The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 16, 2013

Special House panel begins honing in on education reform

Group met Monday, reconvenes again next week

CHARLESTON — Behind the scenes, quietly away from the influx of dignitaries, beefed-up patrols and uniformed military for a governor’s special day, House Speaker Rick Thompson’s special education task force settled down to business Monday.

For the next few months, the group plans to meet even more, looking at ways to enhance West Virginia’s lagging education system, based on a systems audit Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered last year.

“It went better than expected,” Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, a member of the working group, said Wednesday.

“We got further along than I expected to be.”

Perry, a retired principal at Collins Middle School in Oak Hill, said the meeting was devoted largely to a presentation by Board of Education President Wade Linger in a thorough examination of the existing process.

Linger covered a number of critical topics, from technology, to the school calendar, and a move to shift more personnel out of Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA) to provide services nearer the school system.

Perry said he agrees with the thrust of the audit unveiled late last year, noting it was highly critical of West Virginia’s education system.

“According to all national surveys, we’re in trouble,” he said.

One matter that is vital to Perry is the suggested transfer of power from the state board to the individual schools, and not, as he emphasized, to county school boards.

“I think that’s because they (local schools) know best what they need at the local level, and not one size fits all,” the former educator said.

“Each school has its own personality and each school has its own needs.”

Perry said many factors come into play, such as socio-economic status and the composition in terms of minorities — and those justify the need to allow schools to operate within their own scope.

Thompson’s decision to appoint the special study group can be beneficial by allowing the House to get a heads up on education issues that Tomblin likely will cover in his State of the State address as the session opens Feb. 13, Perry said.

“I think we’re a group that’s there as a resource to the other members,” he said. “Information has been vetted by the group.”

All House committees are represented on Thompson’s group, along with the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

Tomblin hasn’t appeared before the committee, and Perry said he isn’t sure if the governor will address the group, but expects a representative of his office to ultimately meet with the members.

The school calendar is another item that members will be taking up, since state law insists on 180 days of instructional time. For some areas more prone to heavy snows that cancel school days, an alternative is to replace the 180-day minimum with instructional minutes.

“We also talked about mastery level learning where a child, after completing goals and objectives, would move onto the next grade, regardless of when it was,” Perry said.

“And we talked about credit for learning outside the seat time within the regular classroom. We looked at all 130 suggestions and narrowed them down to 11.”

Perry and his fellow delegates plan to huddle again next Wednesday and probably will be meeting just before the 2013 session startup, along with follow-up meetings.

“It will be an on-going process,” he said.

“It’s no simple task. There is no one thing that will fix all. We’re probably going to break them down into short-term and long-term goals and objectives.”

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