Congrats to Josh Clevenger who has been accepted to the Governor’s Honors Academy this July. We interviewed Josh back in December; he is such a positive representative of the McDowell County youth! He was the only one from the county to apply and get accepted to the program. He’s got an exciting life ahead of him and we’re excited to document it!
Despite a state takeover of the McDowell County education system in 2001, little progress had been made until the appointment of a new superintendent 2 years ago.
“I did come in with a 30-day and a 90-day plan, threw those out in 24 hours,” said Jim Brown. “It took me a while to grasp where the building block was and where we needed to go from there and try to improve the system.”
Brown is from Tyler County, some would say a world away from McDowell.
He taught school in Tyler County for several years, took a position at the county education office, and then took a position with the State Department of Education.
But Brown has made McDowell his home for now, and turning things around for a student population that ranks last is his mission.
He says he relies on the data, and it is improving.
“Are we in the top 20% in the state? By no means,” he said. “It’s not where we want to be but it’s a foundation for us to get stronger, I really believe that.”
A few years ago, at a conference about the woes of rural America, one speaker really caught my attention with a very simple message. “Never say ‘rural brain drain,’” She told us. “Think about it.” She pointed out that to say “brain drain” in a rural community is basically telling everyone present — the people who stayed — that they’re dumb. You’re implying they somehow missed the boat and are demonstrating low IQ just by being rural.
WELCH — Three McDowell County elementary schools have been selected to start new literary and early childhood programs as part of the Reconnecting McDowell project aimed at improving performance and quality of life for county students.
McDowell County Superintendent Jim Brown said Welch Elementary, Iaeger Elementary and Bradshaw Elementary schools will be the focus of the non-profit organization Save the Children’s literacy programs.
As we set off for the hollows of McDowell County two Thursdays ago, news broke that half of our nation’s people now qualify as ‘poor’ or ‘low-income’. Given the stubbornly tight link between family incomes and student outcomes, it will take many such coordinated efforts to ensure a high quality education and meaningful economic opportunities for all of America’s children.
In other words, as Gayle Manchin (Vice President of the West Virginia Board of Education) noted, “we have to move mountains” in order to make a difference for these kids. With a witty laugh, she added, “But here in McDowell County, people know how to move mountains. We’ve done it before! We’re strong and resilient people; [our forebears] had to be in order to get over those mountains, and we’ve had to be in order to survive here.”
This evening I had an awesome interview with Joshua Clevenger of Iaeger, W.Va. Josh is the mascot for Riverview High School, is active with community theatre and has big dreams of becoming a director and actor/comedian. The Clevenger family graciously welcomed me into their home where Josh talked about how his upbringing and environment formed him into the independent and ambitious spirit he is today. I look forward to working with Josh more as he helps bring more youth into the project to shoot their own docs to be featured in Hollow. He also did some great impersonations for me including, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Adam Sandler from “The Waterboy.”
MSNBC: Morning Joe, “Low-performing schools in rural county get a new boost”
Gayle Manchin and AFT President Randi Weingarten talk about Reconnecting McDowell a 3-5 year partnership which focuses on instruction, recruitment and retention of teachers, as well as housing, transportation, job creation and social issues. She also talks about the partners of the program including unions, Frontier, Energy companies, Cisco, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among others.
I am very curious to find out more about their “comprehensive plan.” I will be following this development and hope that they hold all of their promises to the community…McDowell County can’t afford any more false hope.
The timing of this announcement couldn’t be more alligned with Hollow. Ry Rivard and I have been developing and talking about doing a project about WVa’s issue with rural brain drain since 2009. I started doing the groundwork this August and will be shooting all next summer. I hope that we can see some improvements from Reconnecting McDowell while filming for the interactive documentary.
The Washington Post published a photo story on McDowell County after news about the American Federation of Teacher’s “Reconnecting McDowell.” Ed Shephard was featured in the article along with members of the board of education and local families. See the WaPo gallery here. And read the full story here.
McDowell County schools continue to struggle despite a decade under state control, with West Virginia’s worst dropout rate and lagging behind all or most other counties in reading, science and math. The county also suffers from one of the lowest median incomes in the country, and ranks high for the percentage of residents living in poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. Drug abuse and prescription painkiller overdoses are an issue as well.
Organizers say Reconnecting McDowell envisions the county’s schools becoming hubs for much-needed social and health-related services. With some areas lacking even dial-up access to the Internet, the project aims to expand broadband and cell phone coverage. Other thorny topics facing the partnership include economic development, transportation and housing.