LOGAN — Two months ago the Logan County Education Association presented survey results to the Logan County Board of Education regarding the work and education climate of Logan County schools.
The Logan County Board of Education approved the hiring of consultants, which education leaders said would help them to meet the needs of students. However, the majority of teachers who responded to a survey provided by the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) were against bringing in the consultants.
“As you requested, we have followed up that survey by asking teachers to give direct input on specific areas of concern and offer what they felt were positive solutions,” Brian Lauck, LCEA president and Logan County teacher told board members present at the Logan BOE’s Thursday, Oct. 8, regular session meeting at Ralph R. Willis Vocational School at Three Mile Curve in Logan.
The board specifically requested teacher input in regards to training and professional development.
“The highest request was in the areas of Classroom Management and Technology Integration,” Lauck said. “Specifically, Office 365 and smart devices including smart boards, iPads and tablets.”
Lauck told board members there are countless trainings that can be found regarding these types of trainings.
“In fact, the WVEA has been providing Professional Development for these and many other topics around the state and many county school systems have taken advantage of these trainings,” he said. “Additionally, there are several opportunities for teachers to attend conferences around the state and bring back information they learn to present and share with their colleagues. These are just a couple feasible examples that could be explored.”
Lauck said educators in Logan County were asked a very simple and perhaps the most important question that teachers have not been asked before, “What is the biggest obstacle preventing your students from achieving at their highest potential?”
“Their reply wasn’t something that data tables or test scores would show,” Lauck said. “It was a response only teachers who work every day with the students would be able to give. That response was parental support and home life. We all know that home life isn’t what it used to be 40, 20, or even 10 years ago. What many students are facing when they aren’t inside our schools is often too sad to think about. But we must think about it. Learning potential is often hindered by outside factors…things not connected to lesson plans, CSOs, OEPA audits…there are more important issues to students that we must help with. Students, and their parents or guardians, have the obstacles of broken homes, financial hardships, no education support at home, and unfortunately, drug issues that are continuing to get worse at all levels from local communities to all over country.”
Lauck said teachers want the board to create a program for these students and their parents or guardians.
“It seems that as a public school system, it is our obligation to the community to provide an avenue of help not just while they are sitting in our classrooms or playing a sport, but also if they have burdens no child should have to deal with,” said Lauck. “If the board already has programs set up, we would like you to ask how they could be better implemented. If there are no such programs, we ask that the board lead the way in creating a resource for the students and their families which address these types of problems that are stopping a student from reaching their highest education potential.”
The next response to that question is something that is hurting the entire state, and Logan County is no exception, according to Lauck.
“That is a lack of certified teachers in the classrooms,” he explained. “If you recall the previous presentation, well over 50 percent of the teachers in Logan County responded they would not recommend working in Logan County to another teacher. Until this atmosphere changes, we will continue to lose the teachers we have and continue to be unable to fill those vacancies.”
Logan County has reported using Title 2 funds to help fund the consultants being used in the county.
“According to the West Virginia Department of Education, the Title 2 program ‘increases student achievement by elevating teacher and principal quality through recruitment, hiring, and retention strategies,’” Lauck said. “If the central office is not using these funds for this purpose, we strongly encourage that the county immediately begin special steps needed for recruitment, hiring and retention of certified teachers.”
Another piece the survey asked, “What can the consultants do to be a more relevant and helpful resource for you and your students?”
“Again, to remind everyone of our prior presentation, 80 percent of the teachers said consultants have not helped their students’ education and 30 percent said their teaching ability had actually been negatively impacted,” Lauck said. “So, when asked what the consultants could do differently to reverse those affects, the highest response was modeling by the consultants. If modeling is being done by some of the consultants we would like them to share that with the others in the county. If it’s not being done, we would like the board to recommend this strategy so teachers can have additional support for using the recommendations consultants are giving.”
This question also contained a comments section, Lauck added.
“It appears the overall feeling about the consultants hasn’t changed from the previous survey results,” he said. “Many teachers feel they are here to ‘spy’ or report on them. This is unfortunate and limits the effectiveness of what assistance the consultants could bring. Many teachers feel some of the consultants have had no training or experience that qualifies them to be in the role of a consultant. Most disheartening, many teachers feel that having consultants in their rooms is disrupting to the educational process because the students share the same negative image of the consultants. We believe the board may want to reconsider the continued use of these consultants.”
Contracts have been approved for seven consultants, with the highest salary listed at $500 per day for 88 days, according to a previously published report.
Assistant superintendent Mary Lu MacCorkle says the money is coming from a variety of federal funds. However, she says one of the consultants, Barbara Brazeau, may be paid with county money.
WVEA officials say that many teachers feel as though the money could be used in other areas and that bringing in consultants does more harm than good.
