Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 29, 2012

One year later — Public-private partnership working

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— One year after the unique public-private partnership was launched with a goal of rescuing a still struggling school system, the Reconnecting McDowell campaign can claim substantial progress in a number of areas, including expanding broadband to all McDowell County schools.

Frontier Communications recently wired every county school with fiber optics and Shentel Communications is now working to wire 10,000 homes for Internet access, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

The Reconnecting McDowell campaign was launched on Dec. 16, 2011, with the goal of improving McDowell County’s educational opportunities while addressing chronic problems caused by economic decline, poverty and other issues.

Reconnecting McDowell began with 40 partners, according to the state Department of Education. The grass-roots initiative now has about 110 partners and a board of directors, who are seeking solutions to the various challenges McDowell County continues to face when it comes to education, jobs and the economy, social and health services, housing, technology and transportation.

A key and long-term goal of the initiative is to recruit teachers to fill vacancies in McDowell and then to retain those teachers, according to a one-year Reconnecting McDowell report released last week by the American Federation of Teachers.

Retaining teachers has proven to be a challenge for the school system, which has been under state control since 2001. A number of reasons are blamed for the failure of the school system to retain teachers, including a housing shortage in the county and the mountainous terrain — not to mention a difficult daily commute along U.S. Route 52 — to reach the school system.

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

 Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Gayle Manchin, vice president of the West Virginia Board of Education, correctly stress that the Reconnecting McDowell campaign is just beginning. They hope to see further progress in McDowell County in 2013 and beyond.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Weingarten said last week. “We want to make sure that we do things right, not just get them done, so that we provide McDowell with sustainable programs that can be built upon for another generation.”

Manchin says the campaign has added to a heightened sense of optimism in McDowell County thanks to that which has been accomplished in a single year.

We agree. The Reconnecting McDowell initiative has been a positive development for McDowell County. And it is important to remember that we are just now completing the first year of what is envisioned as a multi-year campaign.

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.

It is our hope that the best is still to come for McDowell County Schools.