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Reconnecting McDowell Moves Forward With 'Teacher Village' Plans

The AFT-led public-private collaborative aimed at transforming a rural West Virginia school district is moving ahead with plans to build a teacher village.

The Reconnecting McDowell board of directors approved a plan in late December to buy property in Welch, W.Va. Officials will decide in the coming weeks whether to renovate the existing building or construct a new one. The site once housed a furniture store.

The new teacher housing will include about 30 apartment-style units, and it will have areas for teachers to collaborate, work out or relax. It also might include a coffee shop that would be open to the public.

"Reconnecting McDowell made new housing a key piece of its plan to revitalize the county," said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement. "A teacher village will attract and retain teachers, provide good jobs, and encourage more economic development. We are helping this proud community reclaim the promise of great schools and access to the services and programs they need to thrive."

The partnership plans to obtain financing for the project in the months ahead and break ground this spring. Reconnecting McDowell will own the building and hire a firm to manage it.

The lack of housing for teachers in rural areas is one reason communities nationwide struggle to recruit and retain educators. Leaders in different states have found varying solutions, from a North Carolina credit union providing zero-interest loans to districts, to Alaska providing state money for those units.

The teacher village is one of the ways officials hope to improve McDowell County. Reconnecting McDowell launched in December 2011 and has grown to more than 125 partners in government, nonprofits, and private companies. In addition to education, the high-profile effort is working on providing more social and healthcare services as well encouraging economic development.

The new West Virginia teacher village won't be modeled after any other, although AFT officials visited the Baltimore teacher village to meet developers and hear about lessons learned. Community Housing Partners Design Studio, a nonprofit that provides community development services in the Southeast, will be designing the village.

An editorial in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in Bluefield, W.Va., published recently commended the partnership's progress on two key areas—the teacher village and broadband growth. Many of the school district's teachers don't actually live in McDowell County because of a lack of housing, and this would provide that option.

"Getting more McDowell County teachers to actually live in McDowell County is important," the newspaper wrote. "The teacher village should be a big help. It, too, is another welcomed addition of the Reconnecting McDowell campaign."

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