West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin believes distance-learning technology might be the answer to the dilemma of how to expand curricula throughout the state without sacrificing small schools to consolidation.

Manchin, a Democrat who took office in January, said West Virginia First Lady Gayle Manchin and Nancy Sturm, an education technology specialist in the governor’s office, are working on a plan to promote distance-learning initiatives.

“I’m just committed to doing everything I can to preserve the community and rural schools that we have throughout West Virginia,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m against consolidation. It just means I’m against consolidation for the fact of building something new and disrupting everyone’s lives and destroying communities.”

The governor said the internet and satellite technology could be used to offer a wider array of classes to students across the state.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more distance learning,” Manchin said.

Linda Martin, director of Challenge West Virginia, a statewide organization of parents, educators, and others committed to maintaining and improving small community schools, said she supports distance learning. Her group is opposed to many consolidation proposals that result in longer bus rides for students.

“I think that that is the answer,” Martin said. “It’s the answer educationally, and it’s the answer economically.”

She said equipping each school with distance-learning technology would cost about $20,000, but it would save millions of dollars in school construction and transportation costs.

“The problem I have is the bus rides,” Sen. Tracy Dempsey, D-Lincoln, said about a plan to consolidate four high schools into one in Lincoln County, W.Va. “I think we have to look at legislation to protect the rural schools. Distance learning is something we really just touched on. I just don’t think we’re doing enough on distance learning.”

Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said that while consolidation should be a last resort, distance learning might not be the solution for every school. He cited Williamson High School, which is expected to graduate only about 40 students this year.

“You have to have enough students pay for either distance learning or to have the faculty to offer the courses,” he said. “A new school is the nicest place some students go.”

Manchin said even tiny schools could be maintained with distance learning, noting that Pickens School in Randolph County, which has just a few dozen students from kindergarten through high school, performs consistently well academically.

“It’s a win-win-win-win and continues to win,” Manchin said. “If you can preserve a community in a rural setting, you’ve got a child with an identity.”


West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin

Challenge West Virginia