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'Reconnecting McDowell' Aims High with Five-Year Goals

Reconnecting McDowell, a project led by the American Federation of Teachers to transform a low-achieving West Virginia school district, has established sometimes ambitious, sometimes ambiguous five-year goals.

The initiative to help rural McDowell County schools involves more than 80 public and private partners, and its major goal is to create a better community with better schools. It also hopes to improve the economy and healthcare.

The Reconnecting McDowell initiative has seven project areas, and each of those have short- and long-term goals, according to a memo provided by the AFT. The memo doesn't appear to be posted on the Reconnecting McDowell website, but was available upon request.

Some of its goals are specific, while others aren't. The following is an outline of what the project intends to do.

K-12 Instruction: Students need certified teachers. This school year began with 29 vacancies and 21 teachers teaching out-of-field. Too many classes have noncertified, long-term substitutes, and students often are dispersed to other classes when a substitute isn't available, according to the memo.

The goal is for all teaching positions to be filled with certified educators by 2017. Short-term goals include a teachers' advisory group to identify and address the needs of their peers, and professional-development sessions on the Common Core State Standards.

College & Career Pathways: Schools will tailor teaching and learning to students' individual needs and prepare them to transition to postsecondary goals and education.

The long-term goal is for every student to graduate from high school and be college- and career-ready. Short-term goals include providing professional development to align the curriculum to a college-prep program, and pairing middle school students with seniors for career exploration.

Early Childhood: Programs are needed to address family literacy and early childhood programs. Attendance at—and enrollment in—early childhood programs needs to increase.

Long-term goals are supporting all parents in early literacy efforts, and accommodating all three- and four-year-olds in pre-school classes. More immediate goals are establishing family reading centers and providing support for families to help enhance children's oral language.

Health and Wraparound Services: Community schools that focus on the whole child, i.e. address academic, health, social, and emotional needs of students, are needed, according to the memo.

The long-term goal is to improve the health and well-being of children and families, and that will be done by conducting a community needs assessment, creating community gardens with students, and organizing community cooking classes.

Housing and Transportation: The long-term goal is to develop a Teacher Village housing complex and improve transportation.
That will be done by investigating locations and centers to attract teachers, crafting a land-use master plan, and convening town meetings to gain buy-in for the land-use plan.

Jobs and Economy: Students need access to college-prep programs, as well as career and tech-ed opportunities.

The overall goal is to increase the number of jobs in the county. They plan to accomplish that by identifying the best sites for businesses and developing a business-mentoring program for students.

Technology: Students need the same access to technology as their peers worldwide.

The long-term goal is for all children and school staff to have reliable, "state of the art" access to internet in their schools and homes.
All McDowell schools are set to be wired by 2013, and professional development will be offered to teachers around technology.

Local and state stakeholders are meeting regularly to oversee the work in each of the seven areas.

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