Members of the Board:
We undersigned individuals are graduates of Mingo Central Comprehensive High School who have completed or are currently enrolled in higher education programs, or who have already entered the workforce. We represent alumni originally from Burch, Gilbert, Matewan, and Williamson, and we represent the educators, health professionals, lawyers, artists, scientists, public officials, and business leaders of the next generation. Our academic and professional success has been heavily molded by our experiences at Mingo Central, no matter whether we spent a year there as the inaugural Class of 2012 or all four years of high school there as the most recent Class of 2015.
The 2011 consolidation was a considerable shift from the schools each of us had been accustomed to, but the experiment of Mingo Central has paid off for us. The founding of Mingo Central opened up the doors to more curricular choices, faculty mentors, diverse ideas, extracurricular activities, and lifetime friends—more than could have ever been hoped for at the four predecessor high schools. Mingo Central gave us academic and social opportunities that place the school among the state’s finest, and we write to urge you as fervently as possible to do whatever you must do to preserve opportunities like those we enjoyed at Mingo Central. Any budgetary or personnel reductions that would reduce curricular options would be fundamentally damaging to Mingo Central, and it would void one of the primary benefits we students found in the school consolidation. Course offerings outside of the essentials mandated by state policy transform the high school experience from a cookie-cutter assembly line to a preview toward our futures. The wide variety of course options Mingo Central has offered over the past four and a half years enabled us to apply introductory skills, developed in elementary and middle school, to more specific areas of inquiry and operation. More importantly, it lays the foundation for professional exploration in areas that most of us would not experience until higher education, if ever at all. West Virginia’s state leaders have called out for the past several years for economic diversity, especially in hard-hit areas like Mingo County. Anything that impedes Mingo Central students from seeking out broader horizons does a disservice to those students and fails to make the most of the community investment opportunity each student represents.
A particular area of concern here is any change that would harm future opportunities for Advanced Placement courses or courses offered through a dual-credit partnership. West Virginia’s need for economic diversity can be best satisfied with a better educated workforce, and, for professional-track students, prompt entry from college into the workforce is the best case scenario for individual students looking to avoid the greater debt incurred by longer time in college, as well as for the communities that will receive these young professionals. The College Foundation of West Virginia has adopted the University of Hawaii System’s 15 to Finish campaign, urging students of West Virginia public higher education to take larger course loads to finish a bachelor’s degree in the recommended four-year period. Entering college with college level coursework already in-hand allows a student greater flexibility in scheduling priorities and concentration experimentation, and, for the large number of those without need for such room, AP or dual-credit classes can lead to graduation up to a year and a half earlier than anticipated, allowing those students to come home and enter the job market with less debt that might lure them away to higher-paying areas. The sooner we can get a better-educated workforce to come home to Mingo County, the sooner the county will see improvement in individual incomes and in commerce.
Beyond the matter of which courses are offered, what the classrooms themselves are like is crucial, especially when it comes to class size. On this, the science is incredibly clear: Smaller classes yield better performance. A Center for Public Education synthesis of the scholarly research on this topic explicates identifiable trends in class-size studies, particularly that keeping class sizes at or below a total of eighteen students boosts those students’ academic achievement, especially among low-income students like some of us were. To recall the above discussion of varying course options, research also shows that curricular breadth and development affect the efficacy of small-class-size efforts, and the benefits of smaller class sizes can be undone when students are moved into larger-class environments. Keeping classes small—or even reducing class sizes from here—is crucial to maintaining and improving the quality of a Mingo Central
Any of these possible changes will certainly harm the morale of faculty and students, thus exacerbating the face-value of damage that is to be expected if you make the cuts we fear. Scant course options and packed classrooms full of disappointed teachers and students—some of whom might find their graduation date in jeopardy due to curricular changes—sounds like a scene in stark defiance of the lofty goals and to-date successes of Mingo Central. If you impose, whether directly or though indirect policymaking or budgeting, the academic limitations discussed here or that would be substantially similar, those academic limitations would become professional limitations that would end the superior opportunities created by consolidation. The possible changes to Mingo Central that have been discussed among the Mingo County citizens and within our local press would effectively turn back the clock on consolidation, making unnecessary that transition that pained the hearts of communities, since no beneficial fruit could further be yielded. Plenty of Mingo County families asked whether consolidation was a good idea, and the sort of action we are concerned about here would call into question why our Board of Education would not make the most of it, just four and a half years later.
As the House of Delegates now considers legislation that would impose a statewide moratorium on school consolidations, we hope that you would not turn Mingo Central into an exemplary case that could support such a bill, regardless of the bill’s other merits. This Board’s regained local control is still young, and we ask that you do whatever is necessary to exercise that control to maintain and advance the will of the people by keeping Mingo Central a strong academic model for West Virginia’s public high schools.
All therefore, we strongly oppose budget and personnel cuts that would reduce curricular choices or increase class sizes at Mingo Central, and we fervently urge you to preserve opportunities like those we enjoyed as Mingo Central students.
Tommy D. G. Ferrell
523 18th Street, Room 109C
Huntington, West Virginia 25703