By Lydia Nuzum
The Charleston Gazette
When Gaston Caperton was in the second grade, his teacher noticed him struggling to read and began to suspect the future governor of West Virginia might have dyslexia, a common learning disorder.
“Ms. Robinson called my parents and said, ‘Gaston has a problem,’” he recalled. “Because of her, and because of parents who really paid attention to me and gave the effort, I’ve had a successful life.”
Caperton, the 31st governor of West Virginia and recently retired president of the College Board, said the chance to be nurtured and encouraged is important for all West Virginia children, and the reason he has dedicated much of his public life to education initiatives. It is also why Caperton was recognized Wednesday as the 2014 recipient of KIDS COUNT’s Making West Virginia a Great Place to be a Kid award during a banquet held at the Clay Center.
The award, created in 2012, recognizes West Virginians who, through public or private avenues, have made a difference in supporting the needs of the state’s children. According to Margie Hale, director of KIDS COUNT, a children’s advocacy agency founded in 1990 with the help of Caperton, the former governor has carved out a place in history as a proponent of education.
“He has devoted his life to education, and he did some revolutionary things as governor,” she said. “He helped to bring computers to the classroom, he gave teachers significant raises, and he has done so much while on the College Board.”
Caperton was elected governor of West Virginia in 1988, and over the course of eight years in office, elevated average teacher salary from 49th in the nation to 31st. He also launched one of the earliest basic computer skills initiatives in the U.S., and by the end of his tenure, more than 85 percent of children in the state were attending school in new or renovated buildings.
“We should all work so that the kids in this wonderful state are given the opportunity that most of us in this room have had,” Caperton said. “Everything I was lucky enough to be able to do was because I had a great mother and father, a great sister, great friends, a great minister and great teachers who taught me everything I know. It’s those kinds of models and support … I had so much behind me, and so many kids don’t have anything behind them.”
Caperton has chaired the Democratic Governor’s Association and the Southern Regional Education Board, has participated in the executive committee of the National Governor’s Association and has received ten honorary doctoral degrees. In 2007, he received the James Bryant Conant Award for his contributions to education in the U.S., and the 2012 Policymaker of the Year award from the National Association of School Boards of Education.
Caperton is the second recipient of the award. The first, former state senator and current state school board member Lloyd Jackson, said that in the decades he has known Caperton, his focus on improving education standards in the state helped pave the way for improvement in every other aspect of its operation.
“Gaston Caperton changed the way we do business in West Virginia,” Jackson said.
KIDS COUNT is a non-profit organization that has produced an annual county-by-county report of the well-being of West Virginia’s children, “The KIDS COUNT Data Book,” for 22 years. It also helped pass the Childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2009 but has not yet received funding to be implemented.
“That simple phrase, ‘making West Virginia a great place to be a kid,’ really encapsulates everything we believe, everything we work for, and the reason for our existence,” said Pat Mick, president of the KIDS COUNT board of directors.
For more information on KIDS COUNT, visit www.wvkidscount.org.