Last updated: July 18. 2013 1:45PM - 95 Views
Rachel Dove-Baldwin
Heartland News Service

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Many reacted in shock when the West Virginia Board of Education voted 5-2 on Nov. 15 to fire Superintendent Jorea Marple. The move raised questions in some quarters, with the suggestion that the decision was politically motivated, although exactly how so hasn’t been made clear.

But the greatest danger is that the real need to address the state’s low-performing education system will get lost amid the political wrangling, and those at the top of the state’s schools will lose sight of what’s best for students.

The school system is at a crucial crossroads, and now is the time for careful consideration.

A $750,000 audit released in January concluded that the state’s schools performed poorly under the tight control of the state Department of Education and a set of state laws that hampered innovation at the local level. The audit included over 100 recommendations to put greater emphasis on improving student achievement and save money at the same time. It also raised questions about various aspects of the state Department of Education, including whether it’s simply just too big.

Considering that the audit was released more than 10 months ago, expectations are high that assessment of its recommendations should be nearly complete by now and action on some of them will take place in this winter’s legislative session. The Board of Education recently adopted a response plan suggesting action in teacher recruitment and retention, use of technology, improving efficiency in numerous departments and reorganizing the Department of Education.

Those all sound like good goals, but the board also needs to embark on a thorough process to determine who Marple’s successor should be. Board member Gayle Manchin said she voted to dismiss Marple because she sees a need to change the deep-seeded culture in the Department of Education. She noted that while some officials in the Department of Education have been open to suggestions contained in the education audit, others have been defensive.

With that in mind, the board first should determine what qualities it wants in the next superintendent. Among the key requirements most likely will be a strong leader who can spearhead changes, because it is becoming apparent that a culture change is needed within the Department of Education. An openness to considering new ideas and different ways of doing things is a must if the state’s education system is to improve. …

Distributed by The Associated Press

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