Liz McCormick Published

State School Board Seeks to Support Teachers Post-COVID, Help Students With Summer Remediation

Group of school children with teacher on field trip in nature, learning science.

The West Virginia Board of Education is exploring ways to improve working conditions for teachers who are emerging from the unprecedented drain of teaching during a pandemic — and looking ahead at the way forward for their students who will need remediation.

The board hopes to address issues like teacher shortages and burnout as classes return this fall and as educators assess the best plan to ensure that everyone in the classroom is supported.

Board members last week heard plans from two counties in their monthly meeting on how they hope to assist students in catching up. They also received a presentation from the nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute. Their study, which began in July 2019 and ended in Feb. 2020, considered teacher shortages as a major issue in West Virginia — but a critical issue in southern counties.

Over the past decade, nearly every county in West Virginia reported a shortage in a subject area. According to LPI, those shortages are greatest in mathematics, science, special education and elementary education.

“Keep in mind, this is pre-pandemic data that we’re looking at,” said LPI’s Policy Advisor Ryan Saunders ahead of the presentation. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about just how much the pandemic has impacted some of these trends that we saw before the pandemic.”

Even though the data was gathered before the pandemic, the institute offered the state six ways to tackle having less staff, with specific focus on two areas they deemed vastly important for the state as it enters a post-pandemic world.

These two areas were strengthening clinical training and induction.

“We’re going to have a lot of new teachers who may not have had the types of clinical experiences they needed because of remote learning, because of shifts from hybrid to in-person classrooms,” Saunders said. “And so there’s a need for those new teachers to get even more support coming out of the pandemic … Induction is going to be the only way they get some of that mentoring and coaching that will keep them in the profession.”

Saunders recommended year-long residencies for teachers and efficient and meaningful training and support.

“Research also indicates the teachers without full preparation, [they] leave at two, to three times the rates of fully prepared teachers creating the ‘leaky bucket phenomena’ that contributes to shortages and undermines school improvement efforts,” he said.

But if teachers receive high-quality mentoring and induction in their first two years, Saunders said teachers are twice as likely to stay in the profession.

Saunders also proposed paying for training with some of the millions of dollars coming in from the federal government’s “American Rescue Plan.” It was announced in March that West Virginia will receive more than $760 million in dedicated COVID relief money just for schools.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out to the West Virginia Department of Education for the number of teacher vacancies in the state, but they did not respond before this story was published.

Summer Remediation In West Virginia

In response to the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the West Virginia Department of Education has created a summer remediation grant program available to all counties called “Summer SOLE.”

All but one county (Boone) has opted to receive some of the funding for summer school opportunities. The allocation comes from remaining CARES funding and totals to about $32 million spread out among 54 counties.

Board members last week heard presentations about SOLE plans in Wood and Mercer counties.

Wood County Superintendent of Schools William Hosaflook said their goal will be to help kids fall in love with school again.

“Our summer programming strategy is very simple,” Hosaflook said. “We wanted to recapture the love of learning. We know we’re gonna catch kids up, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to recapture the love of learning.”

Hosaflook said his team will be focused on things like summer school camps rather than traditional summer school. One in particular he pointed to is called Steam Camp, where students will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“I started to think, how can we not only validate what’s happening in the classroom, but how can we engage kids in innovation, creativity — to really bring the love of learning?” he said.

Wood County Schools has received $1.5 million for its Summer SOLE programs.

Mercer County Schools is also aiming to do things out of the box. In a statement read to board members, Mercer County Superintendent Deborah Akers said the focus in her county would be on helping children reconnect with school.

“This is definitely a team county-wide effort,” Akers said. “The parameters given to the schools were four days a week, ELA and math skills coupled with enrichment, credit recovery for secondary students, with all transportation and meals included.”

The statement went on to say that principals and teachers have made their programs school specific. But additionally, Mercer County will be offering “classrooms on wheels” that will begin during the second-half of July and run into the fall.

The classrooms on wheels will travel countywide and provide instruction opportunities for students “in their own backyard.” There will be four buses: a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) bus, a virtual reality technology bus, a fitness and music bus, and an art, drama and writing bus.

Mercer County received $1 million for its Summer SOLE programs.