CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It happened quietly, but Kanawha County's proposed pilot project for Charleston's West Side schools gained the approval of the Legislature last week.
The proposal was worked into the education reform package lawmakers approved last week. That bill is awaiting the governor's signature.
It includes a section that creates a "special community development school pilot program" in a neighborhood with "significant enrollments of disadvantaged, minority and underachieving students."
That's the final piece of a massive project that will affect some Charleston schools — it was approved by the Kanawha County school board in January, but the legislation will broaden the scope of the project, letting administrators veer even further from regulations that govern most of West Virginia's schools.
The project will implement a slew of reforms at a selection of West Side schools — the new Edgewood Elementary School, Grandview and Mary C. Snow West Side elementary schools and Stonewall Jackson Middle School — in hopes of improving performance at some of the state's lowest-performing schools.
Proposed reforms include everything from a year-round calendar and school uniforms to more extreme punishments for tardiness.
The project will take effect in the fall and will last for five years, as prescribed by the legislation. Legislators will hear annual reports on the project's status and may make recommendations moving forward.
On a larger scale, local officials hope the project can serve as a model for schools throughout the state if its reform measures prove effective.
The Rev. Matthew Watts, a community organizer and pastor on the West Side who helped push the project, said the West Side's problems are unique in West Virginia but the lessons of education reform are nearly universal.
"I believe that the communities in West Virginia are more alike than they are different," he said.
Besides, Watts said, the breakdown of bureaucracy forces all schools to be treated the same, no matter how different they are.
"We don't have different sets of laws for different schools," he said. "Ideas will have transferability. They may have to be tweaked, but you have similar challenges whether you're in Charleston or whether you're in Cabin Creek."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.