The percentage of high school students who scored proficient in math on standardized tests ranged between 31 percent and 33 percent for the past school year.
Additionally, McDowell was ranked the unhealthiest county in West Virginia in a report released last month by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
That report cited high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, family and social support and other factors that influence health.
Spencer, who has served as McDowell superintendent for about a year, said he hopes people realize the many hands involved in turning the county around.
"We don't want the impression that something happened overnight. It has most definitely been a combination of people. You can't pick out one particular thing and say that made the difference," he said. "It's been the efforts of teachers, students and outside assistance, like Reconnecting McDowell. "You can't say it's one year that made a difference," he said. "The ground work has been laid over 12 years, and we're just now reaching the culmination to where the county [can handle it.]"
Gayle Manchin, vice president of the state Board of Education and wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., serves as chairwoman of Reconnecting McDowell. She spearheaded the project with the help of Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.
"We have said from the beginning that we need to take a whole-child and whole-community approach to turning around McDowell County. Establishing community schools is a big step toward fulfilling that goal," Gayle Manchin said in a news release. "I am so honored to be part of this vote to return control to McDowell County Schools. It is never easy to answer all the issues in any county. One lesson that we have learned is that no one can do it alone. Improving a school system is truly about a community building capacity.
"It is about teachers, parents, businesses, the faith community and health-care outlets all saying the children are the most important priority, so how can we join together to provide them the best opportunities?"
Weingarten said establishing community schools has long been a major priority for the Reconnecting McDowell project and has wide-ranging potential.
"The evidence is clear that community schools greatly improve disadvantaged children's chances of success, because the services and programs help overcome the ravages of poverty that affect academic achievement," she said in a news release. "A variety of coordinated services will wrap around schools to ensure that all kids are healthy and ready to do well in school. The McDowell community schools plan was based on elements of successful community schools around the country."
In addition to Linger and Gayle Manchin, the state Board of Education's other voting members are Bill White, Lloyd Jackson Jr., Tom Campbell, Robert Dunlevy, Mike Green and Tina Combs.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.