Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 15, 2013

Local control

A victory for McDowell County

— — About 12 years ago, a scathing school-by-school audit meticulously identified 260 non-compliance violations for McDowell County Schools. The controversial report set the stage for state intervention. The year was 2001. Little did anyone expect at the time that state control of the local school system would last for 11 1/2 years. Yet it did.

It was a turbulent — but ultimately rewarding — decade-old journey for McDowell County. Old and dilapidated schools were closed and or torn down. New state-of-the art schools were opened across the country. Southside. Mount View Middle. Bradshaw Elementary. River View High School. And the soon-to-be constructed Iaeger Elementary. A sense of lost pride was slowly restored. And student achievement — long an area of concern — is finally on the upswing.

During the 12-year period, four different state-appointed school superintendents were utilized, including Dr. Mark Manchin, a mover and shaker who ordered old schools closed while breaking ground on new state-of-the-art facilities. Suzette Cook, Jim Brown and now Nelson Spencer have since carried on that mission over the years.

And a massive multi-year rescue plan — dubbed Reconnecting McDowell — was launched utilizing both public and private partners. More than 40 different organizations currently involved with the rescue plan are focusing on jobs and economic development, housing and transportation and technology services for students and families in McDowell County.

It’s been a long 12 years for McDowell County Schools.  But the once embattled school system is now moving in the right direction. And the state intervention is finally over.

The good news was made official last week when the West Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously to return full control and authority to the McDowell County Board of Education effective July 1.

“The state board promises to be an ally,” state board member Gayle Manchin said. “We see this as a partnership. When the children of McDowell County succeed, the state of West Virginia succeeds.”

The return to local control is subject to the local board meeting three conditions. They include:

• The current appointed superintendent, Nelson Spencer, remains in that position for four years

• Training is provided to the McDowell County board in the following areas: personnel, finance and board leadership

• And that the McDowell board be mindful that it is under the watchful eye of the WVBOE as noted in West Virginia Code 18-2E-5 (q)(2), which indicates the state board may intervene immediately in the operation of the county school system, “… if the state board finds the following: That the conditions precedent to intervention exist as provided in this section and that the state board had previously intervened in the same school system and had concluded the intervention within the preceding five years.”

After nearly 12 years of state control, it is our hope that the locally-elected board members will do everything in their power to meet those conditions, and continue the positive work that is underway in the school system.

Going backward is not an option. The school system — and its locally elected leaders — must now strive to move the school system forward without state intervention, but with the critical and continuing assistance of the Reconnecting McDowell partners.

We are glad that this long journey is finally ending for McDowell County Schools.

July 1 marks a new beginning for the school system. We congratulate all involved in helping the students, teachers, administrative staff and parents of McDowell County Schools in reaching this all-important goal.

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