Education public meetings slated
CHARLESTON — With a special session for education betterment possibly two months away, the West Virginia Department of Education hopes to bring teachers, administrators, parents and the business community together to look at possible reforms.
Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine held a press conference Monday at the department offices in Charleston and announced seven meetings planned across the state to get feedback on education reform proposals, including some that died in the Legislature during the 2019 session that ended Saturday.
“We are going to seek the input of all of our stakeholders starting with students, their parents, our teachers, our counselors, administrators, our business community, our faith-based community – anyone that wants the opportunity to weigh in on research-based reform that will make a difference in raising student achievement,” Paine said.
The first of the stakeholder meetings will be held 6 p.m. Monday at Cabell Midland High School. No dates have been set for the other locations, which include Capital High School in Kanawha County, Woodrow Wilson High School in Raleigh County, Robert C. Byrd High School in Harrison County, Wheeling Park High School in Ohio County and Berkeley Springs High School in Morgan County. A seventh location will also be added in the future.
Instead of a public hearing-style format where individuals are allowed to speak for allotted amounts of time, the department will break up attendees into groups for roundtable discussions managed by facilitators.
The department also is preparing surveys for resident to submit their thoughts on education reform. A survey of businesses on what skills they seek in high school graduates was just conducted with the results being compiled.
A report with data from the surveys and stakeholder meetings for lawmakers and the governor is expected by mid-April.
Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill that came out of the Senate at the end of January, died nearly a month later when the House of Delegates balked at the public charter school plan and the education savings account program in the bill.
Paine said the 60-day session was a rough one for educators, who felt left out of the conversation on SB 451. Still, Paine said there were a number of good proposals in SB 451.
He specifically highlighted provisions to improve per-student funding in counties with low student populations, incentives for recruiting math teachers, tweaks to the school aid formula and funding for additional counselors and nurses.
“We’ve been through a session,” Paine said. “We didn’t have much opportunity during the session to really get out and lead the agenda in regards to education reform. What we want to do is honor the components of Senate Bill 451 that we think will make a difference for kids. But we also want to add some research-based ideas of our own.”
Gov. Jim Justice called a special session last week for education reform after a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel died in the Senate. Lawmakers adjourned early Sunday morning to return to their districts and conduct listening tours on education reform.
The Legislature is expected to return in session in May to consider legislation based off the listening tours and the department’s report.
“We are grateful for the opportunity now that the governor has called a special session, because I think he recognizes what we recognize,” Paine said. “If we do this and have this discussion of research-based reform in West Virginia, let’s do it right. Let’s see if there are ideas that have not been included in Senate Bill 451…let’s do a full comprehensive look.”
Paine was joined by state Board of Education President Dave Perry, Vice President Miller Hall and board member Debra Sullivan. All three expressed their support for the special session and the stakeholder meetings.
“I’m extremely excited,” Perry said. “It’s very opportune with the special session and I want to make it very clear that the board, along with superintended, supports wholly and solely what we’re about to do. I’m anxious to see the information that will be brought back to us.”
“It is exciting,” Sullivan said. “The potential for young people in our state to thrive is unimaginable. I think we need to be creative and thoughtful and forward-thinking. I’m many cases it’s going to involve an attitudinal shift. We need to believe we can, and we will.”
“We use the word excited because we’re all excited,” Hall said. “We have an opportunity to listen. In order to make progress, you have to be able to listen.”