Education, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate Education moves bill to allow pilot program for nontraditional school week and teacher prep time

MORGANTOWN — The Senate Education Committee approved a bill on Thursday that would set up a three-year nontraditional school week pilot program where kids go to school four days and receive alternative instruction on the fifth, so teachers can engage in activities to improve instruction.

State schools Superintendent David Roach told the committee, “At first I was lukewarm to the idea.” But after talking with a couple county superintendents and receiving a letter from one on the Eastern Panhandle, he changed his mind.

“I think it has a lot of positive things to it and I would be very willing to try this,” he said.

The bill originated in the committee and didn’t appear on the agenda. It was not reported to the full Senate during the morning session and had not received a number.

The pilot program would take place in up to five counties. The state superintendent would prioritize candidate counties based on interest or whether they have different characteristics from other candidates.

Each county would choose the day kids would not come to campus. On that day, when alternative instruction is offered, the county would still need to provide breakfast and lunch.

School employees would report to work as usual on that fifth day or take personal leave if they have available leave — or otherwise go unpaid if they don’t come in.

The pilot would be countywide, not isolated to a single school. The state superintendent would have the option of ending the program early in a county where the program is producing negative results.

Roach read the letter from the Panhandle superintendent, who said, “It is very innovative and it might fit the need of many counties in the future.”

It would give teachers time for planning, grading and professional development, the superintendent said. It would allow schools to address issues associated with long term substitutes and with “career switchers” who have enthusiasm and potential but no classroom experience.

It would also address the widespread lack of planning time, the superintendent said, that leads teachers to go into class with less time for differentiating instruction among students.

And it would be a significant draw for teachers from other states, the superintendent said. West Virginia salaries can’t be competitive with border states but this bill shows that respect for the craft of teaching is a high priority.

Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, raised a number of questions about the bill. With spotty internet access across the state, how will children receive alternative education? How will young kids whose parents work be cared for? How will truancy laws apply to older kids who see that fifth day as a free skip day?

Roach said they haven’t fleshed out a lot of details because the bill is just getting rolling. Many of those issues will be handled by the counties — that’s why it’s a pilot with an application process. “There’s a lot of things to cover.”

Committee chair Amy Grady, R-Mason, said, “I’m always hearing we’re at the bottom,” but we want to keep doing things the same way. “That’s the definition of insanity.”

This is a way to try new things and see what’s successful. “I’m a big believer in quality over quantity,” and that fifth day would give teachers more time to plan for more purposeful instruction.

Acknowledging one of Chapman’s concerns, she said the purpose of schools is not to provide child care for families, but to provide the best education, and she hopes some counties would try this.

It passed in a voice vote, with one audible “no” from Chapman.

Other bill action

The committee also approved these bills. All go to the full Senate.

  • SB 422 came from the governor and would require each school to publish its up-to-date, county-adopted curriculum on the school’s publicly accessible website, or the county’s if the school doesn’t have one. Governor’s General Counsel Berkeley Bentley said the idea is to provide transparency and to get parents more involved in their students’ education.
  • SB 688 would allow county school boards to engage retired teachers as independent contractors to provide reading and math tutoring. The contractor would not be eligible for state benefits, but contracting also would not negatively affect retirement benefits they’re receiving.
  • HB 2005 would establish a four-year pilot program for high school students to take dual credit college courses where they receive credit at both their high school and the higher education institution. Students would have to be enrolled in eligible courses leading to careers in designated career pathways.
  • HB 3218 would require grade 6-12 public schools to print the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline contact information on student ID cards.

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