An audit of the state's education system conducted by out-of-state firm Public Works, LLC identified several changes to make the West Virginia Department of Education run more efficiently and save millions of dollars. Now, nearly a year after the audit was released, parents and students are voicing their opinions of the state's education system.
Mandy Fish, of Charleston, has a son in second grade at Grandview Elementary School. She said the policies teachers and administration must follow leave her son behind.
"My son happens to be very smart, very social individual," Fish said. "I feel, personally, like he gets left behind because of the system, because of the way it's set up to leave no one behind. I feel like children who should and can be moved forward should be moved forward."
Fish took issue with the firing of Jorea Marple, who served as the state superintendent of schools for about a year. Marple was suddenly fired in late November, a move Fish called "politically motivated."
"People are going to move in and out of the system, out of the board," she said. "People are going to grow older and retire, be hired and be fired. We need board members who are focused solely on the children."
Holly Dunlap, a junior at Valley High School in Smithers, said she thinks the quality of education doesn't vary greatly from district to district. In her opinion, those who want to earn an education can earn a great one in the state's public school system.
"I think as far as the quality goes, it's all one and the same," Dunlap said. "It depends on if you're willing to get your education."
Not only are teachers expected to educate students, but they also must sometimes deal with behavioral issues, something Fish said is unfair. In addition, a lack of parental involvement feeds into the many challenges the school system faces.
"At my school, especially, there are a lot of behavioral issues, a lot of physical and mental challenges with these children," she said. "It's a poor area demographically. A lot of these kids have very, very low parental involvement."
Fish said she's unaware of specialized teachers who are trained to educate children with physical, mental or behavioral issues at her son's school. Instead, many of those students are educated in the same classroom as her son, meaning the teacher can't provide the proper education to either student.
"They are worried more about behavioral techniques," she said. "They are not bringing in the proper trained officials to help children with mental disability."
At the high school level, students who don't plan to go to college are treated differently, said Allison Tolbert, a 2011 graduate of Charleston's George Washington High School.
"If you weren't in the advanced classes, they really didn't care very much about what you did or how your grades were," Tolbert said of the school system. "Classes I took, like my English classes, I did fine. But really if you're not advanced or in the advanced classes, they didn't care."
After graduation, Tolbert took classes at West Virginia State University and said she at times felt unprepared. Dunlap said she thinks her education has probably prepared her for the challenges of college, but she acknowledges it won't be easy.
"I feel like with my education and my ability to learn, I could handle it," Dunlap said. "It may be tough at first. Valley doesn't prepare you as well as it could. I can't speak for other schools. We're limited with teachers and classes. But I feel I could handle it, but I know some people I don't think could."
Fish said she would like to see members of the state board of education go into the classrooms of poor, problematic schools and see what teachers and parents are doing. If they did, she said, things would change.
"There's a difference," she said. "You can't just stand and listen to what people say. Go see it. Not just the small schools or the large schools. There's a reason these schools exist. This school is necessary here. It doesn't need to be integrated into another school. It serves a purpose."
Despite problems, Fish acknowledged the hard work of teachers and administration at Grandview, saying she sees the challenges they face and their passion for education.
"Personally the only principal I've been with is Michelle Settle," Fish said. "I have seen her go above and beyond what she needs to do as an educator to make it so that her staff can work together and that she can try to get through to these children. This woman spends most of her life at this school.
"This woman needs to be at this school. I do see they're trying to place the proper people where they need to be."