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2021 Legislators' Forum

The 2021 West Virginia Legislators' Education Overview was held virtually on Monday, February 8 to address topics that impact West Virginia children and families, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing legislators the space to discuss education issues.   

By offering an orientation and discussion of education in West Virginia, this virtual forum will be especially informative to new legislative members, though all legislators are invited to attend and be part of the conversation.



  • Donna Peduto, Executive Director, WVPEC
  • James Mikolowsky, Senior Policy Analyst, The Hunt Institute
  • Chair Joe Ellington, House Education Committee
  • Chair Patricia Rucker, Senate Education Committee
WV Education Snapshot
  • Joel Moore, State Relations Strategist, Education Commission of the States
    The Structure of Public Education
  • Heather Hutchens, General Counsel, WV Department of Education
  • Matt Turner, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
  Funding Education in West Virginia
  • Tom Campbell, CPA and Vice President, WV Board of Education
  • Amy Willard, School Operations Officer, WV Department of Education
Current Landscape of Public Education Policy in West Virginia
  • Superintendent Clayton Burch, WV Department of Education
  • Chancellor Sarah Tucker, WV Higher Education Policy Commission and WV Community and Technical College System
Group Discussion/Legislative Input
  • Dr. Jim Denova, Vice President, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
  • Scott Rotruck, Member and Chief Financial Officer, WV Board of Education
Survey of legislators' interests for future sessions

key Takeaways

Overall Key Takeaways

  • Access to broadband connectivity and technology has been an ongoing challenge that increased in significance during the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has demonstrated that local educators and administrators have a unique chance to individualize and democratize education for each student.
  • Teacher training and trauma-informed pedagogy are important to prepare educators for student re-entry, online instruction and supporting students through the trauma of the pandemic.
  • There is a significant decline in the number of students preparing for higher education in the fall as a result of the challenges of the pandemic. 
  • The economic downturn directly impacts West Virginia’s students by decreasing the number of teachers, particularly in high-need areas.
  • The state faces a shortage of nurses, in part because there is a shortage of nursing programs compared to need. Systems can support and incentivize nurses becoming educators to address this shortage.
  • Leaders and policymakers in education at the state and local level must align efforts to provide students with the educational experience that best serves them.
  • Public administration, public health and school systems need to integrate to better support student wellness.

The Structure of Public Education: The Impacts and Implications of Local Control

Heather Hutchens, General Counsel, WV Department of Education; Matt Turner, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

  • Broadband access continues to be a key issue in public education of all levels in West Virginia.
  • Not all students are able to access digital loan applications. FAFSA applications in the state are down 30 percent, and PROMISE Scholarship applications are down 50 percent.
  • Lack of access increases social isolation for students, which can negatively impact mental health, educational attainment and college application rates.
  • Local freedoms in implementing state and national standards create unique opportunities for West Virginia’s public schools.
  • Local public schools can use standards to shape customized education plans for students and democratize education.
  • Public school administrators can begin to tackle the “huge hole” of behavioral and mental health services for students by offering these services on-site.
  • The “small community” atmosphere of West Virginia positions its policies to be collaborative. Leaders in education and policymakers need to continue to take advantage of these close relationships to promote transformative policy.
  • The relationship between local, state and national education institutions is not, nor should be, adversarial. 
  • Nonpartisan events that bring West Virginia’s educators, legislators and stakeholders together to discuss public education can decrease the misperception of this adversarial relationship and foster collaboration.

Funding Education in West Virginia: The Costs of the Pandemic

Tom Campbell, CPA and Vice President, WV Board of Education; Amy Willard, School Operations Officer, WV Department of Education

  • The West Virginia State School Board has taken the stance of reopening public schools because students and their families heavily rely on the wraparound services schools provide.
  • Student enrollment for Fiscal Year 2022 dropped by 9,276 students, leading to the reduction of 1,009 public education positions and $66.4 million in funding.
  • Decreased need for school transportation services during the pandemic has resulted in a decrease in funding for public school transportation in the next fiscal year.
  • Though there has been a decrease in public school spending on tangible student services during the pandemic, there are still crucial costs that need to be addressed with policymakers and the state.
  • Distance learning has emphasized the digital divide in West Virginia—inequities in broadband and technology access.
  • Distance learning has cost many students and educators their social and emotional health.

