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Rural W. Va. District Regains Control of Schools After More Than a Decade

The rural West Virginia school district that's the focus of a substantial turnaround effort regained full control of its schools today after more than a decade of state control.

The West Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to give full control of McDowell County schools back to the county school board. The state board also supported the continued employment of its superintendent, Nelson Spencer.

"I am so honored to be part of this vote to return control to McDowell County Schools," said state board member Gayle Manchin in a statement. "It is never easy to answer all the issues in any county. One lesson that we have learned is that no one can do it alone. Improving a school system is truly about a community building capacity."

Manchin helped conceive the idea for Reconnecting McDowell, the American Federation of Teachers-led partnership of more than 100 public and private groups working to improve McDowell County schools. The initiative launched in December 2011 and aims to improve the school district, as well as the surrounding community.

The school district has been under state control since October 2001. It regained partial control in 2010 in areas such as finance, curriculum, transportation, the establishment, and operation of a school calendar. But the state had continued to oversee personnel, board policies and facility issues.

The state Office of Education Performance Audits audited the district earlier this year. Their findings included:

  • The McDowell County Board of Education has completed all tasks set forth in the Exit Strategy Document;

  • Previous deficiencies that emerged in the January 2010 OEPA report in personnel, policy development, and facilities have been resolved in an exemplary manner;

  • The school system is moving forward and showing progress; and,

  • The superintendent is providing sound leadership and the schools are progressing.

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