“I look at this as a friendly discussion where we look at what it is we need to do and develop what essentially will be a blueprint for moving forward,” state Board of Education President Lowell Johnson said. “If we are on the same page, we can make this work.”
State and local board members, along with a representative from the state superintendent’s office, met Wednesday in Hamlin in the first of several meetings to develop a strategic plan. Unlike McDowell and Hampshire counties, where the state board also has intervened, the Lincoln County Board of Education has not outlined steps it will take to ensure state standards are met so that the state can confidently return control to local leaders.
“This meeting …is a positive step in the right direction,” said Carol Smith, president of the Lincoln County Board.
The state board made the difficult decision to seize Lincoln County schools in 2000 after some 200 deficiencies were cited by the West Virginia Office of Education Performance Audits. Since the takeover, Lincoln County has seen improvements in hiring practices, teacher certification and curriculum and instruction, as well as other areas. The county is one of only three statewide to host a Chinese Guest Teacher. Plans also are in the works to add universal preschool next year.
“I’m very optimistic after members of the Lincoln County board indicated their willingness to work together to regain control,” state Superintendent Steve Paine said. “But we need a road map to get there. I think if we can get a plan developed and see strong steps taken to implement that plan, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”
The state board hired Anne Seaver as Lincoln County Superintendent last year to replace William Grizzell, who retired. Seaver previously served two years as superintendent in Tyler County, a school system that has some of the highest student test scores in the state, and as an assistant superintendent in Mercer County.
In Lincoln County, she oversees a new literacy committee as well as teacher and support staff advisory groups. Teachers also meet for half a day every quarter to review test scores and interventions and curriculum.
Seaver also oversaw the fall 2006 opening of a new Lincoln County High School. Outfitted with the latest technology, the school has exposed students who formerly attended Duval, Hamlin, Harts and Guyan Valley to courses and programs they never had access to before. Already, several top artists have performed at the school’s auditorium in Hamlin, including West Virginia native Kathy Mattea and Loretta Lynn.
“The state board has every confidence in Ann Seaver and the job she is doing in Lincoln County,” Johnson said. “Her expertise in school finance and facilities is impressive and she is well respected by her employees.”
At its February meeting, the state board and Paine expressed eagerness to work with Lincoln County officials to move forward. Johnson asked that a full financial report be prepared for the meeting as well as an update on how each shortfall cited in the OEPA report is being addressed.
“I can’t do anything about what has happened in the past,” Johnson said. “But I can do something about the future. I'm not interested in personality conflicts. I'm interested in issues and having a strategic plan for Lincoln County so that they can get to the point where local control can be returned to the county.”