Martirano moves past session

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Martirano moves past session
By Lacie Pierson, Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - With the 2015 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature in the past, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano is looking forward to the future of education in the Mountain State.

Martirano talked about his assessment of the legislative session and his goals for the state in terms of high school graduation rates Monday during the weekly luncheon of the Huntington Rotary Club at the Pullman Plaza Hotel.

Among four major pieces of legislation concerning education - repealing Common Core standards, establishing charter schools, alternative certification for teachers, and changing how instructional time is measured - only one measure was passed into law before the clock struck midnight during the last day of the legislature March 14.

The legislature completed its work on House Bill 2005, which created alternative programs for the certification of teachers in the state, meaning programs like Teach for America can enter the state, although in a limited capacity.

The law allows for professionals without a teaching degree to teach students from sixth to 12th grades in the subjects within their expertise after passing a state test.
Martirano was supportive of the measure, saying it advances his goal of having a high quality teacher in every classroom in the state.

Out of 19,000 teaching positions in the state, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 vacant positions on any given day, Martirano said.

"It behooves us to look at alternative opportunities," Martirano said. "I firmly believe outstanding school systems have outstanding teachers. We have to recruit the best.

e have to retain them and provide ongoing professional development If we're at a constant churn and young people have different teachers every day and they're teaching outside of their content area, trust me, as a former principal at the middle school and elementary school levels, the biggest difference is having a quality teacher at every level."

A measure to repeal Common Core standards in the state also failed to be voted into law during the session.

The bill originated in the House of Delegates with the goal of eliminating the standards, but the Senate essentially gutted the bill by amending it to initiate a two-year study into the standards instead of eliminating them.

In the debate about Common Core standards in the state, Martirano said he came out in the end with a better understanding of what parents' and legislators' concerns were about the standards, which he said would give him the opportunity to correct issues in lieu of eliminating them altogether.

He said Monday he was working on a plan as to how to proceed in response to that debate.

"I understand where the concerns are," Martirano said. "We need to do a better job in terms of communicating, providing more outreach to our parents. That's a major piece of it. also doing a better job as far as professional development for teachers."

Martirano said he did hit a point of frustration in feeling those involved in the debate used "curriculum" and "standards" interchangeably.

"Much of the concern that caused me great consternation was the lack of understanding between curriculum and standards," he said. "That's where, when people are saying, 'Let's abolish the standards,' I ask, 'Why?' When no one can tell me what's wrong with them when they're college and career ready. I'm very open to say, 'Tell me the ones that are wrong, and I'll fix them.'"

In talking about a measure that would have created avenues for the establishment of charter schools in the state, Martirano had no strong feelings about the type of schools that were in the state as long as they were maintaining the standards set forth by the state.

"My comments on this all along have been, whether it's a private school, a parochial school, public school, charter school, it has to maintain a high level of quality," he said. "It's a heavy lift if you're going to present a charter school into a community. What I'm all about is making sure whatever is proposed, that they're quality schools that meet the same measure and accountability that our public schools and other institutions do, so that children, when they complete the program, will have a high quality education."

When asked about charter schools and Cabell County's Explorer Academy, which will be a pilot school for the Expeditionary Learning model in the state, Martirano said he believed other school districts could achieve similar circumstances without added legislation.

"My first interaction with Superintendent Bill Smith and the people involved in the school, when they presented to me, I said, 'This feels like a charter school to me,' because it promotes innovation, and it promotes the opportunity to do things in a different way," he said. "We could use those (Innovation Zone) dollars to advance innovation if people think outside the box You don't need a charter school law to define that when there are other opportunities to do it."

Another educational bill that died during the last day of the session was Senate Bill 537, which would have changed mandatory instructional time in schools from days to minutes.

In the bill, students in West Virginia still would have been required to attend 180 instructional days, but the new bill would make it so students would attend the equivalent of 180 days, which would have allowed for instructional time to be measured and made up in minutes instead of days.

Martirano said instructional time was another area where new legislation wasn't necessary, noting the current system provides some flexibility with its waiver system and in allowing district officials to plan ahead.

"My entire career, I've come from a state where we had 180 days," he said. "As a local superintendent, I designed my schedule and my calendar in a way that, if we did have inclement weather days, I would build days into our calendar anticipating that. We need to be more mindful in the development of our calendar, and how our superintendents are doing it."

Martirano also used the luncheon to talk about a personal goal of his to increase the state's high school graduation rate from the low 80s to having 90 percent of West Virginia students earning a high school diploma.

When a student fails to graduate from high school, that student becomes significantly more likely to become incarcerated in their lifetime, Martirano said.

"If a young person drops out of high school, they are destined for a life of challenges," he said. "The research is replete. We spend, as Americans, $35,000 per person to incarcerate individuals each year, yet we spend one-third of that in terms of educating. It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

"If a child does not have that ticket that said they graduated, they do not have the skills to compete. They don't have the ticket that says they can advance to a career or to college in terms of a noble profession."