The Governor’s Education Reform Bill passed through the legislature and was signed into law earlier this year. That bill was seen as a major overall to the state’s public education system which critics said was failing West Virginia students, but was only meant to be the first step in reform.
From preschool to college and beyond, legislators have spent the past nine months hearing from the state Department of Education and the Higher Education Policy Commission about how they’re working to expand their reach and improve the quality of education students’ are receiving.
Those same talks continued this week at the Capitol during December interims.
“It has become the hot topic at the Department right now.”
Assistant State Superintendent Kathy D’Antoni referred to career exploration in middle schools. The governor’s bill worked to expand the initiative, giving middle schoolers more opportunities to explore the types of careers available to them.
She told a legislative education committee the department is growing their career aptitude testing for 8th graders to include more modules, helping them figure out not just what careers they may have interest in, but also what path to take to get there.
“There’s one particular module that’s pretty revealing for students,” D’Antoni said. “It’s called ‘budget your life’ and they ask the students to go in and determine what kind of things they want after high school, what kind of house they want to live in, what kind of car they want to drive.”
From there, the program generates a report that tells students what kind of jobs will provide the salary to attain those things.
“So, it’s very eye opening to a lot of students,” she added.
D’Antoni went on to describe a project in the works to bring STEM-oriented videos, which stands for science technology engineering and math, into classrooms. When paired with hands on activities, the videos give students access to careers in fields that are exciting and constantly evolving.
At a higher level, D’Antoni works closely with career and technical education centers across the state that give high school students access to classes. This gives high schoolers a jump start on a vocational career.
Twenty-one of these centers have chosen to take part in a new program created by the Department called simulated workplaces. These workplaces allow students to experience the real world first hand by making them clock in and out everyday while they work as a class to create a business and try to increase its net worth.
Part of the program includes random drug testing, but students can also choose to go through a mandatory drug testing process.
Students who successfully complete that path are given a certificate to attach to their resume after graduation so possible employers can have confidence the students aren’t using drugs.
“It gives me great pleasure to say that over 80 percent of our seniors are opting for mandatory drug testing,” D’Antoni said, which she believes is helping provide the drug-free workforce West Virginia employers want, but are currently having trouble finding.
But the superintendent said there are some portions of the governor’s bill the Department hasn’t been able to fully implement yet.
For example, D’Antoni said high schools and career and technical colleges are supposed to be working together to create clear pathways for students from vocational programs in high schools to two year degrees at the higher ed institutions through a new consortium. She said talks are still only in the early stages to create that consortium.
“We’ve had two systems that grew in isolation of each other,” she told lawmakers, “and we’ve come to a point where the workforce, the future of West Virginia is dependent on those two systems interfacing and talking to each other.”
She shared her personal opinion that the legislature needs to do more to hold the two systems accountable and get them motivated.
“We are sitting in an exciting time in West Virginia of economic opportunity. We have a window that we could just change the face of West Virginia, but we have to get our ducks in a row,” she said.
“Our educational systems need to be very closely attached to not just each other, but also with workforce, with economic development. This has to happen and these difficult conversations have to take place for us to be successful.”