Education leaders applaud Justice’s teacher pay raise, testing reform proposals

By Carrie Hodousek in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Education leaders in West Virginia are praising Governor Jim Justice for proposing a 2 percent pay increase for teachers during his first State of the State Address.

“This is refreshing,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia. “We know he’s been talking about it, but this actually feels like walking the walk and saying we do want to keep teachers in West Virginia.”

Justice opened up his speech in the House Chamber Wednesday night by recognizing teachers at flood damaged schools in the Richwood and Elkview communities. He also recognized newly named 2017 West Virginia Teacher of the Year Toni Poling of Fairmont Senior High School.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said Justice truly values teachers in the state and knows they should be given a lot more credit for their work.

“I’m glad that he recognized that we have to address the teacher salary issue to attract quality teachers to the classroom,” Lee said, referring to the more than 700 teacher vacancies in the state.

During his speech, Justice also proposed doing away with the Smarter Balanced achievement test for students.

“I am going to propose we throw Smarter Balanced in the trash can and we go to an ACT testing,” Justice said. He then received a standing ovation.

Campbell said Smarter Balanced does not work in West Virginia.

“Using standardized testing and not listening to the teachers who say we know where our kids are and where they need to go, but the time we spend on testing is taking away from what we do in the classroom,” she said.

Lee said “we need to do something that makes sense” when it comes to testing.

“We have to figure out what it is and stay with it and have something that’s meaningful for the kids,” he said.

Justice also wants to toss out the new A-F grading system. Campbell said schools need to be held accountable, but there are other ways to measure that.

“We have to have an accountability system. We appreciate that, but let’s make sure we have a system that actually acknowledges the good that schools are doing and doesn’t turn it into another punitive system, which is where we are right now,” she said.

Returning power to the local level was also included in Justice’s education proposals. That is “exactly what we need to hear from a state leader,” Campbell said.

Justice, a basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School, said he sees the pain teachers deal with every day.

“Guys, I’m a coach. I’m in the school all the time,” Justice said. “We’ve proven how to be dead last. If you would’ve gone around with me and had these roundtable discussions and listened, just listened — see, that’s what I did. I just listened. You have a bunch of really, really sad, unhappy campers.”

Lee said he believes Justice will continue to listen to teachers during his time in office.

“Governor Justice did something that is unique,” he said. “He listened to the true experts of education. I believe that he will continue to do that, and when we do that, we could come up with ways to really improve an already good system.”