CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Preliminary data is being looked at by the state Department of Education and school officials across West Virginia resulting from the eight public forums on education.

Discussions were had on Wednesday at a state Department of Education board meeting as the department is in the process of putting together the final numbers and observations from the forums into a report.

Steve Paine

Dr. Steve Paine, state Superintendent of Schools said that the goal of the forums was to see what was valuable to the educational stakeholders in an educational reform package knowing that the special session is coming.

Stacie Smith, a professional facilitator of the nonprofit Consensus Building Institute, who put on the forums, said she felt the stakeholders really felt heard in expressing those values.

“My main reflections were how positively people felt about this process,” Smith said on Wednesday at the meeting. “They really appreciate the structure and the organization that was done.

“Having their voices heard was going to allow for a real positive impact into the next round of legislation that comes forward.”

The next round of legislation is the special session for educational betterment this summer called for by Gov. Jim Justice.

The report on the forums is expected to be finished and in the hands of legislators and Justice when the session starts.

The only numbers data given out on Wednesday by Paine was the number of stakeholders at two forums, in Cabell County and Harrison County.

Paine said the numbers disprove a notion by some legislators that the forums were only filled with teachers and school service personnel.

He stated the forum at Cabell Midland High School saw 97 combined teachers and service personnel, 50 parents, 26 community members/taxpayers, and 31 other.

Other could have been legislators, board members, advocates, school nurses, media, law enforcement, and retired educators.

Clarksburg was the largest forum of the eight according to Paine, with 210 teachers and service personnel, 53 parents, 44 community members/taxpayers, and 52 other.

23 legislators were in Clarksburg and according to Paine, more than 70 other individual legislators attended the forums.

“I think that is tremendous that they care that much to give up their time to come listen to their constituents had to say,” Paine said.

“I used the expression many times out there that this is a democracy, this is a representative democracy. This is government by the people for the people, this is a citizen legislature. I hope they listened very carefully.”

Paine said there was one pressing issue that all stakeholders listened to consistently and carefully.

“Social and emotional mental health needs by far was number one agreed upon by everybody,” he said.

“I think that says that teaching is a very, very difficult task today. We need help.”

Any help regarding education will be worked on in the special session in the coming months with data from forums to stand on.

Smith said the stakeholders feel confident about the session because of the intimacy of the forums, the attention to detail there and the listening that was done.

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