HAMLIN, W.Va. - Jim Phares will be West Virginia's next superintendent of schools. How long he will serve in the position remains unclear.
Members of the state Board of Education unanimously selected Phares to assume the state's top education spot at a meeting Wednesday at Lincoln County High School. They also agreed to conduct a national search for a long-term superintendent.
Phares, who currently serves as superintendent of Randolph County Schools, takes over on Jan. 2.
"I love this state, and I believe in every student in this state. That's why I stand before you tonight," Phares told board members at the meeting.
On Nov. 15, board members voted 5-2 to fire Superintendent Jorea Marple. That provoked outcries from many in the education community and a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The board held a meeting Nov. 29 to clear up such concerns, although it denied any wrongdoing. It voted to fire Marple again at that meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein has been serving as superintendent since then.
Hours after voting to fire Marple the first time, board President Wade Linger nominated Phares. The board eventually voted to have a national search, but Phares was invited back to the Nov. 29 meeting in case the board decided to hire him then.
On Wednesday, board members interviewed Phares and Kathy D'Antoni, an assistant state superintendent, during the eight-hour-long meeting.
Board members interviewed both candidates before the vote. Although D'Antoni elected to conduct her interview in private, Phares said he thought their answers were probably very similar.
He was questioned publicly on spending, leadership and a recent audit of the state's education system. He thought the board made a "bold statement" by hiring someone outside of the department.
"I don't have any state department experience. What I am is a voice from the counties, and I bring a totally different perspective," he said.
Phares has also served as superintendent in Pocahontas and Marion counties.
"My wife is still going to live in Elkins and I'm going to live down here," Phares said. "This isn't a long-term arrangement by any means. I don't know how long it will take to flesh out the whole process for the national search . . . but I'm willing to serve and work as hard as I can. . ."
Board members also want the state Legislature to eliminate certain job requirements for state superintendent. They think the move would allow more candidates to apply.
Board member Lloyd Jackson was particularly vocal in advocating for the change.