Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 8, 2012

New McDowell schools chief faces challenge of filling vacant teaching positions

BLUEFIELD — One of the first challenges facing new state-appointed McDowell County School Superinten-dent Nelson Spencer is filling a backlog of teacher vacancies in the county.

“At this time, our personnel director is working very feverishly to fill the positions we have,” Spencer, who began work July 1 as the county’s new school superintendent, said. “One of the obstacles we will have to overcome is to get enough teachers and administrators. We have multiple, multiple positions to fill before school starts. And that is typical to what is happening in McDowell County is we are filling 40 to 60 positions each year.”

That’s one area where the ongoing Recon-necting McDowell initiative is expected to help. The campaign was launched earlier this year in a bid to help the still struggling school system. The public-private initiative involves more than 40 organizations that are focusing on jobs and economic development, housing and transportation and technology services for students and families in McDowell County. In terms of housing, a new “teacher village” has been proposed at the old Best Furniture Company site in Welch.

Spencer said the five story building will be converted into housing for teachers. The development will include unique amenities such as TV lounges, exercise rooms, group work areas and even a restaurant.

“It will be a great plus for us where we can have qualified teachers in this area,” Spencer said. “One of the biggest obstacles I see in this county is the lack of instructors.”

Spencer said feedback from teachers who have left the school system have included complaints about a lack of housing and recreational opportunities in McDowell County.

Spencer said the Reconnecting McDowell campaign hopes to address not only housing, but also infrastructure, economic development and transportation challenges.

“I believe the school system is heading in the right direction with some of the data I’ve just looked at over the past month,” Spencer said. “I truly believe we have great administrators and teachers in place.”

Spencer said the priority emphasis of the school system, the state board, and the locally-elected county board remains the children.

“No matter what you have control over or not, the main emphasis or point of emphasis in our system is to put the students first,” Spencer said. “That is one of the things I’ve noticed with the board is they always place students first.”

 Spencer previously served as a state school improvement specialist focusing on McDowell County. Spencer also previously served as a director of secondary schools, director of federal programs, principal, assistant principal and teacher while working in Raleigh County. He has spent the last year working in McDowell County.

He replaces Jim Brown, who left on July 1, to begin as the new school superintendent of Raleigh County.

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