Legislature ponders ways to attract, retain quality teachers in West Virginia

CHARLESTON — The vice chair of the House Education Committee supports removing the seniority mandate when it comes to making teacher cuts and replacing it with an evaluation system to look at teacher effectiveness.

Del. Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, and a former member of the Mon County Board of Education, discussed the issue during the recent West Virginia Press Association Legislative Lookahead in Charleston.

Statler pointed to a  National Council on Teachers Quality yearbook report, which showed West Virginia moved up to a C-plus.

“West Virginia had several key opportunities for growth ... and the policy for retaining effective teachers was one of them,” he said. “We do not ensure the licensures, advancement and renewal are based on teacher’s effectiveness. We do not support teacher leadership opportunities. We do not connect tenure positions to evidence of teacher effectiveness and we do not require the districts to consider evidence of effectiveness when determining what teachers to lay off in reduction in force ultimately harming West Virginia’s ability to keep its most effective teachers.

“That is why I strongly believe those evaluations need to be consistent across the state.”

Other members of the panel, however, favored keeping seniority as part of the evaluation system. That includes Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers and service personnel.

“I think there has to be accountability,” Campbell said. “We have to have a strong evaluation system. We have to have leaders that are trained in how to use that evaluation system.”

Teachers in first three years are on probationary contract, Campbell explained.

“I think there is a misconception about the protections that teachers have. You can actually choose to not rehire a teacher for the first three years of their career. The mentorship programs we currently have aren’t really supporting teachers in those first three years.

“What makes a person a good teacher is not just the knowledge they have about education, child development and instructional strategies but how they engage students every student day. The evaluation system we have, if it was utilized the way it was intended, we would see people staying in education and improving the craft, and people leaving who are not.”

Campbell said her teacher federation supports due process.

“Everyone deserves to have due process and not just sent on their way,” she said.  “If you have a debate with your boss and you don’t have due process, a really good teacher could be sent out of the classroom.”

“Again, we have 725 vacancies in the state of West Virginia,” she said. “Are we really trying to get rid of people or are we trying  to get more qualified people in the classroom?

Del. Robert Thompson, D-Wayne and a teacher in Wayne County, said, there was already a strong evaluation system in place.

“If that’s the reasoning behind it, I think we are looking for a problem that is not there,” Thompson said. “Teachers are at the mercy of elected officials and the school board. If we want teachers to be able to participate in their communities, in politics and voice their opinions as citizens, then there needs to be some basic protection. I think that is what seniority is.

“If we have to have something to keep teachers here, then seniority seems like a very, very basic protection to me.”

Campbell said, “I am really hopeful we are going to look at educational issues that will actually put qualified teachers in our classrooms. We are up to about 725 vacancies where we don’t have certified teachers. There’s been whittling away of qualifications when it comes to hiring and some whittling away when it comes to reductions in force and transfers.

“It’s time we start investing in public education. What are we doing to keep teachers and service personnel in our schools? That is our main concern is that we need qualified people in the classroom. The only way we are going to improve student achievement is to do just that.”

Statler said he felt that the education budget needed to be evaluated to see where money could be moved around and to possibly give local boards of education more flexibility in funds.

Statler said that over half of the state’s budget is in the education sector.

“I think sometimes you have to look within the budget that you already have going into education,” he said. “Since 2015, our focus at the House has been on efforts empowering local school districts and higher education to have greater flexibility and autonomy in how they run their systems.

“Some of the legislation that will come forward this year will continue down that path to allow that to happen.”

Thompson said he was disappointed in past legislative proposals to give teachers raises.

“I think, unfortunately, from my perspective anyway, that was used as a carrot to pass other things,” he said. “It was moved around and put here and put there, essentially just to get people to vote for other things. I did not see any genuine desire to actually give teachers a pay raise.”

Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said, “I think it’s important for us, even if it’s not a huge amount, even if it’s not enough to actually bring teachers up to a competitive level, we have got to start putting more money into teacher’s salaries. That just has to be done.”

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