CHARLESTON – Five years ago, when I became governor, we started down a path to strengthen and improve West Virginia's education system.
Last week, I was proud to join members of the state Department of Education, representatives from education groups and programs from across the state, and business and industry supporters to highlight changes we've made and partnerships that are strengthening West Virginia's education system.
From early childhood to high school and beyond, West Virginia students now have access to more high-quality educational opportunities than ever before. We've increased specialized programs, expanded access to innovative learning opportunities and remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring students leave high school with the skills they need to compete on a global scale.
In order to achieve long-term success, we must address every stage of a child's academic journey - starting with the years that are most critical to fundamental development. I'm proud West Virginia provides one of the nation's best 4-year-old Pre-K programs, and with the help of our landmark education bill, we are also ensuring our state's students are reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade.
By ensuring our kids are engaged in the learning process from birth and are equipped with solid education skills by the third grade, we are doing what we can to set them up for a bright future. Our future is changing, and new business investments are helping us chart a path focused on jobs that require new skills. In order to fill the jobs we are creating, West Virginia students must be equipped with knowledge and skills in high-demand areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In order to ensure our students can fully develop skills in each of these emerging fields, we must make sure they are in the classroom for 180 days of instructional time. Research shows a strong correlation between time spent in the classroom and student achievement. As a result, we must use this standard to give our kids the educational opportunities they deserve.
More time in the classroom leads to additional opportunities for students to explore their interests in specialized areas of study. Because of that we must strengthen and diversify opportunities for students that allow them to capitalize on these newfound interests.
During my State of the State Address, I introduced a plan designed to do just that -Innovation in Education. This legislation overhauls existing law and reallocates nearly $2.5 million in existing education funding to reward schools for innovation and creativity.
The program is designed to give our state's teachers and students the opportunity to better design, drive and align their educational experience with their interests and high-demand skills. Essentially, the Innovation in Education program provides flexibility similar to that offered by charter schools, but adapts the concept to better serve our state's students - giving them the opportunity to redesign the entire school and educational day around areas of critical study and technical skills.
Once adopted, the state Board of Education will develop application eligibility and evaluation requirements for schools to be designated as an Innovation in Education school in one of four categories:
• STEM - focusing teaching methods to increase students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math;
• Community school partnership - addressing educational, developmental, family, health and other community needs through local public/private partnerships;
• Entrepreneurship - partnering with members of the local business community to provide students with information about related career opportunities;
• Career pathways - helping students develop strong technical skills and streamlining courses between high schools and CTCS to help students enter the workforce.
I'm proud of the progress we have made to strengthen our education system and diversify opportunities for our students, but I know there is more work to be done. By continuing to work together with the interests of our future generation foremost in our minds, we can - and will - ensure a bright future for the Mountain State now and for decades to come.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.