W.Va. BOE still working on governor's education reform plan

You are here

By Mackenzie Mays

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During the monthly West Virginia Board of Education meeting on Wednesday -- the same day of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State address -- board members established an "implementation timeline" for the public education agenda that the governor tasked them with in his address one year ago. 

Three of the 18 items listed in the board's timeline have been marked "completed": reduce personal services within the Department of Education; devise a policy to involve local school boards in the hiring process; and reward teachers who become National Board certified. 

The timeline/to-do list is comprised of items found in Tomblin's education reform bill (SB 359) introduced last year, in addition to a specific list of six major initiatives he charged the state school board with in a letter written last February.

While more bullet points on the implementation timeline might not be crossed off, the board has made headway on several of the other tasks, especially when it comes to college and career readiness and giving local school boards more control, board members say.

Over the past year, the board has helped implement simulated workplaces all over the state, which enhance vocational education and encourage individual learning. State school board member Lloyd Jackson has said that fact alone is "exactly the answer to what the governor's letter asked of us."

The board also has developed a policy designed to give local school boards more flexibility when designing school calendars -- allowing schools to move to year-round classes, if they choose. 

However, the works in progress on the Board of Education's list are big ones, such as studying the option of alternative teacher certification programs, like Teach for America -- a long-controversial topic in West Virginia -- and implementing teacher training that ensures the state's third-graders are reading at grade level.

The government also plans to overhaul its professional-development system for teachers no later than 2020, according to the timeline, with plans to roll out a new accreditation system by the 2015-16 school year.

The board has another crucial objective on its timeline: Find a new state superintendent of schools. 

The board hired Superintendent Jim Phares to serve in the interim, after its members voted to abruptly fire Jorea Marple in November 2012. Marple is now suing the board for unlawful termination. 

Board members says they hope to select a new superintendent by June 5, with plans to hire a firm to conduct a national search for the candidate as soon as this month, according to the timeline.

Donna Peduto, who was hired last year as the state board's first-ever director of operations, has overseen the board's work on Tomblin's education agenda. She said, while the timeline is a living document -- with dates subject to change -- it's a symbol of the board's progress. 

"We think this is a very straightforward, step-by-step timeline of everything we committed to do in SB 359, as well as through the governor's letter," Peduto said at Wednesday's board meeting. "We plan to share this with the Legislature. 

Some of these dates may change, but it shows we are being held accountable."

Also at Wednesday's board meeting:

• Members approved the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission concussion policy, which requires a certified medical professional to clear student athletes before they return to school sports. 

• The board approved a resolution in support of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, handing operations over to the Cedar Lakes Foundation to "re-imagine" the center and continue operations.

• The board hired a new Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) 4 executive director, David Warvel, at an annual salary of about $94,000.