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West Side schools will try new things

The Kanawha County Board of Education unanimously approved a school reform package for Stonewall Jackson Middle School and four West Side elementary schools.

Their students' scores on the Westest statewide test last spring were a five-alarm call for action.

Statewide, the Westest showed that only about 51 percent of the state's fifth-graders were proficient in language arts and 50 percent in math.

Those scores are worrisome in and of themselves. But on the West Side of Charleston, some students are having even more trouble.

* At Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary, only about 29 percent of fifth-graders were proficient in language arts and only about 27 percent in math.

* At Watts Elementary, only about 37 percent were proficient in language arts and 32 percent in math.

* At J.E. Robins Elementary, about 36 percent were proficient in language arts and 38 percent in math.

* At Grandview Elementary, although about 54 percent of students were proficient in language arts - above the state average - only about 44 percent were proficient in math.

West Side students start middle school with a weak foundation in the basic skills needed for further learning. How are they going to catch up?

Kanawha school officials hope to help students with year-round schooling, hiring based on more than just seniority, close attention to tardiness, and the adoption of 12 other reforms.

The push for reform locally comes a year after an audit by PublicWorks of Pennsylvania found that West Virginia ranks in the top 10 in school spending relative to the income of taxpayers, but fell below average in 21 of 24 indicators for student performance.

The state school bureaucracy dawdled in responding to the audit, and that led to the firing of the state school superintendent. The public should not let that event divert its attention from the larger misfortune.

As the scores at West Side schools demonstrate, public education is failing some children badly.

School boards, principals and teachers can't change this by themselves. Community leaders, neighborhoods, parents and students have to come up with the other keys to the puzzle.

The school board and the West Side are working together now - at Mary C. Snow with a new, $21 million school equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

The Kanawha County school system will go ahead with reforms that are along the lines of those recommended by PublicWorks.

It's high time.


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