Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 2, 2014

Unity needed to strengthen schools

— — The saga of bad water in Charleston continues. Earlier this week it was reported that the tank farm that leaked into the Elk River and disrupted the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians will be torn down. While some applaud this action I wish to ask the question: Will that solve the problem?

By tearing down this facility it will no longer be able to spill into the river, but is that throwing out the baby with the bath water? Is the answer to any problem we encounter a quick “tear it down?”

The residents of Charleston and areas affected by the spill do not have confidence in their tap water, many are not only leery about using it but fearful of the effects it may have on peoples’ health down the road. The CDC has advised pregnant women not to use it. In talking to some folks I know in the affected area, there is still a smell. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked the federal government for help in providing potable water to the region, citing the public’s lack of confidence in water quality.

The West Virginia State Senate has taken a step in the right direction by passing legislation last week that would regulate storage facilities such as the ones operated by Freedom Industries. The bill passed the chamber on a 33-0-1 vote.

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A disturbing report came out last week regarding West Virginia public schools and how they rank in terms of performance on the WESTEST. As a state West Virginia is 35th. However, locally our schools are a bit disappointing in their test results.

Out of the state’s 55 counties Mercer County is 42nd and McDowell 53rd. Monroe County is 32nd and Wyoming is 17th. The top rated county in the state is Ohio and the worst is Preston.

Things are even more disturbing when one takes a look at individual high schools. The highest rated school in the region is Wyoming East at No. 14. Princeton checks in at 22, Westside 28 and Bluefield is tied with Beckley Woodrow Wilson at No. 45.

There are 113 public high schools in West Virginia and finishing out the region’s schools are PikeView (78), James Monroe (99), Montcalm (103), River View (107) and Mount View was dead last at 113.

As a graduate of Mount View High School it pains me to see my alma mater in such a position. I recall my days as a student when our students won many academic awards based on state and national tests and had a fair share of national merit scholars. It was such a good school that then state school superintendent Roy Truby spent a week teaching there in the 1979-80 school year.

I do not know what can be done to rectify the situation, but there is obviously a problem and that problem permeates not just through the school, but can have effects on much more.

As McDowell County is working to attract economic development, not many employers or entrepreneurs are going to invest in a county where its two high schools are among the seven worst in regard to test scores in the state.

There has to be a commitment on the part of students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community to do whatever is necessary to get Mount View and River View High Schools from the bottom of the performance list. It can be done.

I had a college friend who was a student at Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J. You may recall the movie “Lean on Me,” starring Morgan Freeman as the school’s principal, Joe Clark.

My friend was one of those students who saw the change in that school from the scourge of New Jersey to one of its best in a short period of time. It took involvement and participation from all and it was accomplished.

It will not be easy. It will be hard work, but for the future existence of McDowell County it must be done.

If you were just wondering, the top five high schools in West Virginia are Bridgeport (Harrison County), George Washington (Kanawha County), Van (Boone County), Winfield (Putnam County) and Shady Spring (Raleigh County). You can check out the results at www.schooldigger.com/go/WV/schoolrank.aspx.

Bob Redd is a sports writer and editorial page columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com. Follow him at BDTRedd.

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