CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've lost count of the number of legislative candidates this fall who absolutely salivate to talk about the education audit, that document prepared by an out-of-state consulting firm at the request of a previous governor.
At best, candidates want to find legitimate ways to redirect spending to activities that help students achieve. At worst, candidates are looking for excuses to cut school funding and beat up on people in education. It seems everyone had a mean old teacher at some point.
Only one candidate I've met absolutely nailed the issue at hand: Healthy students.
If you don't have healthy students, you can make all the education changes you want, but they won't work, said Delegate Bobbie Hatfield, who is running for another term in Kanawha County's 35th District.
Healthy means more than just the absence of a head cold. It means being ready, mentally and physically, to seize the opportunities school offers.
Hatfield points to suicides among teens and young adults, an indicator of untreated mental illness. She cites the high rate of teen pregnancy and that 2,000 or more kids are in foster care at any given time. Those measures are all important, but they are also at the extreme and serious end of the problem scale.
A story in last Sunday's Gazette-Mail gives a glimpse of the other end of the scale. Staff at Elkins Middle School in Randolph County are thrilled that their students are being sent to the office 20 percent less frequently than last year. Suspensions are down 15 percent. Their miracle innovation?
Elkins Middle is one of 100 schools serving breakfast in ways that students can and will actually eat it in greater numbers, reports the Gazette's Mackenzie Mays. Middle school students can grab a healthy breakfast and take it with them, to their first class, if necessary. They can get breakfast even if they arrive late. The school no longer makes breakfast compete with that all-important middle school activity -- socializing.