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AFT School Turnaround Project in W.V. Reports Progress

A high-profile rural-focused project to turnaround a struggling West Virginia school district is wrapping up its first year and reporting progress.

Reconnecting McDowell is a five-year initiative that's led by the American Federation of Teachers and involves both public and private partners. Their goal is to transform one of the worst districts in the state, McDowell County schools, into one of the best.

About 110 partners have gotten on board, and the AFT touted its progress in expanding broadband access, literacy programs, and health services in a news release.

Gayle Manchin, the vice president of the state board of education who helped launch the project on Dec. 16, 2011, said in the AFT release that the community is more optimistic because of the work that's happened this past year.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," she said. "We want to make sure that we do things right, not just get them done, so that we provide McDowell with sustainable programs that can be built upon for another generation."

None of the accomplishments cited in the most recent Reconnecting McDowell newsletter or in the AFT release were new, but to recap, those included:


  • broadband Internet service to all McDowell County public schools and 10,000 homes;

  • about 4,500 free books provided to 3,600 McDowell County students;

  • new band instruments for Mount View High School;and

  • a new teacher-in-residence bill that will allow Concord University seniors studying education to fill teacher vacancies under master teacher supervision. The first recruits would begin in 2013.

An Associated Press story also mentioned the new family literacy centers and after-school programs, and a new juvenile drug court.

The AFT highlighted the partnership's accomplishments but did not evaluate the project in the context of its five-year goals.

Bob Brown, the AFT project manager for Reconnecting McDowell, said in the Reconnecting McDowell newsletter that the partnership still is exploring other ideas for the future, such as creating a teacher village (and other high-quality affordable housing options) and increasing recreational, dining and shopping choices for all McDowell County residents.

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