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Legislation Gives McDowell Schools, Community Big Boost

The "Reconnecting McDowell" public-private partnership to reinvigorate the public schools and help empower the community of McDowell County, W. Va., received a big boost with the March 10 final passage of state legislation giving the schools flexibility to develop and implement innovative programs.

"The schools, teachers, staff and community can now work collaboratively on outside-the-box programs to meet the unique needs of McDowell students and their families," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. The union is a lead partner in the unprecedented partnership. "The legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have given the McDowell community a much-needed vote of confidence and hope for reviving their region."

The bill allowing McDowell County to apply to become an "innovation zone" could result in alternative certification programs to help teacher recruitment efforts; provide integrated health, wellness and fitness programs; and allow schools to develop innovative solutions based on local needs.

"We're thrilled to have the support of the governor and legislature as we move forward to strengthen educational and economic opportunities in McDowell County," says Gayle Manchin, vice president of the State Board of Education. "The passage of this bill empowers us with the flexibility to do what we need to do to ensure a better quality of life for children and families in McDowell County."

The teacher-in-residence bill would set up, with Concord University, an intensely supervised and mentored program to have college seniors studying education fill open teaching positions.

The 40-plus partners engaged in "Reconnecting McDowell" have already made progress since announcing the partnership in December, including literacy training and other professional development programs for McDowell teachers, technology initiatives to expand broadband capability and bring online programs into the classroom, and efforts to increase the housing stock to help teacher recruitment.

"The governor and the legislature are true partners in the Reconnecting McDowell project. The passage of this critical legislation will help pave the way for the revival and renewal of the McDowell schools, and the larger community," says Judy Hale, president of AFT West Virginia and an AFT vice president. [AFT press release]

March 11, 2012