Current Landscape of Public Education Policy in West Virginia

Superintendent Clayton Burch, WV Department of Education; Chancellor Sarah Tucker, WV Higher Education Policy Commission and WV Community and Technical College System

  • West Virginia students depend on intentional collaboration between P-12 and higher education systems, as students of all ages are facing the same problems.
  • Digital learning has amplified the achievement gap that existed before the pandemic.
  • Trauma-informed pedagogy is crucial at a time when students acutely feel the tangible and emotional impacts of digital learning.
  • Students are struggling to focus on their educations in the long term and are overwhelmed by the idea of the future. We need to help them focus on what they can do each day to work towards their education. Students and their families are facing food insecurity with the economic downturn.
  • Addressing broadband equity, teacher preparation and mental health supports are vitally important in pandemic recover. 
  • Students and families are struggling without the wraparound services and safe havens that schools provide: access to counselors, take-home meals, childcare.

Meet the Speakers

State and national experts join the WVPEC to share their perspective.

Clayton Burch, State Superintendent of Schools, West Virginia Department of Education

W. Clayton Burch was appointed by the West Virginia Board of Education as the 32nd State Superintendent of Schools in February 2020. Superintendent Burch has served in both teaching and educational leadership positions for more than 25 years, and his experience spans early childhood education to post-secondary administration. He most recently served as the WVDE Associate Superintendent. He assumed the role of State Superintendent of Schools as the COVID-19 pandemic hit West Virginia and has worked closely with the State Board of Education, county superintendents, the Governor’s Office and state agency partners to build mechanisms and processes to best serve children during the unprecedented times. An advocate for the well-being, engagement and lifelong achievement of all West Virginia children, Superintendent Burch understands the importance of supporting children’s social and emotional well-being through practical and systemic approaches. He has prioritized three key areas essential for learning, development and progress: addressing student support and well-being; eliminating barriers to equity and expanding access to technology; and closing academic achievement gaps.

Tom Campbell, CPA and Vice President, West Virginia Board of Education

Thomas W. Campbell was appointed to the state Board of Education in December 2012 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. He comes to the board after 16 years in the House of Delegates, where he most recently served as the vice chairman of the House Finance Committee and also worked on finance's education subcommittee. First elected in 1996, he previously served as chairman of the House Education Committee. A resident of Lewisburg in Greenbrier County, Campbell is a certified public accountant. He attended West Virginia University and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He currently represents West Virginia on the Southern Regional Education Board, where he has served as vice chairman of the Legislative Advisory Council. He also is a 15-year veteran of the Read Aloud West Virginia Program at Ronceverte Elementary School in Greenbrier County. Campbell is married to the Rev. Dr. Susan Sharp Campbell. His term on the board ends Nov. 4, 2021.

Dr. Jim Denova, Vice President, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation

As Vice President of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Jim Denova’s primary responsibilities include program development and grant making in the areas of education and economic development. He is also a current member of the Remake Learning Council. Dr. Denova has more than 30 years’ experience in nonprofit administration and philanthropy and has consulted with nonprofit organizations on program evaluation and strategic planning. He serves on the Advisory Council of the West Virginia Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Initiative, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Advisory Committee, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics Board of Fellows. Dr. Denova received his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work with a concentration in social research. His research and publications focus on school-based health services, adult education, and nonprofit management.

Chair Joe Ellington, West Virginia House Education Committee

Dr. Joe Ellington serves as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and is a practicing physician. Ellington was elected to his position in the House in 2010. He holds an Education B.S.from Guilford College, an M.S. and Ph.D. from Duke University, and an M.D. from Wake Forest University. Ellington is married to Sharon Perdue, with whom he has four children, Dana, Alyssa, Erica, Joe III. Ellington is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Chief of Staff at Princeton Community Hospital Legislative Service, and has held the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Resources (82nd and 83rd Legislatures) andCommittee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse (83rd Legislature). He is also a member of the Mercer County Republican Executive Committee.

Heather Hutchens, General Counsel, West Virginia Department of Education

Heather Hutchens is General Counsel for the West Virginia Department of Education. She began working at the Department of Education in 2000 as a Staff Attorney and became General Counsel in 2005. Previously, she was an associate at Brown & Levicoff, P.L.L.C., in Beckley, WV, and was a writ clerk for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Heather received her J.D. from the West Virginia University College of Law and received her B.A. in English and Sociology from Wake Forest University.

James Mikolowsky, Senior Policy Analyst, The Hunt Institute

James Mikolowsky joined the Hunt Institute in August 2018 as a Policy Analyst. In this role, he conducts research on higher education policy issues and provides analysis to the Institute’s policymaker audiences through a variety of written publications. Mikolowsky previously worked at the Data Quality Campaign, where he analyzed postsecondary data policy and tracked state legislative trends. He also spent time in the United States Senate working to advance policies that provide support to underserved student populations. He is a graduate of Pomona College in California, with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis and Political Science.

