For some, the economic hard times began before the recession hit. McDowell County, an ex-coal mining county in West Virginia, has been in decline since the coal industry began pulling out in the 1960s.
What used to be a town of 120,000 is now barely 22,000 and the county has ranked last in education in the state for most of the past decade. But a new project launched in December is aiming to change all this.
Reconnecting McDowell is a comprehensive, long-term effort to make educational improvement in McDowell County. Under the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the West Virginia State Board of Education, more than 80 partners from businesses, non-profits, governments and labor have signed a covenant illustrating their commitment to solving McDowell’s hardships by providing services, money, products and/or expertise to schools and students and their families.
Since its official launch at the end of last year, the Reconnecting McDowell project has made great strides in improving the county’s education. The West Virginia state legislature passed The McDowell County Innovation Zone Pilot Project, Senate Bill 371 that according to the projects March newsletter will give the “authority to use cutting-edge strategies and solutions to raise academic achievement – such as collaborative, community-based decision making on programs and budgets to best fit the needs of students; alternative teacher certification; integrated health, wellness and fitness programs; and flexible school calendars.”
Reconnecting McDowell is an exemplary example of the success educational programs can have when the communities and schools commit to working together.
How is your community working to improve education?