Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 23, 2012

Reconnecting McDowell — Educational overhaul gains steam


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Just how important is the Reconnecting McDowell campaign to our region? It’s important enough to garner a first-hand visit and review by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Duncan, who was in Welch last week as part of a Reconnecting McDowell town hall meeting at Mount View High School, is advocating a renewed focus on rural education, and the challenges faced by rural school systems like McDowell County in terms of obtaining needed funding, educational resources and quality teachers.

Reconnecting McDowell is a public-private venture led by the American Federation of Teachers. The mission of the five-year plan is to rescue the still troubled school system. The school system has been under the control of the state Board of Education since 2001.

The far-reaching rescue plan seeks to address housing, transportation, kindergarten through 12th grade, technology, early childhood and “wraparound” services such as health, mental health services, after-school programs, tutoring and counseling, according to Gayle Manchin, vice president of the state school board and former first lady for the Mountain State.

But the rescue plan extends far beyond just the classroom. It is really a vision of revitalizing all of McDowell County, according to Janet Bass, a spokesperson with the American Federation of Teachers and Reconnecting McDowell. That includes addressing housing, transportation and chronic poverty woes in the county, among many other challenges.

We are already seeing positive results from this welcomed campaign. For example, the ribbon was cut last week on a new housing development in the Welch area, the first of its kind in the county in several years. A Reconnecting McDowell partner — the West Virginia AFL-CIO — donated $6,500 for the water line connections to the project, the final task needed to complete the new homes.

Also, a five-story building in Welch, which once housed the old Best Furniture Company, is being converted into housing for teachers as part of the Reconnecting McDowell initiative. The development will include unique amenities such as TV lounges, exercise rooms, group work areas and even a restaurant.

And Jimmy Gianato, director of the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security, says all schools in McDowell County will have access to high-speed broadband by the end of the month. That’s great news.

With help from its local, state and federal partners, the embattled school system has come a long way in a short time. But there is still much more work to be done. That’s why we are glad to hear that officials with Reconnecting McDowell are committed to a long-term rescue plan for the school system.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., says, “McDowell County is a special place that deserves the work and compassion of Reconnecting McDowell.”

We agree. We welcome the progress to date by the public-private initiative, and look forward to a long-term effort to rebuild and resurrect the struggling school system.