Reconnecting McDowell County, WV

Readers of Eduflack know I often speak of my roots and connections to West Virginia.  I am a proud graduate of Jefferson County High School in Shenandoah Junction, WV (Go, Cougars!)  But I am particularly privileged to have served on the staff of one of the greatest U.S. Senators in our nation’s history, the Honorable Robert C. Byrd.  

Working for Senator Byrd, I was able to see much of what makes West Virginia and the nation great.  I had the ability to travel the Mountain State’s 55 counties, from its beautiful ranges to its research universities, its large cities to its company towns, its river rapids to its coal mines.  Yes, West Virginia has much to be proud of.  But it is also a state with communities ravaged by poverty, poor health, and struggling schools.
Which is I was so taken by an announcement made last week by the American Federation of Teachers.  On Friday, the AFT officially launched “Reconnecting McDowell County,” a “comprehensive, long-term effort to make educational improvements in McDowell County the route to a brighter economic future.”
Reconnecting McDowell County has an impressive list of partners, including WV Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the WV Congressional Delegation, Benedum Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia, College Board, Safe the Children, WV AFL-CIO, and the West Virginia State Police, just to name a few.  
The effort’s Covenant of Commitment is a particularly interesting read.  The effort is focused on six key issues: 1) education; 2) services for students and their families; 3) transportation, technology, and other issues; 4) housing; 5) jobs and economic development; and 6) the McDowell Community.  In the Covenant, the partners note:
We understand that there are no simple solutions — no easy answers or quick fixes.  Together, we are striving to meet these challenges, but we know we won’t accomplish that in a day, a month, or even a year.  We will find ways to measure our progress, and we believe that the changes we propose and implement must be judged by rigorous standards of accountability.  We accept that this will be a long-term endeavor, and we commit to stay engaged until we have achieved our goals of building the support systems the students need and helping the residents of McDowell County to take charge of their desire for a better life ahead.
Yes, I realize that McDowell County is not alone its history, its current challenges, or its desire to change.  Across the nation, we have counties, cities, and communities that face similar struggles.  What makes this interesting is that Reconnecting McDowell is committed to demonstrating the demographics do not equal destiny.  Old industrial towns, even old coal towns, can be reborn in the 21st century.  We can rebuild currently struggling schools around a new culture of improving instruction, greater accountability, and rising student performance.  And we can work together to put all of the conditions — from housing and health to education and jobs — in place for achievement and success.
We should all keep an eye on Reconnecting McDowell, looking at its metrics and watching its progress.  And we should be asking why we aren’t launching similar efforts in other states, in other counties, and in other communities across the nation.  The principles laid forward by Reconnecting McDowell are universal.  

One thought on “Reconnecting McDowell County, WV

  1. Coal County Oklahoma has the same blood-soaked history as Matewan. One legacy is pollution which contributes to a school system with 40% of kids on IEPs. Have you looked into their success, based on high-quality pre-school and intense focus on reading by 3rd grade. Coal County did what Gordon MAcInnis did in parts of New Jersey and it works. As the superinendent testified, the alternative is NCLB-type testing where schools “fake it until they get fictious scores.”What can’t work is doing those science-based proven methods, while keeping up NCLB standardized testing regimes. Real world, you’ve got to chose, do you want to help kids or used bubble mania to punish adults. Real world, this is a “which side are you on?” issue. You can’t ask systems to chew gum and walk at the same time.

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