We All Have Role to Play in Improving Schools

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) wants to hear from you. Governor Jim Justice and legislative leaders have called a special session to address education betterment. It is a cause that we can rally around because we all agree that there is room for improvement in public education. During the next three weeks, the WVDE will travel the state to host seven statewide education forums. The purpose is simple: to give West Virginians a voice in shaping education reform.

One week following the 2019 West Virginia legislative session, the state stood somewhat weathered from happenings around Senate Bill 451, the Education Omnibus Bill. Some have a tendency to zero-in on the points of contention, however, I believe the most significant take-away from the discussions was that this state cares deeply about education and is willing to put in hard work to make improvements.

The focus and energy on education resulting from the legislative session is reflected in the response to the announcement of the education forums. An increase in calls, emails and social media posts gives clear indication that the general public is eager to participate in the discussion. Teachers, students, administrators, parents, community members, business leaders and others want to be heard — and they will.

Forums will be held at Cabell Midland, Mount View, Capital, Woodrow Wilson, Robert C. Byrd, Wheeling Park and Berkeley Springs high schools. A trained facilitator will lead each meeting, and the larger audiences will be broken down into smaller, roundtable groups for deeper and more detailed discussions. Moderators will capture the themes and details of discussions in those smaller groups.

Those with additional thoughts will be able to submit them before leaving each venue, and those unable to attend may make an online submission by visiting the WVDE website at wvde.us. The sessions began on March 18, and 1,460 miles later, the team from the Department will have traveled the state and collected thousands of comments from stakeholders in order to build a more robust infrastructure for true education reform.

Taking the discussion on the road will allow for a rich, constructive and facilitated discussion about what we must do in order to increase education outcomes in our state.

We know that improving education is necessary, and pathways to academic success are imperative for all students. However, West Virginia is not at the bottom of all indicators, and there are beaming rays of light throughout classrooms, school buildings and communities where teachers and students are succeeding. The state ranks 15th in the nation for the percentage of National Board Certified teachers (a gold standard credential); third in the nation for its graduation rate; and sixth in the nation for quality access to early education.

We have just emerged from a legislative session with renewed focus on education and the possibilities that lie ahead. Let’s harness the energy that is the by-product of vigorous debate, passion and commitment for education and make our forums a real exercise in the democratic process.

We all have a role to play in making education in West Virginia a national model of what can result when everyone has a voice and everyone is heard.

Each forum begins at 6 p.m. and pre-registration is requested by visiting wvde.us. The northern West Virginia forum will be held on April 2, at Wheeling Park High School.

Robert Dunlevy is from Wheeling. He served on the State Board of Education from 2005 to 2014, and last year was appointed again to the Board by Governor Jim Justice.

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