President of AFT-West Virginia Judy Hale says it was former
First Lady and current vice-president of the WV Board of Education Gayle
Manchin who approached the national organization last summer about
spear-heading an educational and economic overhaul in McDowell
“And after much deliberation the AFT decided this was the
right kind of work we needed to be doing and shame on us if we didn’t do it,”
“So what we did in a nutshell was try to spend a lot of time
assessing the needs and then thinking about who might be able to help us
address those particular needs,” she said.
Education reform is the centerpiece of the needs the team
identified. The state took control of the county education system 10 years ago
and today student achievement remains low in all assessment measures.
Other challenges listed in a multi-faceted plan of action
include transportation and technology needs, jobs and economic development,
housing and access to medical care.
not going to be a quick fix, there is no silver bullet for what we are trying
to do in McDowell, we’re there for the long hall, and the partners have agreed
to this also," says Hale.
Hale says they have 40 partners with more sure to join. Partners
include the Governor, McDowell County
Schools, the county commission, the
faith community, West Virginia’s congressional
delegation, and McDowell’s legislative members.
Hale called the support from businesses like Cisco Systems,
Frontier Communications, IBM, Alpha Natural
Resources, and Patriot Coal inspiring. The AFL-CIO
and the UMWA have also joined the team.
“We also have the Benedum Foundation because a lot of these
things are going to require money,” said Hale.
“Organizations have come in before and promised to help;
they’re there for a while and then leave.”
“People of McDowell
County are not interested in that.
They told us that up front and quite frankly we’re not interested in that
either. We’re there for the long haul.”
Hale says she’s convinced, with the partners that have been
assembled, the group will be able to make significant improvements.
The McDowell County Partnership is preparing a legislative
agenda. They’ll be asking for flexibility to address a teacher shortage in
McDowell, with options like salary incentives, loan forgiveness programs, and
student-teacher internships through WV’s universities .