The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 10, 2013

Fayette Chamber subcommittee says bad education is bad for business

FAYETTEVILLE — Concerned about the economic impact of an ailing school system, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce is speaking up about the need for education reform at the local level.

The Chamber’s re-activated subcommittee on education met Tuesday to discuss ways to inform the public and increase opportunities for Fayette County students that go beyond the debate over school buildings.

Businesses have located elsewhere for no other reason than the condition of the schools, the committee reports.

Plus, they say, longtime residents are losing children and grandchildren to other states because the education they were receiving in Fayette County proved unacceptable.

“It’s just exasperating,” says committee member Sylvia Allen, a retired principal who helped draft the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan for the county.

The subcommittee was formed during the county’s last bond call, which would have paid for a new consolidated high school, among other construction projects. The bond failed and the state took over the local system in 2010.

“A lot of us were under the assumption that when the state took over, things would be fixed, and of course we realized the error of our ways and so we have reactivated the committee,” says Chamber director Sharon Cruikshank.

The subcommittee is chaired by Margaret O’Neal and members include Heeter, Allen, Dave Pollard and David Ayersman.

The board has drafted and sent a letter to state Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares and the West Virginia State Board of Education.

“After decades of seeing the Fayette County public school system decline, it is time to shift the debate from one focused on facilities to one which deals with outcomes,” the Chamber wrote in the letter.

“What was once fertile ground for finding a quality workforce is now one which produces students who can’t write a simple sentence, properly use the English language, complete ordinary math questions or who possess a work ethic. Those who work in economic development have had businesses decide to locate elsewhere after they or a spouse learned about the quality of the local schools.”

They call the discourse over school facilities “single-minded,” and urge a shift in the conversation toward restoring a quality curriculum, offering a wide array of courses, and bringing back pride in earning a diploma from Fayette County.

“The future of Fayette County and our business community hangs in the balance,” they write. “We urge the State Board to lead the way by charting a course which has our students and their needs at the forefront. We trust that the Board will make decisions which provide pathways to the delivery of the curriculum opportunities our students need and deserve.”

The Chamber and the United Way of Southern West Virginia will co-sponsor a series of education forums open to the public in the coming months. Further details will be forthcoming, but the aim of the forums is to fully inform the public before they vote on any bond.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it has to be addressed. Kids aren’t getting the education they need,” says Cruikshank.

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