Raise your hand: Mon schools talk teacher shortage, Legislative session

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Jan. 14—MORGANTOWN — Sure, it looks good on paper, Eddie Campbell Jr. said, but where are you going to get the people ?

Campbell, Monongalia County's superintendent of schools, was musing about a lofty goal sure to get attention during the 2022 state legislative session, which gaveled in last week.

Lawmakers want to put 1, 800 teaching assistants into first-and second-grade classrooms across West Virginia, a measure that could take at least a couple of years to even get the first inklings of the dynamic.

All the advocates and other players, in the meantime, have already started networking with the state Higher Education Policy Commission, for the first sketches of that plan.

It's going to be expensive. Right now, the estimated price tag is $68 million.

Money, though, isn't necessarily the issue, the superintendent said. There's a shortfall in human capital that could make the ledger and the new lesson plan look completely different.

"It's a wonderful idea, conceptually, " Campbell said.

Wonderful concepts always come with built-in caveats, though, he said.

"You always want adults in the classroom, " he said.

"But the real issue across the state that we're facing is that we don't have enough applicants out there."

No substitution ...

The new vice chair of the House Education Committee agrees—and he has a lot of history in the local arena.

Before seeking state office, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, served several terms on Mon's Board of Education. He was BOE president for a couple of those stints during his tenure.

"On the whole I believe this legislation will be tremendously productive, " Statler said.

Not without challenges, though, as he and the school superintendent of his home county said.

Even before the pandemic and teacher burnout, the nation was in the throes of a shortage among those on the other side of the desk. That includes West Virginia, the southern coalfield counties, in particular.

Campbell began his career in education as a teacher and a coach. For him, running Mon's public schools is a lot like fielding a team with stellar players—but only just enough.

The bench is only so deep, he said, with a limited roster of substitutes standing ready.

Last Tuesday, for example, Mon's school district opened its day with more than 50 unfilled vacancies—from teachers to service personnel.

"We just don't have enough substitutes, " he said.

That's in a county, Campbell added, that boasts the highest salaries in the state for teachers, besides being the home of WVU, with its focus on intellectual ideals.

'Kids aren't majoring in education like they used to'

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, as West Virginia's 55 school districts were all grappling with remote learning, the state Department of Education launched a task force to address the teacher shortage here.

That body presented its first report last week at a state Board of Education meeting in Charleston.

Besides excessive costs associated with teacher preparation and licensure, the Mountain State in generally doesn't do a good job of marketing the profession, the report said.

There's aren't a lot mentoring opportunities present for new teachers, the document also noted.

"What we heard today is no surprise, " state Board of Education President Miller Hall said.

Visit the state Department of Education website at https://wvde.us / for a rundown of the report.

There's also something else, Campbell said: The teaching profession, he said, is just that—with peaks and valleys to mirror the Mountain State terrain.

"Kids aren't majoring in education like they used to, " he said.

"Five years ago, if you had an opening for an elementary school teacher, you'd get 50 or 60 applicants, " Campbell said. "Today, you might get 10."

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