West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin greeted around 60 people that gathered at St. Brendan's Church on Wednesday to discuss the 2010 audit of the state's public schools. The community forum hosted by Vision Shared brought business, education and political leaders together to discuss recommendations in the report.
"It is my pleasure to be here tonight," Tomblin said. "One of the first things I did when I became governor was to contract for the audit."
Tomblin explained that the Elkins meeting was the first in a series throughout the state to gather public input on several recommendations made in the audit report. Vision Shared, a statewide economic development group, is conducting the meetings in partnership with Tomblin's office.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Anthony Gaynor
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia Board of Education member Lloyd Jackson address the crowd of about 60 people during Vision Shared’s community forum on the audit of the Mountain State’s school system. The forum was used to gather information on the numerous recommendations made in the audit.
"We will compile what we find," Tomblin said. "These meetings ... will show what we need to change in the education system in our state."
State Board of Education member Lloyd Jackson, who serves as one of Vision Shared's education committee co-chairs, said West Virginia needs to make better progress in the state's education system.
"We just haven't made the progress in West Virginia we would like to," he said. "To be competitive internationally we have to improve."
Those in attendance were broken into three separate groups to address different areas of the audit. Each group's goal was to establish priorities in each of the sections and come to a consensus about the recommendations.
Before the crowd was broken into groups, Vision Shared showed a short video from the group, Public Works, who conducted the audit.
According to the video, Public Works visited several school districts throughout the state and 12 different state agencies. If the recommendation from the group is accepted it could save the state approximately $90 million a year, according to the presentation.
The groups were divided into groups as follows: "Better Connecting the Education System to Workforce and Career Futures," "Supporting and Improving School Building Leadership and Classroom Teaching," and "Making West Virginia the Leader in Remote Technology and Distance Learning."
Each group was given about an hour to discuss the audit and review the recommendations. Once the small groups were finished each group shared their ideas to best address each area and decide which recommendations should receive the highest priority.
The "Better Connecting the Education System to Workforce and Career Futures" group was represented by Gary Clay. He said the group felt the three recommendations that should be addressed first included enhancing the planning and collaboration between the education system and workforce and economic development leaders; developing integrated performance measures in workforce and education; and improving the use of job forecasting data to plan secondary and post-secondary programs that will produce the workforce West Virginia will need in the future.
Clay said to begin working on the recommendations, the school systems and businesses need to coordinate and develop a workforce that can work in areas where workers are needed.
"The state department needs to be in tune with changes needed in curriculum to create flexibility in teaching methodology and spending," Clay said.
To achieve the goals, Clay said the state needs to allow for industry to partner with the school system to provide mentors that can help guide the school systems.
Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares reported from the "Supporting and Improving School Building Leadership and Classroom Teaching" group. He said one of the recommendations to help improve the school system is for the state to abolish the 43-week schedule. Phares said one of the challenges in abolishing the time frame is funding and getting the legislature on board.
"You can come in and say you are going to be at school 180 days, but that is hard to do in a set calendar," Phares said.
The second area Phares said could be improved is in teacher recruitment. He said state code and policy need to be modified to provide alternative routes for teachers to get into a certified field. He also added that teacher preparation schools need to be held accountable to ensure the best teachers are entering the workforce.
Bob Dunkerly provided the report from the "Making West Virginia the Leader in Remote Technology and Distance Learning" group. He said the number one priority is getting access to broadband internet at all schools. He said many of the rural communities do not have access to high speed internet, the importance of which is only going to grow in the future.
He said to achieve that goal there needs to be a dedicated funding stream to help school systems. He said there also needs to be an increase in training for curricular use of technology.
Vision Shared President and CEO Rebecca Randolph said the findings from the community forums will be made available in September.
The next forum is slated for today in Martinsburg.