Interpretation's Date: September 18, 2001
by superintendent David Stewart
Section: V. Personnel
SubSection: A. Professional Personnel



September 18, 2001

Honorable Scott G. Varner
Majority Whip
West Virginia House of Delegates
State Capitol, Room M-246
Charleston, WV 25305-0470

Dear Delegate Varner:

I am in receipt of your correspondence of September 7, 2001, wherein you inquire about work experience gained while teaching in a head-start program. You ask:

Is head-start recognized as an educational institution to the effect that teaching head-start suffices as work experience as a teacher? In other words, if a head-start teacher is hired as a public school teacher, does their head-start experience count as work experience, thus securing that teacher a higher starting salary? Also, can a person work in the head-start program as a parent, then if they get certified as teacher, already have "teaching" experience?

This issue has been discussed previously by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in the case of Bright v. Tucker County Board of Education, 184 W. Va. 33, 399 S.E.2d 176 (1990), a copy of which is enclosed for your review. In deciding the issue, the court cited an opinion rendered by West Virginia's Attorney General dated November 13, 1980.

In his opinion, the attorney General found that "with respect to Head Start Programs . . . this office cannot categorically advise whether such employment is experience in the teaching profession. School administrators must make a factual analysis of such employment in each case." In reaching that conclusion he stated:

[W]e find no State Board regulations or school laws spelling out the general functions or ‘position descriptions' of . . . Head Start workers. Therefore, in determining whether previous employment in these positions (and other positions outside the public schools) may be counted as teacher experience for pay purposes, it would seem that school administrators, including the State Superintendent, must make a factual analysis of each previous employment to determine whether it falls within the statutory parameters, i.e., employment ‘in the

Honorable Scott G. Varner
September 18, 2001
Page 2

teaching profession, including active work in educational positions other than the public schools' (Code 18A-4-1). If the factual analysis discloses that the previous nonpublic school employment substantially corresponds to one of the categories of ‘professional educator' quoted . . . in Code 18A-1-1, the intent of the Legislature appears to support the crediting of that employment as teacher experience.

Accordingly, if a public school teacher previously employed as a head-start teacher performed a range of duties which corresponds to one of the categories of "professional educator" set forth in West Virginia Code 18A-1-1(c), such as classroom teacher or principal, then that teacher would gain experience credit for the time spent working as a head-start teacher. The determination as to whether the actual duties of the head-start teacher correspond to one of the 18A-1-1(c) categories should be made on a case by case basis.

As to your question regarding individuals working in head-start as parents, it seems unlikely that these individuals could gain "years of experience" for pay purposes as defined in West Virginia Code 18A-4-1. To begin, 18A-4-1 specifically states that "years of experience" means the "number of years the teacher has been employed in the teaching profession." (Emphasis added.) I assume that parents working with head-start programs are volunteers and are not employed as head-start teachers. Because these individuals are not likely employed as teachers, they do not meet the requirement of 18A-4-1.

Further, aside from the employment issue, it is highly unlikely that the duties of a parent worker would rise to the level of a "professional educator" as set forth in 18A-4-1. Even individuals employed as teacher aides in head-start programs do not gain years of experience for purposes of teacher pay under 18A-4-1. See Bright, supra.
Hoping that I have been of service, I am



David Stewart
State Superintendent of Schools




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