Hundreds Attend Public Forum on Education in Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG — Teachers, parents, students and community members gathered Monday to discuss education reform in West Virginia.

About 185 people attended the Wood County public education reform forum at Blennerhassett Middle School in Parkersburg, the fifth in a series of public forums being held by the West Virginia Department of Education to gather public input ahead of the upcoming special session of the West Virginia Legislature.

Those in attendance rotated through a series of discussion tables on the topics of funding opportunities, instructional quality, school choice and innovation, and social/emotional supports. Though more than a dozen state legislators and state education officials also attended the event, they participated only as observers and did not take part in the discussions.

Kayla Dixon, a second-year math teacher at Ripley High School, said she attended the forum to “have (her) voice heard” and to get feedback from other teachers and parents about issues such as charter schools.

“I do feel like I’m being heard tonight,” she said.

George Wallace, a retired teacher from Roane County, said he was eager to weigh in on education issues from a position of experience.

“I’m hopeful the teachers get a voice in this. I don’t think they had much of a voice during the regular session,” he said.

Even so, Wallace said he was unsure how effective the public forums would be in addressing challenging and complex issues in public education.

“This seems a little condensed,” he said of the three 25-minute table discussions. “It’s a tremendous amount of issues and not enough time for any of them.”

Charles Boston, a 10th-grader at Parkersburg High School and the son of two teachers, said he was concerned about the reduced number of options for students. Boston said a program he’d just been accepted to for next year at the Wood County Technical Center has been eliminated.

Boston said students need more choices for programming outside of the traditional math and English requirements.

“I think we should be looking at adding new programs and classes instead of cutting them,” he said.

School psychologist Miranda Wilson said she attended Monday’s forum specifically to discuss student mental health. Wilson worked at Wood County Schools for five years, but now works at Fort Frye Local Schools in Washington County, Ohio.

“I had to leave West Virginia because of how mental health in schools was being addressed,” she said. Wilson has children in West Virginia schools.

“We still live in West Virginia. This will always be our home,” she said. “This is something very important to me.”

Wilson said she and her husband were involved with the creation of legislation that sought to increase the number of mental health professionals in West Virginia schools, but the bill which received unanimous support from the state House of Delegates stalled in the West Virginia Senate. She hopes the special session will be another chance for legislators to address the issue.

“We know how bad mental health is in West Virginia,” she said. “If we don’t address this, nothing else matters. I’m thankful for the special session. I feel people are finally listening to us.”

State Department of Education officials said information gathered at the public forums, along with online surveys available through the department’s web site at wvde.us, will be collected and published in a report ahead of the special session. The session has not yet been scheduled, but officials say it should occur within the coming months.

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