By Pamela Pritt
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Teachers and service personnel from around the region had the ear of Jim Justice Monday evening at a private event where the Democratic gubernatorial candidate listened to what it means to be in education in West Virginia.
And at one point, Justice was shaking his head in disbelief.
About 25 people sat around a table with Justice and told him about working second jobs, paying for their own promotions by furthering their education, paying for classroom supplies, testing and the growing disrespect they feel coming from the state legislature, which this year tried for the second time to change education standards.
And teachers said they fear their schools will come up short in a new grading system where schools will be measured on various performance categories including students’ mastery of English/Language Arts and mathematics, growth in those subjects, accelerated performance for lower performing students and graduation rate.
“No one’s going to move into West Virginia for C, D and F schools,” said Wayne Spangler. “(But) that’s not an accurate reflection of what goes on in the schools.”
Spangler said the new system is a ruse so the legislature can create charter schools, a privately owned school that draws public funds away from public schools.
“Let me teach” was a theme throughout the evening as educators talked about testing. Not only do they have the “big test,” they said, but also acuity assessments and practice tests that take away time from teaching.
“I don’t know anybody that wants to be a professional test taker,” said Angie Turkelson. “Let us do what we’ve been trained to do.”
Turkelson said students need life skills, social skills and a good academic foundation “that we don’t spend a dime on.”
Low pay for educators was also a topic. The base salary for teachers is $31,000 a year.
One woman, Zanetta Thomas, a school board secretary in McDowell County, said she is two classes away from a teaching degree, but will take a cut in pay if she becomes a teacher.
“I cannot afford a pay cut because I do make more than $31,000 a year and I cannot afford to take that cut,” Thomas said.
Service personnel also outlined troubles with too few cooks but more requirements to serve healthy and fresh food that takes more preparation time. School secretaries say they are left to decide whom to let in the school.
At one point, Justice put his face into his palms and shook his head.
“You have got an 18-carat dog mess right now,” he said. “You have got big problems. I love big problems.”
He said in the business world the system would be thrown out and begun again— “with paying people the right amount of money.”
“See the right person is in the right job and they’re motivated,” he said. Justice likened teachers to “indentured servants that have been beat down,” but said it’s a persona that other West Virginians share.
“We are like that in West Virginia in so many ways. We’ve been expected to ‘know our place,’” he said. “You need somebody to give you your dignity back. Politicians figure they can throw you a bone and you’ll keep your mouth shut.”
Justice told the group to give him their “utopia” of what they need in the classroom. He said as governor he would figure out where to get the revenue to pay for it.
“Go out and make us perfect and give me the bill,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
After the discussion, Justice said he will raise the revenue to pay for that education utopia by creating jobs.
“You can doubt me all day long, but I’ve done it,” he said, enumerating his projects from Raleigh County Little League and the Coal Classic to bankrupt coal companies, The Greenbrier and Glade Springs golf complexes.
Teachers said they were grateful someone took the time to listen to them. American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia president Christine Campbell said her organization was contacted by the Justice campaign and asked to invite teachers to the event. Members of the West Virginia Education Association were there as well.
Justice will not appear in a forum with opponents Jeff Kessler and Booth Goodwin tonight at the Greenbrier Valley Theater in Lewisburg.
“For crying out loud why go through the same stuff?” he asked. “I’ve got people to see, just like these people tonight. There’s no point in going for entertainment and sound bites.”
— Email: ppritt@
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