Mon Schools closely studying education bills

Jan. 25—The Monongalia County Board of Education opened its meeting Tuesday night by honoring University High School's championship cross-country athletes — which also turned out to be an apt legislative metaphor, of sorts.

That's because the district is currently chasing after Charleston.

Everyone — BOE members and district officials alike — is closely watching the fortunes of two education bills currently percolating through House and Senate chambers during this year's Legislative session.

Senate Bill 274, and the similarly worded House Bill 2003, would both change the way instruction is doled out to struggling first-, second-and third-graders across the state.

On the Senate side, the bill dubbed as the Third Grade Success Act aims to cast a wide net in its approach to reading and math education in K-3 classrooms.

Teachers will be instructed in the discipline known as the "science of reading, " a detailed dive into phonics, reading fluency and phonemic awareness, which is the ability to discern and manipulate individual sounds in the words we speak and read.

They'll also learn techniques and benchmarks when addressing students with the cognitive reading and math disorders of dyslexia and dyscalculia.

SB 274 also calls for the hiring of ECCATs — early childhood classroom assistant teachers.

Pronounced "e-cats, " those are the paraprofessionals, one step above teacher aides in certification.

ECCATs are trained in the same math and reading techniques as teachers, meaning they can step in for additional small-group instruction, as needed.

The bill is pragmatic, in that students can be held back if their learning issues aren't corrected by third grade.

On the House side, Bill 2003 calls for the additional hiring of "interventionists, " which are usually licensed teachers with classroom experience and special education experience.

Mon's system is staffed by a number of them, who are mainly retirees from the local district.

BOE member Jennifer Hagerty, herself a retired teacher and principal from Mon Schools, saw them in action earlier this week in a 6th grade classroom at Westwood Elementary.

An interventionist came in the class in the middle of a lesson to help a student, she said. The student, she said, was comfortable and responsive.

It was "seamless, " the former educator said — and "nice to see that happening in action."

The action of both bills, though, doesn't allow for seamless maneuvering from one class and one student to the next, Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said.

"The requirement is that we physically have that person present in the classroom, whether it's an interventionist or an ECCAT, " he said, "and that's where it really becomes laborious for us."

That's because Mon's interventionist teachers pop in and out of classrooms to assist individual students across grades, he said — opposed to the academic, one-size-fits-all measure called for in both bills.

Longtime board incumbent Nancy Walker encouraged Campbell to call on lawmakers in Charleston to tout an approach, she said, that sets the local district apart from several of its neighbors in the Mountain State.

BOE President Ron Lytle agreed, and said he's already talked Joe Statler about it.

Statler, who represents Monongalia County in the in the House, is the current vice committee chair on education who served several terms on the local school board here before entering state politics.

Let Mon Schools be Mon Schools, Lytle said.

"Why wouldn't they let us be, as we've always been, the ones that try to do different things and are successful ?" he asked.

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