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Official says flexibility, local control key to future of education

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 11:43 PM

HUNTINGTON -- State Superintendent James Phares visited Cabell County School Board members Tuesday evening to discuss what the future of education needs to look like.

The answers, however, came from three Huntington High School seniors who were attending as part of the civics class.

Phares asked Conor McKay, Lamar Thompson and Krista Johnson to describe how they learn best, and all three provided different answers. That, Phares said, has to be the driving force behind change West Virginia schools.

"You all heard the governor's speech, and he's got a bold plan for education," Phares said. "It's a different plan than you may have heard to help student achievement throughout the state."

The biggest piece is giving counties more local control, which school board president Suzanne Oxley is a far cry from several years ago when it seemed the legislature was going take more control.

"There are different needs and adaptations that need to be made," Oxley said.

One of those is the switch to a balanced calendar, which Phares said represents an idea that each county needs to have the flexibility to provide 180 days of instruction in the best manner they can. He said when he was superintendent of Pocahontas County, the harsh winters plagued any effort to get enough instructional days.

He and board members also discussed the importance of career and technical education and its place in the school system moving forward.

Gov. Earl Ray TomblinDD said last week, and Phares agrees, that CTE can play a vital role in the education process if it, too, can move into the 21st century. That means meshing it with the academics to allow students to earn, for example, a math credit through the carpentry program.

"There was a gradual shift from CTE with all the emphasis on college readiness," Phares said. "Policy 2510 squeezed out CTE."

He also wants to see local business leaders become consultants to the tech centers in an effort to bring programs up to date. However, as Oxley and fellow board members Skip Parsons noted, there's got to be funding to make that happen.

"We need a fairly substantial amount of money for equipment and technology," Oxley said.

But Phares said there are no easy solutions, citing a partnership between a career and technical college and Mercer County Schools as one way to maximize dollars.

"I would like to say money grows on trees, but you need to prioritize what's important to you (as a school board)."

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