West Virginia Board of Education awaits results of forums

Photo by Steven Allen Adams West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine, center, Wednesday briefs the state Board of Education on the success of the statewide education roundtables.

CHARLESTON — The roundtable forums are done and the surveys are completed.

Now, staff with the West Virginia Department of Education will go through all the discussions and survey data to give the governor and lawmakers information when crafting the agenda for the special session on education.

The state Board of Education heard a report during its monthly meeting Wednesday from state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine and Stacie Smith, an associate managing director and meditator with the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

According to the department, more than 1,600 people attended the eight education roundtables in Kanawha, Cabell, McDowell, Raleigh, Harrison, Ohio, Wood and Morgan counties.

The goal of the forums, as well as the online survey that was available, was to give residents a chance to chime in on what they felt was valuable in an education reform initiative.

The Consensus Building Institute, a non-profit that specializes in meditation, was brought in to help facilitate the discussions. The department paid $1,500 per day to the Consensus Building Institute.

Paine said department staff are still going through the notes, comment cards and information collected from the forums and surveys. He said more than 100 delegates and senators attended the forums across the state. Lawmakers were not allowed to participate in the discussions but were encouraged to go from table-to-table and listen.

“I think that is tremendous that they cared that much to give up their time to come listen to what their constituents had to say,” Paine said. “This is a democracy. This is representative democracy. This is government by the people and for the people, and this is a citizen legislature. I hope that they listened very very carefully as we invited them to be in listening mode.”

Paine wanted to dispel any misinformation regarding those who attended and participated in the forums, which some have accused of being mostly teachers and school service personnel. In Cabell County, Paine said, the forum pre-registration included 97 teachers and school service personnel, 50 parents, 26 who identified as community members/taxpayers and 31 who identified as other.

“The misnomer that these were simply educators is not accurate,” Paine said. “The argument that it’s just simply teachers and service personnel doesn’t quite capture Cabell Midland.”

According to Paine, the largest area of agreement was the need for increased resources to help students with social, emotional and mental health needs. Paine also said there was a lot of discussion about over-regulation of school and state board policies being too restrictive.

“When you chase that out a little bit, you have to decide on where do those state board policies come from,” Paine said. “Most of them come from legislation that says the state board shall promulgate a rule…maybe a way at educational reform is what’s not in state board policy or code and we can partner with the Legislature to move in that particular direction.”

Paine said he supports increased flexibility for public schools but said there still needs to be an accountability component. However, Paine said he had no preliminary data from the forums regarding public charter schools and almost no support for education savings accounts — two parts of Senate Bill 451 that passed the Senate but died in the House.

“The two elephants in the room are charter schools and educational savings accounts,” Paine said. “I don’t have any data on charter schools and what the numbers show…but there was very very little support offered for educational savings accounts across the board from anybody. There was some, but not a whole lot.”

Also Wednesday, board members received preliminary results from a statewide survey of teachers held just prior to the statewide forums. The educator voice survey includes responses from more than 7,000 teachers and 500 principals and assistant principals across the state.

According to the preliminary survey results, teachers value the time spent working with their fellow teachers but feel like there isn’t enough time for cooperation, with 6 percent of teachers saying they had three hours or more to collaborate. For school administrators, needed areas of support include teacher coaching, school improvement, instructional leadership, and school finance.

Additionally, 64 percent of principals don’t believe they have enough time to focus on instructional leadership, while half don’t believe their schools have enough professional staff to meet needs. More than 70 percent of teachers believe they have support when it comes to classroom discipline. Another 87 percent of teachers feel trusted to make instructional decisions, 80 percent of teachers feel encouraged to take leadership roles at their schools, but only in the area of teaching techniques.

Recommendations include increased leadership training for principals to help them better coach their teachers, develop improvement plans, and empower their teachers. It calls for increased numbers of support staff, such as nurses, psychologists and social workers. It also calls for easing the administrative burden on principals.

The full results of the teacher surveys will be released in May along with the results from the forums and public surveys. The full report will be made available to the public and sent to Gov. Jim Justice and lawmakers to guide their decision-making when they return for the education special session, which is expected to resume in mid-May.