MORGANTOWN — West Virginia teachers, and other public employees, railing against low pay and high insurance premiums, launched a nine-day stoppage earlier this year.
In the end, the employees got a pay raise.
However, a key infrastructure issue in the Mountain State’s public education system remains this new school year:
The teacher shortage — at least in some parts of the state.
Dale Lee, a classroom teacher and president of the West Virginia Education Association, told The Dominion Post last week that the state is still lacking for teachers, certified ones, in particular — even if the stoppage did have an initially positive outcome.
“We had 727 teacher openings last term,” he said, referring to schools across the state.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have that many this year, but we’re still going to be short.”
There are no unfilled teaching spots in Monongalia County, Eddie Campbell Jr., superintendent of the county’s schools, told The Dominion Post as schools were re-opening Tuesday.
The deficit, Campbell said, is particularly acute in West Virginia’s southern coalfield counties, and in other border counties, where teachers can make a short drive over the state line for a big bump in their paychecks.
“That’s why it’s important to invest in salaries and benefits for our teachers and service employees,” Lee said. “That’s why it’s important that we continue that investment.”
Another part is attracting new teachers to the classroom here, but West Virginia isn’t always the easiest sell, given its overall low wages in general, and its high perception nationally — for better or worse — of being a poverty ridden backwater.
Again, Mon County bucks that trend, too. Voters in the county passed an excess levy in 2016, adding $5,550-$6,575 to teacher and principal’s annual pay. Based on years of experience, that supplement gives local teachers that much more money than their counterparts around the state.
Meanwhile, at WVU, professors Erin McHenry-Sorber and Matthew Campbell are saying that the state needs to nurture the teachers who are already in classrooms — particularly with its limited financial resources.
McHenry-Sorber is an assistant professor of higher education administration and a senior scholar with the university’s Center for the Future of Land-Grant Education, which addresses the place of such public institutions of higher learning within society.
Campbell, an affiliate scholar with the center, is an assistant professor of mathematics education at WVU.
Both favor a “Grow Your Own” approach: That is, keeping teachers here who train here and giving them opportunities for leadership and mentoring roles within their schools.
The retention idea, they say, is geared to keeping the best people professionally engaged, professionally satisfied and closest to the classroom — opposed to the standard model of, say, promoting a great teacher into a not-so-great principal.
Follow The Dominion Post on Twitter@DominionPostWV. Email Jim Bissett: email@example.com.