WELCH – Educators, local and state officials and students jammed the Mt. View High School cafeteria Thursday night to hear U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak briefly on the subject closest to his heart and to field a number of questions.
Duncan stressed that children deserve the best food, the best health care, the best mentoring, the best sports and arts programs and the best teachers to receive a good education and added that he is in favor of flexible models and strategies that lend themselves to that objective.
“We want to be a great partner,” he said. “We need to think about paying more to teachers who take assignments in hard areas. We have to change the fundamental strategies that don’t allow us where we need to go.”
Soliciting help from the community, Duncan encouraged local educators and students to “please let us know what ever we can do to make McDowell County what it needs to be.”
During the Question and Answer session, Duncan noted that America is home to 100,000 schools and related that “locally designed solutions” are always better than what he or anyone else in Washington can formulate.
In light of the fact that teachers desire to live and work in a clean, healthy environment, retired Welch educator Vesta Larkin asked Duncan about the availability of grants for razing dilapidated structures and for funding fitness facilities.
“We don’t do a lot around construction…but we do grants around physical education,” Duncan said. “We spend $40 to $60 million a year on physical education.”
Asked by a Mt. View student about the benefits of No Child Left Behind, Duncan opined that he saw no benefits of the controversial program.
“No child left behind is broken but I do give it credit for spotlighting a lack of achievement,” he said.
Questioned by Northfork Mayor Marcus Wilkes about distance learning, the Secretary replied that distance learning is not a perfect solution, though it is often successfully utilized. The days of kids sitting in a classroom six hours a day, five days a week, he said, makes no sense to him and is a thing of the past. Though some school districts, such as one in Mooresville, NC, save money by utilizing technology instead of purchasing schoolbooks, Duncan said that technology is no replacement for teachers.
“It can be a great equalizer but technology will never replace teachers. It’s not going to happen,” he said.
In closing, Duncan stated, “Please hold us accountable to being a good partner. You have a chance to do something special here. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of the journey.”
Applauding his unwavering commitment to education and to making life better for children, Welch Mayor Reba Honaker, Vice Chair of the WV Board of Education and Reconnecting McDowell Chair Gale Manchin and AFT President/R.M. President Randi Weingarten spoke initially during the town hall meeting.
“Mr. Secretary, we are so happy to have you here today,” Manchin said.
Touching on a number of the components of the Reconnecting McDowell initiative, Weingarten announced that McDowell County will soon be getting 10 easily accessible family reading centers to promote literacy and to inspire a love of books in all age groups.