By Joselyn King, The Intelligencer: Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING — Northern Panhandle residents weighed in Tuesday night on what the West Virginia Legislature can do to improve education, with some thinking elected state leaders shouldn’t even be involved with passing public school reforms into law.
They suggested any proposed education reform package instead go directly before West Virginia voters as a referendum.
The idea came up during a discussion at a table involving members of the Ohio County Democratic Women’s Club, including Teddy Grogan, Marlene Midget and Barb LaRue.
“My wish is for us to allow educators, teachers and parents to be the ones to address education reform,” Grogan said. “The legislature has too much influence.”
After the event, Midget spoke more on the issue.
“They use it as a (political) hot potato,” Midget said of lawmakers. “They need to focus on letting the educators do what they need to do.”
As the legislature prepares for a special session on “education betterment,” the West Virginia Department of Education is hosting a series of seven forums across the state to determine what the public thinks about the state’s public school system and how they would approve it. The sixth of those forums took place Tuesday night at Wheeling Park High School.
The event began in the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at WPHS, with West Virgina Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine speaking about the omnibus education bill killed in the House of Delegates during the recent legislative session.
He pointed out as one of the good points of the bill a provision giving incentives to math teachers in the state. A shortage of math teachers in West Virginia often has placed uncertified math teachers in math classrooms across the state.
“We need to find a way to get teachers certified immediately in mathematics — especially algebra and geography…” Paine said. “Mathematics is our lowest-achieving area content wise, and we need to do something for those students and those teachers of those students.”
The State Department of Education is suggesting bonuses and incentives be offered to attract and retain certified math teachers to West Virginia, according to Paine.
After the welcome, forum attendees were directed to the WPHS food court for dialogue in small groups. Topics for discussion included “school choice and innovation,” “social emotional supports,” “funding opportunities “and “instructional quality.”
Teachers present expressed they felt themselves “too busy” in classroom to do an adequate job attending to the needs of individuals children. Some said they come in early and stay late to help students.
Having more experienced teachers mentor younger ones also was discussed, but the teachers believe there isn’t time in the schedule to allow these mentoring sessions to take place.
At other tables, there was more discussion about the teacher shortage, and how more incentives were needed in West Virginia for the state to compete with its neighbors for high quality educators. Fewer people sat at the tables where “funding opportunities”were being discussed.
“You can be a retail manager in a store, and make more money than a teacher,” said Lori Kestner, president of the state School Board Association and a member of the Marshall County Board of Education.
Brooke County Board of Education member Stacy Hooper suggested educators are being “disrespected” by not receiving a professional level of pay.
Paine said all information gathered by DOE volunteers would be transcribed and attached to the appendix of a report the agency will provide to both the legislature, and the West Virginia Governor’s Office.
Legislators present were told they were there “in listening mode only,” and most moved from table to table to hear remarks being said.
Among those present were state senators Ryan Weld, R-Brooke; Charles Clements, R-Wetzel; and William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio; as well as delegates Joe Canestraro and Lisa Zukoff, both D-Marshall; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; and David Pethtel, D-Wetzel.
The legislature’s youngest member, Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, also came to Wheeling for the event. He graduated from high school in 2018.
About 150 people registered to attend the forum.