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State supports school plans

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 11:46 PM

CHARLESTON -- Members of the West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday expressed support for Cabell County's plans for an incubator school that utilizes the Expeditionary Learning model.

Superintendent William Smith and Stan Maynard, the director of the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, presented information about the school and Cabell County's plan at the state board's meeting in Charleston.

The Expeditionary Learning model is rooted in a philosophy that students learn best by completing multi-disciplined projects, some of which could take an entire school year. Smith said the model also pushes students toward academic excellence, with classroom flexibility that allows them time to work toward mastery.

"We are talking about changing a culture, not just putting a school in place," Smith said.

Gayle Manchin, the former first lady of West Virginia who is president of the state Board of Education, expressed enthusiasm for the project, saying it captures the "vision of change so many of us have dreamed about in West Virginia."

Smith said Cabell County may need some waivers from the state board for pieces of its implementation, but that may not be a hurdle.

"Waivers are a good thing when talking about a cultural change and flexibility," Manchin said.

Smith and Maynard were supported in their efforts by state Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. He said this type of learning model is needed in West Virginia and is what the Southern Regional Education Board -- on which Plymale serves as treasurer -- has been looking for.

"This fits well with all the things (the West Virginia Board of Education) has adopted," Plymale said. "I also think when you look at what the SREB is doing, this type of learning model fits into making kids the thinkers they need to be."

Former state senator Lloyd Jackson, now a member of the state Board of Education, asked about how it would be staffed, noting that it will take talented educators to successfully implement the model. Smith reiterated the county's plan to hire a principal by the end of this year, then start bidding out teaching jobs in spring 2014. He said he wants to have all the positions filled by next summer so there can be a full year of training before opening the school for the 2015-2016 school year.

Michael Green, the vice president of the board, noted the importance of cooperation and coordination to get the school going. But he said he was impressed with the cultural change it could bring.

"You have an opportunity to have a model that does change (the community)," Green said. "It could be a model we can do throughout the state."

The school will be housed at the former Beverly Hills Middle School facility on Saltwell Road, which will be vacated at the end of the year when the new Huntington East Middle School building opens in January. The architectural design is already being done by ZMM Architects to renovate the middle school into an elementary school that will fit the needs of the expeditionary model.

Smith said he will ask Cabell County School Board members to vote this fall to consolidate Peyton and Geneva Kent elementary schools -- the two schools identified to combine in the county's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan for 2010-2020 -- for the new incubator school.

Another feature that was strongly favored by the Expeditionary Learning officials who visited and approved Cabell County in June was its connection with Marshall University. Maynard said the teaching methods classes will be held at the school, allowing the next generation of teachers to gain insight into the Expeditionary Learning model.

It also will serve as a training center for West Virginia teachers who want to see the model in action. That also was a piece supported by Paul Hill, chancellor for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. He mentioned during the meeting that the model can help the teaching programs at all of the state's colleges and universities as the transition to the Common Core Curriculum takes place.

After the meeting, Plymale said the types of innovative programs that Cabell County has proposed and implemented have played a part in the Senate Education Committee's crafting and support of West Virginia's education bills in the past several years. The most successful thus far, he said, is the Teacher Induction Program for new teachers, which has been adopted in whole or in part in counties throughout the state.

"(Cabell County is) the reason we needed to create laws for flexibility and innovation," Plymale said.

Smith said at least eight principals have committed to attending a tour of Evergreen Community Charter School in Asheville, N.C., in September. The school has been an Expeditionary Learning member for several years and is one of 165 nationwide.

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