Refurbishing Education by L. Wade Linger, Jr.

May 06, 2013

There is nothing like taking a vintage vehicle and refurbishing it back to perfection. When I bought a 1957 Chevy Nomad it needed a little help- okay, a lot of help. The paint was chipping, there were a few dents and the upholstery was damaged. With attention, dedication and a clear vision, the car was reborn. Why do I share this story? As a car guy, I see similarities to the recent renovation of the state’s education system.

Our education system has good working parts but, as a whole, it hasn’t been reaching peak performance. You have heard the statistics before – students underperforming on national assessments, fewer students graduating from high school, poor grades when compared to other states, etc. These statistics are a future snapshot of what our state’s education, economic and health outlook will be if the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBOE) sits idle. So, in recent months, the board resumed its constitutional role in mapping the future of education in our state. We have a new relationship with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; we are cooperatively working with the Legislature; we have a new working rapport with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE); and we have renewed partnerships with higher education, the business community and other education groups.

Perhaps most importantly, members of the state board have refocused to establish one single goal and what I call our non-negotiables. During a recent work session the board rolled up its sleeves and dedicated its best thinking to its non-negotiables so that students exiting high school are successful whether enrolling in college or other career opportunities. Our non-negotiables include increasing student achievement and graduation rates; honoring decision making at the local level; supporting educators while also setting high expectations; building a foundational link between public education and industry work force needs; establishing an early learning system that results in third grade literacy for all students; and enhancing the involvement of parents and the community.

We have a lot of work ahead of us as several challenges were placed in our path by the governor and the legislature. Restructuring professional development for teachers, repurposing the WVDE, developing a new accountability and accreditation system, and focusing on personalized learning through technology are but a few of the challenges we must address in the months ahead.

As our new role is evolving, I know the board is not alone in this journey. As a matter of fact, we can only complete this journey with the help of teachers, students, parents, business leaders and others. I will be the first to admit that change often causes discomfort, and that should be expected. The WVBOE has a job to do and we must move forward even if some are disquieted by the board’s new role. After all, most would agree that our refurbished system is necessary if students are to reach their final destination – success in family life and in work life.

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