The Education Alliance hosts ‘brainstorming session’ on education issues

MORGANTOWN — The president of the philanthropic Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation spun an economic cliché in the other direction Monday June 18 in Morgantown.

At least as it applies to public education in West Virginia.

When it comes to classrooms here, Pat Getty said, it isn’t always, “You get what you pay for.”

More often than not, he said, it’s a matter of, “You pay for what you can get.”

Getty appeared before an audience of educators, lawmakers and business leaders in the WVU Alumni Center for the gathering, hosted by the Education Alliance, a Charleston-based nonprofit that provides programming for public schools and advocates for the educational well-being of students.

The afternoon was billed as “ED Talks West Virginia” (patterned after the popular “TED Talks” series), and also included remarks by state Teacher of the Year Katlin Thorsell and Bob Huggins, the Sweet Sixteen, Final Four coach of WVU’s men’s basketball team.

Call it a brainstorming session on a statewide scale, said Amelia Courts, the alliance’s president and CEO.

Her organization regularly does such idea-swapping road trips across the state.

“As we think about the tremendous economic opportunities and challenges facing our state, the connection between jobs and education is obvious,” she said.

“Engaging our communities in this conversation is mission-critical to our success.”

“Success,” is an adjective that isn’t always used in the same sentence with West Virginia, Getty said.

The Benedum Foundation he helps oversee centers its outreach on all of the Mountain State, plus southwestern Pennsylvania.

Both places on the map have been wracked by generations of downturns in the coal industry, he said.

West Virginia, he said, is always looking through the window when the country is booming.

The state, though, he said, is still a microcosm to the economic climate of the U.S., and he referenced a report commissioned in 2016 by West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission and Technical College System to say why.

Which comes back to getting what you pay for-versus-paying for what you get.

The report looked at the numbers of college-going students in West Virginia who had to take remedial courses on the next level.

“So they could learn what they were supposed to have learned in high school,” Getty said.

In relatively prosperous Monongalia County, only 4 percent of high school graduates had to take such courses in college, according to the report.

That’s opposed to the 60 percent in McDowell County, in the state’s downtrodden coal fields, who needed additional help.

Besides economics, he said, the state is hamstrung by myriad of policies and procedures related to public education that are ever-changing.

Getty wondered aloud why policy makers and shapers from the state Board of Education to lawmakers to teacher’s union couldn’t negotiate a 10-year moratorium on such changes, to allow for trends and patterns to shape over time.

“West Virginia children deserve research-driven policies and standards of accountability,” he said.

Harvesting the lesson

Thorsall, West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year for 2018, said she holds herself accountable on a daily basis.

A number of students with autism are mainstreamed into her agriculture classes at Washington High, in Charles Town.

Her classes are known for their outreach work with Charles Town’s homeless population.

The whole endeavor builds awareness, she said.

And awareness, she said, begets understanding and empathy.

Like the plants she helps her students grow and cultivate, the project doesn’t work if something is deliberately left out.

“We must teach our students to be kind to one another,” Thorsall said.

A coach breaks it down

For Huggins, “coaching” and “teaching” mean the same thing.

Early on his career before he made it back to his alma mater of WVU, Huggins coached a talented freshman who was tall, quick and motivated — both in games and practice.

The player did everything Huggins and the coaching staff asked of him.

Especially when the coaches actually demonstrated the moves and techniques they wanted carried out in the game.

The only thing that freshman didn’t do was look at printed scouting reports charting the weaknesses and strengths of the opponent next on the schedule.

“He wouldn’t even glance at them,” Huggins said.

The player finally confessed that he had dyslexia.

“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t read.’ Everyone learns in a different way. You gotta care. You gotta care about people.”

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