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Marple's long career could be finished

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education's vote to fire Dr. Jorea Marple as state superintendent could have brought to a close a career spent in education.

In a move that surprised many in the education community, the board voted 5-2 Thursday to fire Marple. Board President Wade Linger said he and the rest of the board never questioned Marple's dedication to children, but it was time for a change.

After the vote, Marple defended her time as superintendent and asked the board to provide cause for its decision.

"My heart, my soul, continues to be committed to the well-being of the children of this state, without serving political aspirations," Marple told the board after she was fired. "That is the way I have led this department, with only the best interest of the children in mind."

She became superintendent in March of 2011 after a search process that lasted several months.

When state superintendent Steve Paine announced his retirement in November 2010, board members decided to conduct a nationwide search for new candidates, giving applicants until Jan. 3, 2011, to submit their resumes.

By the time the deadline arrived, only six candidates had applied for the job.

Board members narrowed their search to the three in-state applicants: Carolyn Long, then chairwoman of West Virginia University's Board of Governors; Mark Manchin, executive director of the state School Building Authority; and Marple, then the state education department's deputy superintendent.

Linger was not satisfied with the field, however. He made a motion to extend the search timeline. He suggested the board hire an outside firm to conduct "more of a nationwide search."

"I guess I'm a little bit surprised we didn't get more responses from outside the immediate area," he said at the time. "I'm really surprised that the response was so sparse."

Linger, Gayle Manchin, Michael Green and Bill White -- all appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin -- voted to extend the search. Priscilla Haden, Jenny Phillips, Lowell Johnson and Bob Dunlevy voted against Linger's motion.

The split 4-4 vote defeated the motion.

In February, board members met in a closed session to choose questions for Marple, Mark Manchin and Long's interviews, and decided all three candidates would be asked the same questions in the same order.

A week later, the board had a daylong meeting to interview the candidates. Board members convened a closed-door session that evening and, after more than an hour, emerged to unanimously appoint Marple as superintendent.

Johnson made the motion to hire Marple, and Phillips seconded it.

She began her teaching career in 1969 in Braxton County before coming to Kanawha County in 1971 as a reading teacher. She soon worked her way to the central office, where she worked until 1984.

She took four years off to complete her doctorate after her second child was born, coming back to Kanawha County Schools in 1989 as the principal of the troubled Tiskelwah Elementary.

The school suffered from low student achievement and high truancy when Marple arrived. She instituted the state's first full-day kindergarten program, provided music, art and dance instruction to all students, and moved test scores from the 22nd percentile to over the 75th percentile.

Tiskelwah became a National Blue Ribbon School, and Marple's success there prompted Kanawha Board of Education members to name her county superintendent in 1993.

Marple would be the county's fifth superintendent in six years.

In a February 2011 interview with the Daily Mail, Marple said her time as Kanawha superintendent was marked by "dramatic improvement" in test scores and student achievement. She said the county also went from a funding deficit to operating in the black, and voters passed the first bond sale in 30 years.

Her tenure as county superintendent would last only five years, however.

Current Kanawha School Board President Pete Thaw was elected to the board in 1998 -- unseating then-Kanawha board president Priscilla Haden -- a year after mounting a successful campaign against a $98 million school bond sale.

Thaw's school board campaign focused on fiscal responsibility. He questioned out-of-state travel expenses, pay raises and the number of county-level administrators employed by the school system. He promised voters he would work to eliminate up to 12 administrative positions and save the county as much as $1.5 million.

Voters backed the candidate, giving him over 9,200 votes to lead the ticket.

After battling Thaw on his proposed cutbacks, Marple and her deputy superintendent, Jack McClanahan, resigned, and assistant superintendent Rebecca Goodwin retired in August 1998, about a month after Thaw was sworn in.

Soon after her resignation, Marple spent six years as principal of Garnett Career Center. She oversaw renovation of the school and expansion of its programs before moving on to the state Department of Education in 2004.

Then-state superintendent Dave Stewart, who was treasurer for Kanawha Schools when Marple was superintendent, hired her as assistant state superintendent for school improvement.

She became assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction under state Superintendent Steve Paine and stepped up to deputy superintendent after McClanahan retired from that post in 2010.

On Thursday, Marple did not speak about what she might do after her firing.

Hours after she was fired, the board appointed deputy superintendent Chuck Heinlein as acting superintendent. Linger also suggested the board vote to elect Dr. James Phares, the current superintendent of Randolph County, as the full-time state superintendent.

That vote is planned for a Wednesday meeting.

Staff writer Dave Boucher contributed to this report.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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