“I did come
in with a 30-day and a 90-day plan, threw those out in 24 hours,” said Jim Brown.
“It took me a while to grasp where the building block was and where we needed
to go from there and try to improve the system.”
from Tyler County, some would say a world away from
school in Tyler County for several years, took a position
at the county education office, and then took a position with the State Department
has made McDowell his home for now, and turning things around for a student population that ranks last is his mission.
He says he
relies on the data, and it is
“Are we in
the top 20% in the state? By no means,” he said. “It’s not where we want to be
but it’s a foundation for us to get stronger, I really believe that.”
some of the highest percentage of improvement in the WEST test last year,” he
continued. “One of our middle schools rose to 27th highest in the state for
mathematics. Fall River Elementary School had 34 percent proficiency gain overall in
reading and mathematics.”
huge!” said Brown.
he expects McDowell’s scores on the standardized WEST test which will be given
to all West Virginia students in May to be higher than last year.
There are 6
public elementary schools in McDowell County, one middle school, one K-8
grade school, the Career and Technology Center, The Phoenix Center, which is
the alternative school, and 2 high schools.
approximately 3600 students attending McDowell County schools.
came in, he first focused on his principals and other key administrators.
is huge. You have to have people in place who can drive the work, the have the
passion, the commitment, the work ethic,” he said.
established leadership teams at every school and brought in state-level school
improvement specialists who are working with teachers in the classroom on
established a Supervisor of Curriculum Instruction at both high schools, and
the system has purchased software programs that he says have provided some
direct intervention for at-risk students.
But, in the
end, it comes down to a lack of teachers.
we ran notices of 52 vacancies throughout the school year,” said Brown. “We
have teachers out on long-term leave, we have vacant positions, so we have a
lot of retired teachers coming in and subbing and quite frankly there’s not
“On a day
to day operation, you can go into a school, and there are not enough teachers
for classrooms,” he said.
posted 5 speech pathology positions for 2 years and we’ve never had one
applicant! That’s a huge problem!”
Quality is another matter. Of their 283 teachers,
39 do not meet the definition of highly qualified. A handful are teaching with
an out of field authorization, and dozens of others are under special permits
unfortunately not had the option to pick and choose, a lot of times we’ll have
one applicant for a position. Are they the best person for our classroom? Maybe
we get lucky and we get someone that’s outstanding,” he said. “But sometimes it’s
someone we would prefer not to hire, but unfortunately it’s either that
individual or no teacher at all.”
county has supported professional development with its own mentoring system,
Brown said the state could help by funding additional mentoring efforts in his
most significant help the state could give, he says, is a recruiting tool.
“If I had a
magic wand, I would want a 5-year recruitment mechanism that would say if you
come to McDowell County as an entry level-teacher and
commit to 5 years, for 3 years we’ll give you a $7,500 bonus at the end of each
school year,” said Brown.
commit to years 4 and 5, we’ll give you $10,000 two years in a row for college
loan forgiveness,” he said. “Because the Stafford Loans that at lot of students
are taking out, they can recoup 17,500 dollars if they teach in a high poverty
Title One school.”
elementary schools all meet that criteria, so right there that would be about $30,000
toward loan forgiveness.” he said.
he was extremely disappointed teacher recruitment strategies for McDowell County, like salary incentives and loan
forgiveness, were not enacted in the legislative session that ended earlier
it “the elephant in the room” and said it’s something his county must have to
turn things around.