Placing More Trust in Local Boards of Education

The beginning of a new school year always brings renewed optimism as students and teachers anticipate the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead. As president of the West Virginia Board of Education, I share in that optimism and truly believe West Virginia’s best days are yet to come.

I have served as WVBE president for just over six months, and although my term has been marked with a period of transition, I believe my fellow board members are highly committed and keenly focused on moving education forward in the Mountain State. I welcome a new day in West Virginia public education, and believe that together with the West Virginia Department of Education, we will drive historic change in the way we educate our children.

I commend Governor Tomblin and Governor Justice for their appointments of this team. We have established great cooperation with the legislature and hired State Superintendent, Dr. Steven Paine, who has brought stability to the position that has been absent for years.

In six short months, this board has accomplished a great deal to provide more flexibility to counties, realize operational efficiencies and make student-centered decisions.

Since the beginning of 2017, our board has focused on examining our policies to not only streamline and reorganize, but also provide more local control and flexibility to counties. For example, our Child Nutrition Policy 4321.1 now relies on local wellness policies established by each school district to help guide nutrition practices at the local level.

We repealed Policy 2320, which utilized an A-F grading system as a means of accountability for all public schools. Instead, we have worked closely with Superintendent Paine and his staff to develop a new accountability system as part of West Virginia’s plan it must submit to the federal government under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new accountability system will serve as a foundation for support and improvement for schools, instead of using a punitive and disciplinary approach.

In the coming months, our Board will also consider revisions to policies concerning content standards, school facilities, school closures and consolidations and alternative certification for teachers. This board is very much committed to reducing policies and placing more trust in our local school systems that understand how to best approach meeting the needs of its students.

We have also realized operational efficiencies, including reducing the number of board staff and relying on Superintendent Paine to build an organizational structure at the West Virginia Department of Education that is effective and efficient. Under Dr. Paine’s leadership, the WVDE has seen a reduction in senior leadership, moved from five major divisions to three and reorganized to absorb the work of unfilled vacancies. Working in partnership with Governor Justice’s office, the legislature and the WVDE, we have worked to absorb a $4.5 million budget reduction, while still delivering services as effectively as possible.

To ensure a smooth transition for counties as they move away from Regional Education Service Agencies to Educational Service Cooperatives, the WVBE created a taskforce in May to provide necessary supports and ensure counties do not experience an interruption of services. Our board is also in the process of developing a five-year strategic plan to guide the work of the WVBE and the WVDE. Finally, we have forged a partnership with the West Virginia Department of Commerce to determine what skills and knowledge are needed to meet the state’s future workforce needs.

West Virginia is at a crossroads and we have an exciting opportunity to champion improvement and change. I embrace this new day with optimism and ask for your support as we work to improve our students’ education in an effort to deliver a globally-competitive public education system.

Thomas W. Campbell was appointed to the state Board of Education in December 2012 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. He comes to the board after 16 years in the House of Delegates, where he served as chairman of the House Education Committee. He currently serves as president of the West Virginia Board of Education.