“No matter where the money is coming from, they (teachers) feel it could be better spent,” Michael Hennessey, the organizational development specialist for the WVEA South Central Region, said.
Hennessey says when officials at Logan County School’s central office contacted him about the survey, he told them it was done so that teachers could voice their concerns without fear of retaliation. He says he encouraged them to work as a team with teachers, and that the survey was in no way an attack on the central office.
Hennessey and Lauck say a large amount of financial resources are being used for consultants, but it seems their effectiveness isn’t being monitored or taken into consideration.
“We would like to ask that the board take a serious and thoughtful look to analyze the benefit of these consultants and whether or not you believe they are achieving in the task of ‘providing embedded support to teachers engaged in high quality professional development,’ which is what WVDE state their purpose is,” Lauck said. “In the majority opinion of the teachers, they are not meeting these goals.”
Lauck said another thing having negative effects on teachers in Logan County is time that has been added to their work day and time that has been taken away from teachers to plan.
“Time that we have been expected to perform duties without any compensation,” he said. “The teachers of the county have been told that their workday has been extended by 30 minutes this year. This is completely legal according to state code. However, we have yet to be told simply WHY this has been done. In fact, many of us didn’t know about this change until after the school year had already started. This adds to the lack of transparency from the board office and creates even more reason for teachers to feel unappreciated and not taken into consideration. We would simply ask that the reason for this change be given so that we can all be on the same page with the change. We also ask that in the future, when drastic changes like this are going to be implemented, we feel the employees should be the first to know, not the last.”
Lauck admitted that planning time for teachers has been a battle all over the state.
“There is a reason why teachers fought so hard to get planning time and are continuing to fight to protect it,” he explained. “Simple things many other professions can easily take for granted such as, making a telephone call, grabbing a quick snack at a vending machine, getting a drink of water, and even going to the restroom, are luxuries to teachers. The only time these simple tasks can be performed for many of us is during a few minutes a day when we have planning periods. Add to that, the tasks of creating lesson plans, grading papers, conferencing with parents and administration, making copies, setting up labs and other resources for the students. You can understand why teachers value those few minutes each day, which are absolutely essential to a teacher being able to prepare and give their students they best education they can. When you take away planning periods each week for PLC meetings, trainings, and other assignments given by consultants or central office, you don’t have to be a mathematician to understand there simply aren’t enough minutes in the day to accomplish all these tasks…even when the simple things like grabbing a snack, getting a drink of water and going to the restroom are eliminated like they usually are”
Lauck claims those hours that are taken away during the work day, every day, spill into the teacher’s personal life.
“Anyone who is in education understands, the system is flawed, you can’t do all the tasks necessary to be an effective teacher without working some on your own time,” he told board members. “But with the giant expectations the central office has added to the workloads of teachers, combined with losing planning time during the day, teachers are working hours upon hours doing lesson plans at home, grading papers while sitting in the bleachers of their kids practices, and doing data analysis and Medicare billing by coming in to the schools on weekends. At what point can a teacher stop working and be a human being, be a father or mother. At what point can they enjoy a weekend away with their family, cook or clean for their family, complete their own classwork for their certification or to complete their Master’s degree, or help their own kids with homework. These are questions that the State Department and legislatures seem to have forgotten. We ask that you don’t forget here in our own home of Logan County.”
Lauck said teachers request that consultants be used as they were designed to be, which is once or twice a month and be teacher driven, not driven by administration or consultants.
“We ask that when it’s felt teachers need to do something extra, that accommodations are made to allow time for those tasks and not take for granted that teachers can just do extra things on their own time after school or on weekends,” he said. “As LCEA president, I ask that all the board members make our presentation here today a priority, understanding that everything we have presented directly relates to our students education. We don’t feel anything asked or talked about today is out of the reach of our board to make happen. It will take hard work and dedication by all of us, but it can be done and must be done now, not later. The greatest asset in any classroom isn’t the most expensive piece of technology, 30 page lesson plans, or data walls. The greatest asset is the teacher. And the greatest resource a teacher has is the potential of the students.”
Board members said the advice and survey results were helpful.
“As a member of the Logan County Board of Education, I want to help to make a better climate for everyone in our school system,” said Dr. Pat White. “We appreciate getting this information and surveys and we will need time to look it all over and give it all proper consideration.”
Board Vice President Mark McGrew said he agreed that parental support and home life was a big problem.
“Unfortunately some parents are sending their children to school to have the school raise them and not sending them their to be taught and educated,” he said.
Board member Debbie Mendez agreed.
“We have many grandparents raising kids today,” she said. “We want more involvement from them and all parents, including workshops for them and the children.”
The next meeting of the Logan BOE is Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. at Buffalo Elementary School.
Fred Pace is an editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165, ext. 1661, in Madison; at 304-752-6950, ext. 1729 in Logan; by email at [email protected] or @fcpace62 on Twitter.