Name-drop in House leads to charter school controversy

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Before lawmakers in the West Virginia House could craft their own version of the wide-ranging education bill, they had to clear up a bit of a controversy.

Two elementary schools, Spring Hill in Cabell County and Mary C. Snow in Kanawha County, were singled out as possible targets for a charter school in conversations Thursday night.

It led to a last-second visit from Cabell officials Friday morning.

Committee Chair Del. Danny Hamrick (R) had floated the names. Hours later, Spring Hill Principal Pamela Bailey and Cabell Superintendent Ryan Saxe were in attendance and discussed it.

"This is probably the first time I'm was ever thankful for Twitter,” Bailey said, getting a laugh from all in attendance.

The proposal wording limits the number to two charter schools statewide as a start and only mentions Cabell and Kanawha counties as proposed locations. There’s no mention of specific schools. Hamrick apologized for creating a stir.

"There was no intention,” he said. “Sorry for making you get up early and take a drive."

The names were used because of lower test scores, a high minority population and other factors in the student body.

"We have had trauma that any adult would have a problem functioning the next day, but yet they come to school," Bailey said.

She nor Saxe gave an inch though, carefully avoiding the word ‘struggling,’ pointing to math test scores which improved 9 percent last year.

"Spring Hill Elementary is an excellent school with amazing staff and students," Bailey said.

A charter would only happen with at least half of faculty approving. Hamrick said he believes a school like Spring Hill could benefit from less bureaucracy from the Department of Education.

"Promote their own specific curriculum they will think will work to help educate the children in their school better," Hamrick said.

Saxe isn't so sure, but said he’s glad for the chance to speak, even on very short notice.

"I respect they allowed us to come and talk to them today,” he said.

The language in the bill is subject to change and is likely to do so as the committee meets Thursday afternoon to go over amendments.

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