Since I became president of the West Virginia Board of Education in 2011, I have stressed to my colleagues on the board and at the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to stay above the turbulence. I think most of you reading this article know what I mean. Some call it drama. Others call it distractions. I refer to it as turbulence.
Despite the surfacing acrimony swirling around the Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education agenda, the board and the WVDE remain committed and focused to improving student performance. It is actually a rather simple goal since the governor's bill makes sense.
First and foremost, Senate Bill 359 concentrates on student achievement. No one can argue that West Virginia public school students need to achieve at higher levels. Second, it spotlights five clear overarching objectives: (1) All children should be able to read on grade level by third grade; (2) every student should be prepared for college or the work force; (3) all students should be taught by great teachers; (4) students should be allowed to learn in a variety of ways; and (5) local boards and parents should be more engaged.
It just makes sense that we take steps to ensure that all children develop literacy skills and are proficient in reading by the end of the third grade. In addition, we share the governor's support of effective early childhood education. His proposal requires all counties to offer full-day preschool for all 4-year-olds and raises aide standards. West Virginia already is among the top five states with its successful Universal Pre-K Program. With the tougher staffing requirements in this bill, we will be No. 1.
It just makes sense to support the governor's efforts ensuring every student is prepared for college or the work force. Our educational system must prepare all high school graduates to continue their educations in college, community colleges or career technical centers. Bottom line is that students should be given all the tools they need to get a job and have a career.
It just makes sense that all students are taught by great teachers. The proposed legislation still respects seniority, but also it gives principals and other school staff a voice in who is hired.
It just makes sense that local school boards and parents are more engaged. This bill allows county school systems to develop their own school calendars, whether it's from August to June or stretched over 12 months. Adding flexibility in the school calendar does not mean kids are in school longer or that teachers are being asked to work additional days. The legislation keeps intact the 200-day employment term for teachers as well as a minimum of seven holidays.
Also, keep in mind that when developing calendars, county boards of education are required to consider community input from parents, teachers, teacher organizations, businesses and other interested parties.
Finally, it just makes sense that if school is canceled because of bad weather, teachers will make up that day. This proposal helps ensure that every student, no matter where they live in our state, gets 180 days of classroom time.
It is expected that during this legislative session some individuals or groups might attack this commonsense approach for bringing about change. Students, parents and teachers need to take a minute to better understand Gov. Tomblin's education bill. These are historical times and we all need to be a part of this education transformation.
I believe in the legislative process. At the end of the 60-day regular session, I believe we will have a better and stronger education system for students. If we all become aware of everything that is crafted into this bill, it will become readily apparent that it does make sense.
Linger is president of the West Virginia Board of Education, overseeing West Virginia's 728 schools and 280,000 students.