CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Over four years into the Reconnecting McDowell effort, President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said progress has been made in the struggling community.

On Tuesday and Wednesday in downtown Charleston, the leaders of the effort and its partners are meeting for a tri-annual update on the progress of the project.

“Four-and-a-half years later, we’re starting to see real progress instructionally. We’re starting to see several of the pieces we wanted to with wraparound services emerging,” Weingarten said. “And a big new economic development project that we’re doing in Welch.”

Weingarten pointed out that work in McDowell, which ranked as one of the ten poorest counties in America when the project got underway, isn’t done.

“Is there more to be done? Absolutely,” she said. “But what the instructional growth is starting to show is that when you focus on an entire community and focus in three ways at the same time: instruction, children’s well-being and economic development, you start turning around communities.”

The Reconnecting McDowell project has not been without its challenges in the struggling area, Weingarten said.

“There’s a lack of jobs, there’s a lack of social services, and the only thing that’s really holding it together is the faith and commitment of community, and the schools,” she said.

Construction is planned for a Renaissance Village, an apartment building designed to house and retain teachers. Schools have seen a reduced dropout rate since 2010-2011, from 4.5 percent to 2 percent in 2014-2015.

The high school four year graduation rate has increased from 74 percent to 80 percent in that time frame. Weingarten described what she wanted to see from the effort moving forward.

“I want to see a community that thrives. I want to see a community that rebuilds itself,” she said. “I want to see a community that, like people told me the first day I was ever in McDowell, doesn’t want a handout, but wants a hand up.”