UPDATE: Local lawmakers react to report on state education forums

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Update: 5/8/2019

Local lawmakers say the West Virginia Legislature will press on in an special session with education issues hotly debated during the regular session earlier this year.

They reacted to Tuesday's release of a report by the West Virginia Board of Education.

State school leaders said they doubted the most-discussed elements of a failed education bill were answers to the state's problems with schools.

Butl local lawmakers said there appears to be movement on one of those issues: charter schools.

"There might be a little easier route with charter schools," Delegate John Kelly says. "But I'm not so sure about the education savings accounts. I just don't believe there's support in the House to do that."

"I think there's been movement in the House and by the governor on charter schools, and that's encouraging," said Sen. Mike Azinger. "(Education savings account)'s is a tougher one for everybody. The Senate, in our opinion, it's just about giving parents a choice."

Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston hopes legislators avoid the charter schools and ESA's in crafting an education bill.

Boston cites surveys stating as much as 85% of those responding oppose both issues.

No date has been announced for a special session dealing with education, and possibly with other issues.

UPDATE: 5/9/19 11 A.M.

The West Virginia Department of Education released a final report 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 Senate omnibus bill, 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 report 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

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."

UPDATE: 4/11/19

Public roundtable forums on education in West Virginia are complete and now state officials will examine the information to offer for a special legislative session to address school issues.

The state Board of Education heard briefs during its monthly meeting Wednesday from state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine and Stacie Smith, a state-hired meditator with the Massachusetts-based Consensus Building Institute.

The department says more than 1,600 people attended the roundtables in eight counties. Department staff will go through the discussions and survey data to give lawmakers information for the special session, which Gov. Jim Justice called to address teacher pay raises and other topics.

Paine says the biggest agreement was the need for increased resources to help students' social, emotional and mental health.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

UPDATE: 3/26/2019 09:30 A.M.

Many in the Mid-Ohio Valley turned out Monday night to share their thoughts on educational reform in West Virginia.

The state Department of Education held its fifth education forum at Blennerhassett Middle School on Monday night.

The meeting was the fifth of eight that will be held across the state to get feedback from teachers, parents and students.

The nearly two hundred guests shared their thoughts on controversial components in the education system during the round table discussions.

Those who attended were able to speak on topics such as funding opportunities, instructional quality, school choice and social emotional support.

Wood County Superintendent William Hosaflook says “We have a very eclectic approach I think, we have retired teachers, we have service personnel, we have professional employees here, we have superintendents, legislators so it’s a great process to get everyone together in a collaborative nature to get everyone's input for the next step forward in education reform.

Information gathered from the forums and an online survey will be given to Governor Jim Justice by May 1.

If you'd like to share input but can't make it to the forums, there's an online survey you can take on this website: https://wvde.us/education-public-forum/.

UPDATE: 3/19/19 12:45 P.M.

Blennerhassett Middle School will host a public forum for residents to address concerns about West Virginia’s education system.

The forum will be at 6 p.m. on March 25, the state Department of Education announced on Tuesday.

Seven other forums have been scheduled across the state, including one held Monday night at Cabell Midland High School, to discuss issues ahead of a special legislative session called by Gov. Jim Justice.

“We evaluated our registrations and determined the Mid-Ohio Valley area was under represented,” said state Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine. “We strive to provide a voice for all stakeholders with an interest in education and look forward to visiting Wood County.”

The Department of Education has also launched an online survey for families and communities as well as a survey designed to solicit input from students. The surveys will be available until 11:59 p.m. April 3.

The confidential, web-based survey will take 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Students will address their educational experiences, and families and communities will provide input on their perceptions of education and how to improve student outcomes.

The survey’s findings will be included in a report summary report sent to Justice and state lawmakers.

“These surveys provide an additional opportunity to gather information about education in West Virginia from our families and students who are an integral part of the education system,” Paine said. “We anticipate feedback that is rich in thought, detail and insight which is exactly what we need to enhance public education. The genesis of learning begins with our students, parents and communities and we want to make sure they are connected to our efforts to improve public education.”

All West Virginia students in grades 6-12 received an email in their K12 email accounts with a link to take the survey. For students who have questions or did not receive an email, please contact ed.voice.wvde@k12.wv.us.

The families and community survey is available online by visiting https://wvde.us/education-public-forum/.

UPDATE: 3/19/19 10:25 A.M.

Hundreds of West Virginia residents attended the state's first public hearing to prepare for an upcoming special legislative session to address education issues.

According to the Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, those attending the forum at Cabell Midland High School were divided into groups to participate in round-table discussions.

The Department of Education divided the discussion into four overarching areas: funding opportunities; instructional quality; school choice and innovation; and social emotional supports.

Gov. Jim Justice has a special session to address teacher pay raises and other education issues. He has asked legislators to meet with teachers, parents and other stakeholders before returning.

Katharine Lea, a mother of two from Huntington, said she was happy to give feedback.

Six more forums are planned across the state.

The West Virginia Department of Education announced plans to host seven public forums across the state to discuss improvements.

Each of the forums will be hosted by an experienced facilitator and will consist of a presentation and roundtable discussions, officials said in a news release.

"These small group discussions will seek input on the core issues surrounding education and bring together a range of perspectives and viewpoints from across the state," officials stated.

The department will report back to Gov. Jim Justice and members of the state Legislature with strategies to improve student achievement.

“As the state’s lead education agency, we have an obligation to facilitate input from all stakeholders concerning education betterment,” state Superintendent Steven L. Paine said. “We have received full support from Governor Justice and legislative leadership to solicit stakeholder input statewide.”

The public is invited to participate in the forums, but pre-registration is required. Registration forms will be available at wvde.us.

Later this week, the department plans to post three online surveys– one for parents and community members, one for students and one for educators.

The first of the forums will take place on March 18 at Cabell Midland High School in Cabell County.

Other have been scheduled at Capital High School in Kanawha County; Woodrow Wilson High School in Raleigh County; Robert C. Byrd High School in Harrison County; Wheeling Park High School in Ohio County; Berkeley Springs High School in Morgan County; and Mount View High School in McDowell County. The dates and times for those forums have not been announced.

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