The AFT is the leader of the Reconnecting McDowell project,
launched 9 months ago and now with more than 100 partners. Weingarten was happy
to have the opportunity to showcase it.
“I’m glad the Secretary is coming to a community that has
been calling out for attention for years,” said Weingarten. “Hopefully what the
Secretary will see is lots of partners getting together, working together to
put the puzzle pieces together.”
“At the end of the day, poverty matters,” she said. “Half
the kids in McDowell don’t have parents that have gainful employment.”
“A lot of these issues are interconnected,” said Weingarten.
“If there’s no housing it’s very difficult to recruit people to become valued
members of the community. You can’t say technology is important if you don’t
have Broad Band! You can’t say jobs are important if we don’t have
transportation back and forth.”
“When you see this is the 8th poorest county in
the United States,
you have to address these things as you’re working to improve instruction.”
Weingarten said the effectiveness of the Reconnecting
McDowell model debunks the polarization that exists among groups of education
“Many want to blame teachers for failing education systems, but
not in West Virginia,” she said.
“In West Virginia people are
coming together; it’s about shared responsibility, individual effort, but
“That’s what the Secretary needs to see, as opposed to this
attempt of the powers that be to essentially just blame and shame teachers.”
For the first time, partners met as a group in McDowell
County. About 100 people gathered
at the Welch Armory to discuss further work on recruiting teachers, raising
student achievement, strengthening the health of residents, attracting jobs,
and many other of the group’s goals.
Weingarten said accomplishments continue to build, one upon
“All the partners are looking at the very concrete things
they will do over the next 6 months, so for example, for the first time in
about 20 years, 5 new houses are being developed in McDowell,” said Weingarten.
She also announced a $50,000 gift from Verizon for the First
Book effort to create 10 learning centers throughout the county.
VH-1 Save the Music Foundation announced this week the award
of $30,000 to be shared by Mt.
View Middle School
and Mt. View
High School for band instruments.
Another recent Reconnecting McDowell accomplishment includes
the commitment by partner Shentel Communications to wire 10,000 McDowell
County homes for the internet by
the end of this year. Shentel says new fiber optic lines will be installed in
every school by Oct. 1.
“We can go on and on, every week there is something else
happening for McDowell,” said Weingarten. “Reconnecting McDowell with community
direction is changing the trajectory of this county and its people.”
“They just say, ‘we don’t want a hand-out. We want a hand up.’”
Members of Reconnecting McDowell joined U.S Department of
Education officials for 2 group discussions with students and teachers, and
then for a panel discussion with the Secretary Duncan Thursday night.