By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Teachers, Board of Education members, WVEA Union Leaders, and State Representatives made up the nearly fifty in attendance of the Fourteenth Senatorial District Educational Town Hall held at TCHS. Teachers representing Tucker, Barbour, Grant, Hardy, Preston, and Taylor County filled the seats in addition to Delegate of the district 47 Chris Phillips, Senator from district 11 Bill Hamilton, and Delegate Bill Hartman from District 43. Thomas Bane, West Virginia Education Association Representative, coordinated the event with the help of TVEMS teacher Angie Evans.
Once Bane and Evans welcomed to audience, they explained the procedure for the evening including how to fill out the registration forms. Copies of the topics included in Senate Bill 421 (The Educational Omnibus Bill) were provided with check boxes for each participant to show their support or opposition to each item it included as anonymous. Everyone was divided into four groups with a set of questions for the group to discuss and arrive at an agreed upon response to discuss with the other groups.
While the discussion commenced, Bane took a moment to explain the purpose of holding these district meetings with the public school employees. “We want to make this effort to get opinions,” he explained in regards to what the teachers feel is needed to better the school system. Bane said the WVEA has asked from day one that the topics this bill covered to be ran separately instead of being all combined into one. One of the big concerns he shared was the money for the Educational Savings Accounts (ESA) were coming directly from public school funds if passed.
Once the discussion period was over, each table was asked to share their responses to each of the questions, the first being what are four things that would be most beneficial to improving our school systems and increasing student achievement. Table one addressed the need of more support such as counselors and aids, smaller class sizes, and incentives to attract new teachers and keep them in West Virginia. Table two agreed with the addition of the need for Alternative Learning Centers (ALC) and too much emphasis placed on testing. Table three added the funding formula adjustments that were proposed for smaller schools being funded on a one thousand four hundred student level as being extremely beneficial, the addition of mental health professionals, along with reconnecting with parents and the community. TVEMS teacher Kelly Underwood stated, “We are seeing kids with problems that we’ve never dealt with in the masses before and it’s not going to get better, we know that.” Group four suggested moving the funding baseline up to sixteen hundred students which would only add two more counties receiving additional money.
The second question read “What are the three things that would help you most in your classroom or help your child most in their classroom.” The first group responded with ALC, class sizes, and consistent extra help in the classrooms. DTEMS Valerie Eye noted the issue of having a class of twenty – five students that are on several different levels of learning the material, making it difficult to assist those on the lower end of the spectrum as well as enriching those on the upper end. Group two agreed and group three added the desire to go back to basic curriculums and teach foundations, especially for Kindergarten through third grade. Underwood said, “Kindergarten needs to play more,” stating this would benefit their socialization skills and potentially reduce the fighting between the upper levels, most of which is a result of the inability to socialize. The final group included the need for grants to maintain and update the technology they receive. One teacher noted in Virginia educators are paid to prepare their classrooms for the new school years and would like to request more paid prep days as well. A Preston County teacher expressed the issue of several different curriculums being pushed in the classrooms and then pulled before they even have time to see any results. Group four added the need to hire only certified teachers and offer better professional development. Carpentry teacher at TCHS Delbert Pennington addressed the group sharing his story of how he began as a substitute teacher without a degree and loved it so much, he has since went back to school to finish his degree and become a full time educator. He suggested offering incentives for substitutes to become involved in teaching and complete their requirements to become a certified teacher.
The final question asked “What do you believe are the three biggest barriers to educators doing their jobs or to students reaching their peak potential.” Most of the group agreed this question had mostly been answered in conjunction with the others with a few additions. Classroom discipline, home life, and multiple forms of assessment were the key contributions to this answer. It was the general consensus that teachers feel disrespected and lack of support from all levels from students, parents, the community, and the state officials.
At the end of the discussion light refreshments were offered as teachers and state representatives continued sharing their concerns and suggestions amongst themselves. This event seemed very successful with getting the input from the teachers in regards to what they feel is needed to better the public education system for the future of our students.