When the school’s computer lab is full, a teacher can sign-out one of these units, and a cart with 16 laptops is rolled into class for student use.
A long list
of changes and additions have been made at Welch Elementary over the last year.
As students begin the fall term, they have a new, highly secured entrance, all
new interior doors, new teacher and student desks, new file cabinets, and new
classroom libraries with 100 books per room and $20,000 worth of additional
books soon to arrive.
brightens the rooms, cafeteria, and hallways, and Smart Boards are utilized by
every teacher in every classroom.
Kristy East says the purchases and renovations have made a huge difference in
this school of about 340 students.
come into a building that’s drab and dirty, that environment has an effect on
you,” said East. “So when you come in and you’ve got bright-colored chairs and
everything is new, it changes the mood, it changes the atmosphere, and
everybody is happier to be here and they want to put forth their best effort.”
the first day that the lights got installed there at the entrance. The kids got
off the bus and when they came in one kid looked up and said ‘I go to school in
out that because most of her students are low income and because student achievement
was so low, the school qualified for Title One funds and School Improvement
Grants from the State Department of Education. That’s how the purchase of
technology and instructional materials were possible.
climbed the ladders of slides and hung from monkey bars, East discussed one
need that grants can’t help with - the on-going teacher shortage in McDowell County.
explains she had four classrooms without teachers last year.
In her 4th
grade alone, that meant 8 substitutes in the first half of the year. In January
that class secured got a teacher through a waiver permit. While East says she
did a good job, the teacher wasn’t fully certified yet.
4th grade had nothing but
substitutes throughout their 2nd and 3rd grade years.
“We have good
substitutes on our list, but they get put in long-term substitute positions
because we don’t have teachers,” explained East.
“So what happens on a day-to-day
basis when someone is sick for just one day is you don’t have a sub to fill
that room because all the subs that are on that list that are retired and
coming back to sub are put in those classrooms that don’t have teachers.”
to the McDowell County Board of Education website, 21 classroom teachers are
needed throughout the system, including two at Welch Elementary, five at Mt View
High School and seven at Southside K-8.
significantly less than last year, when former Superintendent Jim Brown
reported 52 teacher vacancies.
successor, Superintendent Nelson Spencer, who started his new job last month,
says it’s the fundamental challenge for McDowell County schools. Spencer spent last year as
a school improvement specialist in McDowell, working with administrators.
people to come to McDowell County and teach, our problem is retaining
who comes here,” said Spencer. “They’ll mention housing, they’ll mention
entertainment, they’ll mention roads, all of those things keep us from
retaining teachers in McDowell.”
forty percent go somewhere else within a year or so, so we spend thousands of
dollars on those teacher that come here, and then they choose to go somewhere
else that is closer to their residency,” said Spencer.
low student achievement are inextricably linked with the teacher shortage,
according to Spencer.
very poor attendance in some of our schools particularly our secondary schools,
we need to address it, not at the secondary school, that attendance starts from
pre K on,” said Spencer.
keep going back to teachers. Students have to want to come to school. A child needs
a good qualified teacher in that classroom,” he said. “If they have 2 or 3
different subs a week or a teacher that’s in there out-of-field, they don’t
want to come to school. So this problem
creates that problem in my mind.”
is being made, like technology and material upgrades in several schools, like
And when McDowell County’s proposal for a new consolidated
elementary school was turned down this spring by the School Building Authority,
Spencer returned to the SBA, asking for funds to construct a modular building
for Anawalt’s 100 students.
was a school that was in about as poor a condition as I have observed in 30
years,” said Spencer.
was gracious enough to give us $1M. The other $1.2M will come out of
local funds that we had intended to use to build the consolidated elementary
school. So now we have no in-kind money to speak of to present another proposal
to SBA; we used the funds to help support the new facility we have at Anawalt.”
The new Anawalt Elementary School opens Sept. 4.
addition, the McDowell Board of Education has been working with the public-private
partnership known as Reconnecting McDowell, an effort led by the American
Federation of Teachers and Vice President of the WV Board of Education, Gayle
Manchin. The project is focused on improving McDowell’s education system and
“And by next
week we’re supposed to have more capability as far as getting broad band and
getting better services here in McDowell County for our schools. I’m very, very
excited about that!”
also happy to report continued improvement on the West Test, the state’s
standardized test to assess student proficiency in grades 3-11.
percent of McDowell schools increased in mathematics and 30 percent in Language
That makes you very proud to be a part of that,” said Spencer.
look at social studies and science, we didn’t see as much increase there, we
need to improve in those areas,” he said. “But I want to be very, very happy
and celebrate the fact that we had that much increase in those 2 content areas.”
two months on the job and exactly one week into the new school year, Spencer
admits he feels a bit overwhelmed, but says he’s exactly where he wants to be.
our share in McDowell, drug abuse, broken homes, children living with others
beside their parents, those are everywhere,” he said. “But we also have a lot
of positive things that are happening here that aren’t in other places and we
need to start promoting those wonderful things.”
“If it was
not headed in the right direction and I didn’t think there was positive
movement out of McDowell, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” said Spencer.
those things happening and I wanted to be a part of it."