Part 1, The Little School System that Could – and Did!
For a small, rural and underfunded school system, the Pocahontas County Schools match up very well academically against the bigger and better funded county school districts in West Virginia as demonstrated by the results of last year’s West Virginia Summative Assessment Tests. Those tests measure student proficiency in three core subjects; Math, Reading and Science.
To both celebrate these successes and to dig down and learn more about how the Pocahontas students and teachers accomplished this, we are beginning a series of stories which will air over the upcoming weeks. We will hear from Principals, teachers and students. In this first story we will examine the remarkable Math successes by hearing from Math Coach Joanna Bert-Kinderman. Many view her as the architect of the Math success in our schools. Joanna lets us know right out of the gate what all this Math excitement is about.
“We are incredibly proud of our students in Pocahontas County” said Joanna. “Of fifty five counties in West Virginia, this year, in Math, Pocahontas County is ranked fourth in the State. And we just couldn’t be more proud of the efforts our students have put in; the support that our parents and community have given us; and the hard and collaborative work that teachers have put in to get us to this point. Particularly of note, we have sixth, seventh, eighth and our high school scores all in the top ten in the State, with our eighth and eleventh graders being number one.”
Joanna tells us just how far the Math Program in Pocahontas County has progressed in its State Math rankings over the years.
“Well, there have been fluctuations for sure, but I graduated from PCHS in ninety-four, and I’m sure we could look up rankings from that long ago” said Joanna. “But I know that when we started this project, we’ve had a series of years of being between twentieth and thirtieth in the State. Pocahontas County has been historically really average in West Virginia, and we’ve never been this close to the top position, and those top five schools are all neck and neck. So, if we have a few more kids at each grade level who pass this test, we’re going to be first, so it is a marked change,”
She explains just how significant and amazing this progress has been.
“I can’t say strongly enough how amazing this is” Joanna explains. “We’ve had researchers from the U.S. Department of Education come here and it’s not just our opinion, it’s consensus from people who study improvement in education that a story like this is incredibly rare for a lot of the reasons we’ve mentioned before –the chasing of the latest fad, the turnover in administration, what have you. We always believe that somehow expertise from somewhere else is going to come and save us and make us better, and that’s not our story here. We didn’t change the teachers that we had from six years ago, in fact we did everything we could to keep those teachers here. I think it speaks as to what’s possible if we change our mindset about what the job of schools is – from getting things done to figuring how to do those things better. I couldn’t feel more blessed then to be able to be part of this project for the last six years, and to have the faith and investment of the staff who are incredible here. There are seven hundred teacher vacancies in the State right now, and most of them are in Special Ed and Math. It’s incredibly rare to have a fully certified and qualified teaching corps in Middle and High School, and we do. And we should realize how valuable that is and hang on to it. Certainly in any subject matter, but speaking to Math right now, there’s a real shortage. And the people we have here were top notch six years ago and are cream of the crop today.”
Joanna said that one of the biggest problems is motivating the kids in Math class but the Math staff has decided to collaborate with each other in the search for new ways to do this, so if a teacher is having difficulties motivating the kids in a class, all the Math teachers work together to find a solution that works. And work it has!