system,” she said.
       
    • Collaboration – “Our gold standard for collaboration actually is the Early Childhood Advisory Council,” Pratt said. “They do an excellent job. We need to make sure that is happening at the local level as well.”
       
    • Accountability and authority – “What happens when people’s best collaborative efforts don’t resolve an issue?” she asked. “We need to really be able to have another entity, another process that says this is how we’re going to deal with the early childhood system as a whole and not just hope that things are going to resolve themselves on their own.”

Pratt said the task force envisions a system that can help families find services they need that are accessible and affordable, that have high quality and make a difference in children’s development and well-being.

“We have people who are working in the early childhood field that are as talented as anyone I have met anywhere,” she said. “We have a pre-K system that show we know how to get things done if we have the policies and funding and timeframe to do so. I believe we can do a lot more for young children, because we’ve shown that we can do it, and we have the people in the state that are more than qualified and more than ready to do that.”

Plymale said he would like the task force to look at whether agencies and services should be consolidated. He said part of the problem with continuity is a result of not enough support from the top leaders of the Department of Health and Human Resources. Pratt said she and a colleague are interviewing people in several other states with different approaches to that issue.

The committee also heard from Diane Hull, vice president of the Homestead Association, about Homestead Elementary School in Randolph County. The school needs help in updating its facilities. Hull suggested that it should get special consideration because of its history.

The school began in the 1930s as one of 99 sites around the nation funded by the Homestead Act and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hull said Homestead School is the only one still operating as a school. All others have been closed, torn down or turned into community centers, she said. The school got onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, she said. That’s when the Homestead Association was reestablished. Since then, Hull said, the association has held monthly meetings to discuss problems with the school and the community.

However, the fire marshal closed the upstairs a few years ago. Hull said the big problem is with the antiquated plumbing system.

“I can crush some of those pipes with my hand,” she said. “That’s how brittle those pipes are.”

The school also has problems with asbestos, and it needs a new electrical system and air conditioning. Hull said it is a concrete building that tends to stay hot once it gets hot.

The school has not been able to get funding from the School Building Authority, she said, because it doesn’t have economy of scale with only about 150 students. Several years ago, the legislature provided some money for new fire doors. The Randolph County school board paid for a new furnace and used levy money to install new blinds. Hull said the school has applied to the state Historic Preservation Office for money to repair glass blocks that were damaged.

The West Virginia Department of Education has designated Homestead as a transition school, which means it needs some improvement, but it is doing better than schools designated as focus, support or priority schools. Hull said that for the Homestead School to be doing so well despite having problems with its facilities is “a testament to the community and the quality of students and the quality of parents we have attending the school.”

Hull said community is looking forward to the last week of June 2015, when it will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Tygart Valley Homesteads, part of a New Deal program to help people affected by the Great Depression. She said people are expected to come back from all over the country for the homecoming.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Some legislators would like more county school boards to use an online system for posting job openings statewide. An Education Department official has told them that might require legislation.

Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein told Education Subcommittee B that the department has a website portal where districts can post job openings, but they are not required to use it. He said the department does not host a portal for job applications, because it would look as though the department was approving the validity of those applications. The department could not do that, especially in regard to their criminal background information, he said.

There are vendors that provide subscriptions and allow people to submit applications. Heinlein said one used by at least two West Virginia districts is Teachers-Teachers.com. He said it would cost the department about $150,000 to subscribe to it to allow its use statewide.

When Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked what could be done to require districts to use the state’s website for posting positions, Heinlein suggested legislation.

Perry said, “We say we have a teacher shortage. County boards of education are saying they’re not getting applicants.”

Heinlein responded, “If I were sitting in that county superintendent’s seat and I had an opening, I would want to post it statewide, or I would want to post it so it had the maximum amount of coverage, so I could fill in the vacancies for my kids.”

 

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.