Reconnecting McDowell, the unprecedented public-private partnership to turn around McDowell County's struggling education system and severe economic and social problems, is making early progress with West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Jan. 11 announcement of $1 million in state funds to Save the Children, and a pilot program designed to give McDowell County flexibility for developing innovative programs to improve student performance.
The initiative's 40-plus partners, led by the AFT and former West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin, have committed to a long-term effort to reverse the impoverished Appalachian county's economic decline, and to address its underperforming schools, drug and alcohol abuse problems, housing shortages, limited medical services, and inadequate access to technology and transportation. A six-month planning process is under way, funded by the Benedum Foundation and the AFT Educational Foundation.
In his Jan. 11 State of the State address, Gov. Tomblin said Save the Children will receive $1 million in state funds for its trainers to work with students and their families in three McDowell schools to implement early childhood and literacy programs. Tomblin also proposed making McDowell a "County Innovation Zone Pilot Project," to allow teachers, school staff and McDowell school administrators the regulatory and legislative flexibility they need to improve struggling schools. This will help the partners as they work on education reforms for McDowell.
Since the partnership's Dec. 16 launch, new commitments have moved the effort forward:
- An acute housing shortage in McDowell County makes teacher recruitment difficult, and the mountainous terrain impedes new construction. The West Virginia AFL-CIO has provided the additional funding necessary to begin digging water lines for several homes. Discussions are under way for financing for additional homes.
- To enhance educational opportunities, Frontier Communications has given $100,000 to Globaloria for online learning projects for McDowell students.
- AFT education specialists are developing an education plan with county teachers and education leaders to provide training and other resources to improve teaching and learning.
"Reconnecting McDowell is figuratively and literally breaking ground," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "Gov. Tomblin is an integral partner in the effort to improve the lives of McDowell's rural and isolated families. The generous $1 million grant to Save the Children, along with other progress we're making on housing, technology and educational needs, are significant steps toward making a very real difference in the lives of McDowell families."
Judy Hale, president of AFT West Virginia, and Jackee Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, praised Tomblin's contributions, noting that they will help Reconnecting McDowell become a model for transforming rural education programs. [AFT public affairs department]
January 11, 2012