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UPDATE | Parents, teachers reiterate recommendations outlined in W.Va. education report

(WSAZ)
Published: May. 7, 2019 at 10:16 AM EDT
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UPDATE 5/7/19 @ 5:30 p.m.

The West Virginia Department of Education released a

Tuesday, titled "West Virginia's Voice," that includes concerns and opinions about the structure and organization of the state's education system.

Several people participated in the forums, both in person and online. In person, 1,630 people attended the forums. Online, there were 17,010 participants.

The report outlines the Department of Education's top priorities after listening to parents, students and teachers at gatherings across the state. They include topics widely debated during the legislative session, like pay raises for all school employees.

"It was a promise. We did not as for the pay raises. It was a promise given to us by the governor," American Federation of Teachers West Virginia President Fred Albert said.

According to the report, West Virginia ranks 49th in the nation in teacher pay. Seventy-seven percent of family and community members at the education forums indicated increased teacher salaries would be a worthwhile investment.

The report also recommended more mental health help for students, many of whom are victims of the drug epidemic.

"I think the kids need someone they can talk to and confide in to help them with whatever issue they have," Stacy, a Kanawha County grandparent, said. The report states nearly 100 percent of forum participants agreed with the need for additional student support personnel.

"Before you can even teach a child a lesson, you have to meet their social and emotional needs," Albert said.

School flexibility is also outlined as a top priority, and school choice was important to many forum participants. According to the report, 80 percent of participants support increased flexibility from certain rules, regulations and policies.

For many lawmakers, school choice and flexibility mean the addition of charter schools. While state educators are trying to compromise, they are still against the idea.

"If I knew that charter schools and educational savings accounts, for example, were the silver bullet solutions to raising the student achievement in the entire state of West Virginia, as I just said on Hoppy, I would carry a banner through the hallways and say let's pass that legislation, immediately," West Virginia State Superintendent Steven Paine said. He said it is important to learn from charter schools and extend those freedoms to everyone in the school system.

"Don't create another layer, don't create another type of school. Use what we already have," Albert said.

The final top priority in the report recommends strengthening teachers' skills in shortage areas, like math. According to Albert, many teachers are not certified in the subject they are teaching. This is a result of a teacher shortage across the state.

"We need to attract the best and the brightest, and we need to be able to keep them here," Albert said.

Parents and grandparents, like Stacy, said they have noticed a lack of subject skills in her granddaughter's math class. She said she contacted the school to ask for homework help. "I was told to Google it," she said. "It's very frustrating."

Stacy also voiced concern over class sizes. She was happy to hear the state recommended a plan to tackle class overcrowding.

The report also focuses on funding education and incentives for teachers to improve student and teacher achievement. It also highlights innovation zones free from some restrictions. Educators remain firm in their stance against Educational Savings Accounts, saying there is a feeling of distrust and a lack of accountability.

With the special session around the corner, parents and educators alike hope lawmakers are ready to listen.

"I hope they're listening," Albert said. "I think that this should send a pretty strong message to them."

"I really believe this document should be used as the basis for all legislation that comes about in the special session," Paine said.


ORIGINAL STORY 5/7/19

The West Virginia Department of Education released a

Tuesday, titled "West Virginia's Voice," that includes concerns and opinions about the structure and organization of the state's education system.

The report states that the department's top priorities moving forward will be to provide a pay raise to all school employees, increase funding for social emotional supports with local flexibility, incentivize high-performing schools by providing additional flexibility, and fund a supplement to strengthen teachers' skills in shortage areas with an initial focus on math.

Leading up to the release of the report, state education leaders hosted public forums across the state to discuss a variety of issues.

It was a two-month process of gathering information to form this report. Stakeholders got together at forums in eight counties to give their input. Those stakeholders included elected officials, parents and caregivers, educators and other school employees, students, alumni and representatives of higher education, advocacy groups, and community members.

About 40 percent of the attendees identified as parents or community members.

"Operating under the tenets of a representative democracy, including the voices of the citizens is not optional," the report states. "They are central to the American and the Mountaineer way of life. This document, the West Virginia’s Voice Education Reform report, is the result of a statewide process that was open to all. It captures public input of more than 20,000 West Virginians to help inform the special legislative session."

Discussions often focused on the

, funding equity, instructional quality, social emotional supports, school choice and innovation, as well as research-based ideas of what raises student achievement.

"While not exhaustive, the document serves as a guide to support local school districts, educators, service personnel, students and the greater community in an effort improve education performance and outcomes," said Kristin Margolin Anderson, the executive director of communications for the state education department.

More than 1,600 people attended the forums and there were approximately 600 roundtable discussions. According to the report, 90 lawmakers attended the forums. Here are the attendance rates:

Cabell Midland High School: 260 Mount View High School: 140 Capital High School: 300 Woodrow Wilson High School: 150 Blennerhassett Middle School: 185 Robert C. Byrd High School: 260 Wheeling Park High School: 160 Berkeley Springs High School: 175

In addition to the discussions, attendees submitted more than 2,500 comment cards.

Students, community members, and educators also responded to online surveys.

"Funding will continue to be a key topic of discussion related to education betterment," the report states.

In the report's key findings, it states, "It is apparent more needs to be done to address the consequences of poverty and the opioid crisis on West Virginia's children."

The report also suggests that schools need more resources including increased personnel, mental health services, and support for both students and faculty members who are impacted by the stress that comes with the opioid crisis.

"Public schools carry much of the burden created by abuse, neglect and household dysfunction," the

states.

Another highlight in the report is recruiting and retaining educations. The report states that West Virginia needs to offer competitive benefits and adequate pay.

According to the report, West Virginia currently ranks 48th in the nation for teacher pay. "A majority of participants [in the forums] viewed increased compensation for school employees as a worthwhile

investment."

The report also addresses math achievement as a major concern. "Teachers are often not prepared to teach math and strategies must be considered to assist schools in recruiting teachers into hard-to-fill positions. Funding a professional learning stipend for teachers in shortage areas, beginning with math, will strengthen teachers’ skills and deepen their content knowledge."

According to the report, there is a more widespread issue when it comes to communication about flexibility at the local level. The education department calls it a "misunderstanding" and says policymakers need to make sure people at the local level, whether that be counties or schools, are aware of that flexibility and what other opportunities are available to grow.

"Schools that demonstrate a pattern of high performance should be rewarded with additional flexibility from certain rules, regulations and policies to enable continuous success. Strengthening communication with schools will also empower school-level staff to foster innovative practices to support the needs of their students."