WHEELING, W.Va. -- As a parent of two young children and a former teacher, I know that education is one of the most critical tools we have to build a strong future for our kids and for our communities.
I moved to Wheeling, my husband's hometown, after working in the field of education for nine years in California. While we enjoyed our time on the West Coast, my husband and I were eager to get back East and be closer to family and friends. And with our two boys starting school, we're thrilled to make our home in a community with strong public schools that will give our sons the foundation for future success in school and beyond.
I began my career in education as a Teach For America corps member teaching middle school special education in Oakland, Calif., a community where many students are growing up facing the challenges of poverty. While their odds of graduating from high school and going on to college were low, I saw my students overcome those odds and accomplish incredible things with hard work and support from caring adults. This knowledge fuels my passion to give every student the opportunity to get a great education so they can reach their full potential. That's why I'm honored to serve my community as a member of the Ohio County Board of Education.
From my vantage point, I've seen how essential great people are to fostering excellent schools. It's the dedicated, effective teachers and leaders who create the learning environments that allow our children to thrive. We're lucky to have many outstanding educators across the state who are working tirelessly on behalf of West Virginia's kids. It's critical to continue growing their numbers and encourage our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession in our state.
Recently, there has been renewed conversation about expanding alternative certification pathways into teaching in West Virginia. Some have suggested that we don't need new routes into the classroom. I believe that increasing the options for teacher training will bring more great folks with a wide range of experience and backgrounds into our schools.
When I became a teacher through an alternative certification program, I made a two-year commitment to teach, but found a lifelong mission to give every student the excellent education they deserve. Teach For America provided me with a pathway into this work and it has done the same for nearly 38,000 others. After more than 20 years, the organization has a track record of success training effective teachers for low-income communities who are passionate advocates for kids. Teach For America's teachers have been ranked as the top performers in North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee. Teaching is the most popular profession among my fellow alumni and many others have gone on to become principals and district leaders.
Teach For America became a community partner in Kentucky's Appalachian schools last year, but, because of our state regulations, principals on our side of the border can't consider Teach For America's candidates for their teaching teams. Opening alternative pathways to the classroom will expand the options for principals looking to hire the very best teachers from a wide range of preparation pathways for their high-need schools. It will provide a new breadth of candidates for the many open teaching positions some of our rural principals often find challenging to fill. It will also expand options for our homegrown talent looking to teach here in their home state. While it's just one tool in our toolbox to create the best schools for our kids, it's a valuable way to convert the state's brain drain to a brain gain.
I couldn't be more proud to call West Virginia home because the Mountain State values building strong families and strong communities. Our commitment to our children, the next generation of West Virginian leaders, is part and parcel of that ethos. Let's empower our state to become as great as we know it can be by building a strong future for our children, which starts with a solid academic foundation. No matter what county you call home and whether you root for WVU, West Liberty, or Marshall, we can all agree that our promise for the future begins with a great education for our kids.
Koegler is a member of the Ohio County Board of Education and a senior managing director on Teach For America's Human Assets team.