Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 8, 2013

In rural W.Va., schools rethink their role

WAR, W.Va. (AP) — When school started here in the fall, 1 out of 7 classrooms was without a teacher; leaders couldn't recruit enough educators to this sparsely populated rural area at the southern tip of West Virginia.

When officials turned on the mandatory security cameras at one elementary school, the rest of the building lost its Internet connection; the buildings weren't wired for this century.

And when parent-teacher conferences came around, fewer than half of the biological parents got invitations; the others were long gone, in jail or dead.

This is the reality facing students in McDowell County, a place perpetually ranked among the worst in the state by almost every measure. Twelve people a month die from drug overdoses here, while more than 100 people are on a waiting list to talk to rehab counselors via Skype. Three-quarters of all students live in a home where parents can't find work in this one-time coal hub that has slowed. The county leads the state in teenage pregnancies.

With this as the backdrop, the West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday was set to formally alter the scope of these schools. The state took over the schools more than a decade ago and its leaders no longer will limit their mission to the traditional school day. The officials are going to try to turn the schools into a base, not just for the students but for all of those who live around here in small towns with names such as Cucumber and Johnnycake, where storefronts are boarded up and homes abandoned.

Adult literacy, drug rehabilitation programs and basic medical care all will take place under the roofs of these schools. And in many cases, they're already under way even before the state approves the final deal that expands the schools' ambitions in exchange for some relaxed oversight.

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