CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Devon Springer may not have realized it, but he was providing what many might say was an appropriate soundtrack to Senate Bill 451 Monday afternoon.
Standing in the main hallway of Robert C. Byrd High School, the freshman produced a harmonica from his suit pocket and began wailing a funky, lowdown blues.
“Sometimes, I’ll bring my banjo,” said Devon, 15, who served as a greeter at the sprawling school in Harrison County. “Livens things up.”
The more than 300 people who passed through the doorways didn’t need to be livened up. They were there to offer comment on the above bill, an education reform proposal that was the bane of this year’s legislative session.
Robert C. Byrd High School was the latest stop in a series of forums regarding Senate Bill 451, which did not survive the House of Delegates.
The contentious bill produced enough teeth-gnashing to make any bluesman proud, as teachers and parents reacted to its platforms which included increasing classroom sizes while championing charter schools in the state.
When Gov. Jim Justice said he was bringing lawmakers back to Charleston to revamp the bill – likely in May – the state Department of Education began holding a series of forums to gather feedback for his consideration.
Clarksburg’s gathering was the fifth of seven sessions held across the Mountain State over past days.
After a stop in Wheeling today and Berkeley County on Wednesday, the DOE will begin compiling a report for the governor.
“We want to a report on the governor’s desk by May 1,” State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said, as he milled about in the RCB hallway before the official start of the evening.
Paine, who said he was withholding his own opinion on the bill until that report is released, said he appreciated the turnout across the state so far.
“It’s giving people a chance to freely express themselves,” he said, “and that’s the most important thing.”
Make that, the second-most important thing, Cynthia Nesselroade said.
“Well, we’re obviously here for our kids,” said Nesselroade, the nutrition director of Upshur County Schools.
It’s no longer a matter of simply serving up food on a cafeteria tray, she said.
“For us, it’s about being ‘trauma-informed,’” she said.
That is, being aware of a student’s home life and recognizing the emotional baggage he’s bringing to school from the night before.
“It’s a different world,” she said.
“There’s the opioid crises, parents in jail. Who would have thought 10-15 years that we’d have to address this? Our younger teachers coming in need to be equipped, but our kids are worth it. They’re so worth it.”
Devon’s sunny optimism, meanwhile, belied his blues harmonica.
“I think something will come from it,” he said. “I hope so. I mean, we’re the future.”
As for his future, he wants to stay in West Virginia. He’s looking to move to Charleston.
“I’m thinking about running for governor.”
Story by Jim Bissett of The Dominion Post