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The status quo in education is not acceptable

It's understandable that friends and admirers of former state school superintendent Jorea Marple are upset with her firing.

Marple spent a lifetime in public education in West Virginia, and she built strong relationships.

The board did not help its case by potentially running afoul of the state's open meetings law when it dismissed Marple two weeks ago.

On Thursday, the board held a special meeting, allowed Marple supporters to vent, and then cured any legal question with a do-over of Marple's firing.

Her dismissal is apparently a result of a clash of ideas between Marple, school board president Wade Linger, and others on the board over how to respond to the independent audit of the school system released nearly a year ago.

A majority of board members want to use the audit to shake up the underperforming status quo by breaking up the top-heavy bureaucracy, returning power to local school boards, implementing teacher evaluations, and rewarding great teachers and improving schools.

Linger and board members believe Marple did not agree with the aggressive agenda and on Thursday he gave several general statements to that effect:

  • Many (board) members found no sense of urgency in the department to address some of the issues we have outlined.
  • When discussing concerns, we were often met with excuses and not actions.
  • Too often we were told how things can't change instead of being offered solutions.
  • When current practices were challenged, we often found people being defensive.

The board is responsible for the general supervision of the school system. If the superintendent, who is a will-and-pleasure employee of the board, has a different philosophy than that of the board, then it's best to part ways.

The state's public school system has serious problems.

  • Our students are below the national average in 21 of 24 categories measured by the National Assessment of Education Prog-ress.
  • One in four high school students don't graduate on time.
  • The Quality Counts Report by Education Week gave West Virginia a failing grade in student achievement.

Additionally, low pay and an overly strict salary structure prevent counties from filling critical teaching positions with certified instructors.

Bad teachers and principals are kept on in perpetuity, but great teachers have to move to administration to make more money.

Absurdly cumbersome hiring rules protect seniority while undermining qualifications.

And that just scratches the surface. The audit was 143 pages long, and the board's response was 126 pages.

Interestingly, when Linger took the board's response to a legislative committee this week, Senate Education Committee Chairman Bob Plymale told him to make the board's recommendations even more specific.

It appears that a consensus is beginning to build in West Virginia in favor of significant changes in public education that will empower teachers to do what they love to do, encourage innovation, and give our children their best chance for success.

It's uncertain whether the reformers will prevail. The status quo is a stubborn obstacle.

But the school board has at least started down the right track.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.



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