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BOE writes draft school-reform report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been nearly a year since Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin challenged the West Virginia Board of Education to tackle six major initiatives alongside his education reform bill. State education officials say the board has made progress, but there's still work to be done.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the board drafted a 500-page status report for the governor, outlining progress on the specific requests Tomblin made in February.

State school board members said they are especially pleased with the work that's been done regarding college and career readiness.

However, an overhaul of professional development, or continued training and education, for the state's teachers has proved to be the most important issue and the one that needs the most work, State Schools Superintendent Jim Phares said Wednesday.

Tomblin had asked the board to establish an annual professional development master plan and to "aggressively pursue" the use of Regional Education Service Agencies to create efficiencies and decentralize the delivery of professional development services.

Board members have established a committee to research better ways to help teachers with their professional development, and have nearly tripled the number of teachers trained statewide over the past year through a local-control initiative

However, Phares said there's still a lot of work to be done before the Department of Education reaches its goal of becoming "a clearinghouse for professional development."

"That's the thing that has come out in all of these different reports . . . no matter what you look at. When Project 24 comes through, you're going to see a very prevalent theme that deals with professional development," Phares said. "The biggest concern about the calendar bill is how do we make time for professional development. We've got to get focused, targeted professional development for kids coming straight out of school."

Also among Tomblin's list of priorities outlined in February were the establishment of a Commission on Small School Systems, to review the existing county structure; certification for elementary teachers, to ensure third-grade proficiency; providing high school students with access to community and technical college staff; requiring all career centers to adopt standards laid out by the Southern Regional Education Board; and pursuing Project 24, a program developed by former governor Bob Wise that integrates technology into everyday lessons for students to enhance college readiness.

The board's biggest accomplishment so far is its work on preparing students for a career after high school, whether that means college or entering the job market, Phares said.

The department already has implemented 21 simulated workplaces -- which enhance vocational education and encourage individual learning -- in schools across the state, and plans to increase the number to 45 by next school year.

On Wednesday, state school board member Lloyd Jackson called that fact alone "exactly the answer to what the governor's letter asked of us.

"I think that's the No. 1 thing that he [Tomblin] is going to be happiest with . . .,    and here's why: We have a tremendous sense of urgency in this state, due to the economic development on the Western side of the state, to have people work-ready," Phares said. "The clear and readily apparent message that kept coming through was we've got to have kids come into high school ready to go to work for many of the jobs that are being created over there."

"For the first time, maybe ever, the board, the department and the Governor's Office actually were kind of on the same wavelength all the way through it."

The board did not approve the proposed status report in full on Wednesday and will continue to make recommendations.

 "The No. 1 thing is that this report isn't a list of things that's going to be done; it's actually a list of things that have been done," Phares said. "Because, quite often, when you get a book like that, it's full of big ideas and no results. This one is just the opposite. Every individual, every committee that worked on this, actually got stuff done, in terms of meeting deadlines and checking things off."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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