HUNTINGTON — With the help of $30.5 million in grants authorized by education reform legislation earlier this year, West Virginia schools have now hired 115 additional social and emotional support personnel to aid students for the 2019-20 year.

House Bill 206, which was passed during the legislative special session in June and signed by Gov. Jim Justice, also allows schools to contract with agencies to provide health services, offer training for educators and ensure that current staff positions are maintained.

According to a news release from the West Virginia Department of Education, many counties plan to continue to hire additional personnel into the new year. However, local school districts have already benefited from HB 206 by integrating new personnel within the six months since its passage. One element contained in HB 206 was to bolster the number of school personnel who could help students cope with problems brought on by poverty, child abuse, drug abuse in the family and other social challenges.

Cabell County has hired people to fill an additional 24.5 positions; Wayne County has hired eight new people and Putnam has filled an additional 2.5 new positions; Mingo, Boone and Wyoming counties have each brought on one new support person since the block grants were allocated; and Logan County has hired two personnel, according to the news release.

Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe said the district’s need for additional support personnel was crucial, and before HB 206 was passed, the county was already six positions over its allotted amount.

“We employed, at that point, a few social workers, and we were really just trying to find a way to service our kids in the best way possible,” Saxe said.

Once HB 206 was passed, Saxe said his administration acted quickly to secure the additional positions.

“Within a week of its passing, we already had a plan of how we were going to use those positions, and we acted very quickly to create job descriptions and to post those positions and we actively started interviewing,” Saxe said. “We were concerned that there would be a shortage, and we wanted to be one of the first to get those positions so they could start servicing our students.”

Saxe said the grants allowed the county to hire full-time social workers at each high school and a shared social worker for middle schools, which in the past did not exist.

Since Huntington High School is a Title I school due to its mix of lower-income students, Saxe said federal funds were allotted last year to hire a social worker.

With the additional grants from HB 206, the county now employs two full-time social workers at Huntington High, which Saxe said will help the school keep its momentum in rising graduation rates, which increased 7.44% by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

“We had some historic graduation increases this past school year,” Saxe said. “Those additional positions will definitely help us continue our momentum of making sure all our students can graduate with the skills they need to be successful.”

Saxe said Cabell County is not among those with plans to continue hiring additional support personnel into 2020.

“We’ve maximized the additional state funding for our school district, so unless there is additional revenue in the new legislative session, we will not see another increase,” Saxe said.

The support personnel hired in Cabell County will continue working with students in January, as well as begin training school educators and administration.

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