Joel Moore, State Relations Strategist, Education Commission of the States

As state relations strategist, Joel is dedicated to building relationships with key state policymakers and stakeholders from across the political spectrum and supporting them in developing their education priorities. He is the liaison for Alaska, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Joel worked for more than 10 years in the nonpartisan bill drafting office of the Colorado General Assembly and served for nine legislative sessions as the amendment clerk in the Colorado House of Representatives. Joel has a bachelor's degree in English and political science from the University of Mississippi, a master's degree in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Colorado Denver.

Scott Rotruck, Member and Chief Financial Officer, West Virginia Board of Education

Scott Rotruck is a Senior Account Executive at Orion Strategies with forty years of experience in government affairs and community relations. He previously served as the Director of Energy and Transportation Services for Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC after serving Chesapeake Energy as Vice President of Corporate Development and Government Relations. He has also worked as Vice President of External Relations for Anker Energy Corporation and President and CEO of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce. Rotruck has been a registered federal lobbyist for 30 years and also has worked as a lobbyist and managed a nationwide government and public relations team. A 1977 graduate of WVU, he also has an MBA from Frostburg State University and is a certified Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Instructor. He had a combined six years as the Economic Development Director for WVU and as a member of the adjunct faculty at the WVU College of Business & Economics teaching Entrepreneurship. He currently serves on the WV Board of Education and was a past Trustee of the University of Charleston. Scott was appointed by four Governors (including then-Governor Manchin) to chair several statewide boards, He has served on many other governor-appointed task forces and on many non-profits, currently including the WVU Alumni Board of Directors, the Education Alliance and TechConnect.

Chair Patricia Rucker, West Virginia Senate Education Committee

Patricia Puertas Rucker is a West Virginia State Senator serving the 16th District. She is a former teacher who is raising and homeschooling her 5 children with her husband of 24 years. Her life activities include membership in the St. James the Greater Catholic Church, 4-H, WV4Life-Jefferson County chapter and Generation Joshua, a civics club for young people. Other activities include participation in local clean-up projects, volunteer work for Jefferson County Community Ministries that helps to feed the homeless and attendance in as many local public forums and meetings as she can. Patricia is a co-founder and former president of We the People of West Virginia-Jefferson County. Patricia is a first generation American citizen, born in Caracas, Venezuela, coming to the US, Montgomery County Maryland, in 1981 when her father, Jose Puertas, an international correspondent, was assigned by Agence France Presse to the Washington DC desk, eventually becoming its Latin American Editor. She has been a Harpers Ferry resident since 2001 and her hobbies include gardening, beekeeping and raising chickens and ducks on her small hobby farm. Patricia taught social studies in the Montgomery County Public School System before starting a family. On November 8, 2016, she was elected to the West Virginia State Senate in the 16th District and was sworn in on January 11th in Charleston to begin her first 4 year term. Patricia’s Committee Assignments include: Chair of the Education Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development, Banking and Insurance, Judiciary, Health and Human Resources, Natural Resources, Confirmations and Workforce Committees. She is also a member of the Select Committee on Children and Families.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor, West Virginia Community and Technical College System and Higher Education Policy Commission

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker is Chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (CTCS) and Chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC). Dr. Tucker is the first person to simultaneously hold these two roles – and the first woman to serve as CTCS Chancellor – that guide and oversee policies and initiatives for the state’s two-year community and technical colleges and four-year higher education institutions. Under her leadership as CTCS Chancellor since 2015, West Virginia has made enormous strides in taking community and technical education to the next level. A hallmark of her championship on behalf of West Virginia's students was the State Legislature's passage of a free community college bill in March 2019. As a result of her hard work and state leaders’ forward-looking investment, the WV Invests program now provides students with last-dollar-in grants that cover the full costs of tuition and fees at the state's nine community and technical colleges.

Matt Turner, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

Matt Turner joined the Higher Education Policy Commission in 2014. He has 20 years of experience in communications and public affairs roles, including serving as director of communications for Gov. Joe Manchin and chief of staff and senior vice president for communications at Marshall University. Matt also worked in public relations roles for the West Virginia Department of Commerce and Special Metals Corp. Turner received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism and public relations from Marshall University.

Amy Willard, School Operations Officer, West Virginia Department of Education

Amy Willard, School Operations Officer, has worked for the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) since 2010. She began her tenure with the WVDE in the Office of School Finance, but the oversight of the Offices of School Facilities and School Transportation were added to her responsibilities in July 2020. Prior to her employment with the WVDE, Amy spent four years with the public accounting firm Suttle & Stalnaker and four years with the West Virginia Medical Institute. Amy has been a Certified Public Accountant since 2003. She is a graduate of the WVU Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and a graduate of West Virginia University with a Master’s Degree in Professional Accountancy. She is happily married to her husband Tim and is the proud mother of twin daughters, Savannah and Mackenzie, and her adult stepchildren, Chris and Alex.