Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 21, 2012

Secretary of Education shares ideas for McDowell

WELCH — Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said he didn’t come to McDowell County to teach. “I came here to learn,” he said following a robust question and answer period where students, educators and the general public pressed him for ideas as to how to improve McDowell County schools.

“I love this kind of exchange,” he said. “I like finding out what students and educators need. I learn a great deal from listening to them.”

During his brief remarks, Duncan admitted that the partisan political atmosphere in Washington has made his work more challenging, but he said after the session in the cafeteria of Mount View High School that he is unwavering in his commitment to do the best job he can to insure that students get the best education they can possibly get.

“I am the least political person you’ll ever meet,” he said. “My entire career has been about working to improve educational opportunities for inner-city and rural students. I’m sure of what we can accomplish. This is my life’s work.”

Duncan provided the exclamation point to a very long and fruitful day for the 9-month-old Reconnecting McDowell initiative launched late last year by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and geared toward helping McDowell County Schools emerge from a prolonged period of economic depression that has held the county in its grip for several years.

Former West Virginia First Lady Gayle Manchin, chair of the Reconnecting McDowell governance board and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers got the audience — numbering about 200 — into the excitement of the moment by recapping the day’s highlights. However, the people were obviously there to hear what Duncan had to say.

“We’ve all seen amazing things,” Duncan said of his “Education Drives America” Back to School Bus Tour that started in the Silicone Valley on Sept. 12, and will end today after stops in Roanoke and Richmond, Va., with a final stop at the Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The students and teachers of McDowell County weren’t bashful about the questions they asked ranging from the lack of housing in the county, a need for financial incentives for educators in isolated rural school systems, reduced emphasis on test scores, as well as help with college prep and to motivate students to move beyond the secondary education level.

“We have 100,000 schools in the United States,” he said. “They don’t belong to me. They belong to the community,”

— Contact Bill Archer at


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