By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president and vice president of the West Virginia Board of Education have resigned effective immediately, according to a news release sent out around 7 p.m. Tuesday by the state Department of Education’s spokeswoman.
The move comes after Gov. Jim Justice, who was inaugurated Jan. 16, appointed board member Bill White as director of the state’s Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, and then filled White’s seat and two other board members’ seats.
Board member Tina Combs, of Berkeley County, saw her term expire in November of last year. Former board member and former first lady Gayle Manchin — whom Justice recently appointed as secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts, which is separate from the Department of Education that the board oversees — resigned after her term expired in November of 2015.
If Justice quickly fills now-former board president Mike Green’s seat and now-former board vice president Lloyd Jackson’s seat, he’ll have appointed a majority of the board’s nine voting members shortly after taking office and just as the state Legislative session is set to rev up this month.
Even if he doesn’t win re-election, Justice also will have a chance this term to pick a replacement for board member Scott Rotruck, whose term expires Nov. 4 of this year.
Board members have nine-year terms and can be reappointed to successive nine-year terms. According to the board’s secretary, the members filling the rest of Green’s term and Jackson’s term will have partial terms that will end during Justice’s current term, meaning Justice can then reappoint his new members to full nine-year terms or appoint different ones.
Justice put Tom Campbell, a continuing member of the board, on his public education transition policy committee. Campbell — who is from Greenbrier County, where Justice made his home and owns The Greenbrier resort — has publicly disagreed with the board’s leaders in the past, and he said he turned against the board-implemented A-F grading system for entire schools after a meeting of Justice’s policy committee.
The majority on the board, included Green and Jackson, had butted heads with the Republican-controlled Legislature over lawmakers’ past failed attempts to change the board’s standardized tests, which for math and English language arts are aligned to the Common Core national education standards, and the board’s adopted math and English education standards, which contain much language identical to Common Core.
Last month, Green strongly disagreed with the findings of a legislative audit that recommended taking away “all autonomy and independence” from West Virginia’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies — the multi-county organizations that are supposed to aid county public school systems — and transferring the agencies’ power and employees to the state Department of Education.
Justice didn’t provide many specifics on his education stances during his campaign, yet during his inauguration speech, he held up a blue booklet and said, “Today, I have an education plan right here, that I’m going to submit immediately for people to review.”
“It’s going to be the elimination of a bunch of unnecessary agencies,” Justice said. “It’s going to be a look at education in a different way that has never been looked at for a long, long, long time.”
Justice has criticized the A-F grading system for whole schools and the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized tests, which determine a majority of the grades.
The board supported Smarter Balanced in the past but has recently furthered steps to possibly move away from Smarter Balanced. But state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, whom the board employs, has been publicly critical of the idea of switching to using ACT tests as standardized tests, something Justice has expressed support for.
Justice also has criticized the number of unspecified education “bureaucrats” in the state.
But Justice hasn’t yet released his education plan or details about it. Green said he hadn’t seen the plan, nor heard specifics from it, before Justice’s inauguration address.
“I was asked to serve on the State School Board back in 2009 by Governor [Joe] Manchin,” Green said in his statement as part of Tuesday night’s news release. “I do not come from the ‘education community.’ My years of experience come as a result of being a successful technologist, business executive, Board member and Board Chairman in both the non-profit and commercial world. However, I will say that after seven plus years, I believe I can hold my own concerning all issues related to education processes and policies.”
The new board members Justice has appointed are all former longtime county school system administrators. The board sets policies that these countywide public school systems must follow, despite them having their own locally elected school boards, and one of Justice’s appointments — former Putnam County schools superintendent Chuck Hatfield — has been critical of state mandates related to Common Core.
“Believe me, to do it right, being on this School Board takes a lot of time and a lot of patience with far too many stakeholders to keep happy,” Green said. “Board members should not be people who are reluctant to challenge the status quo and demand improvements. To that extent, I look back on my tenure at the State School Board and feel confident and gratified that I have fulfilled that responsibility.
“…In spite of what many think, we are not 49th and 50th in the nation in everything. Since the seminal SB359 Educational Reform Bill was passed in 2013, we have come a long way. Educational reform is a marathon not a sprint. Graduation rate is up, performance on summative assessment tests are up,” Green said.
Senate Bill 359 was backed by former governor Earl Ray Tomblin. Justice has often said that West Virginia is near the bottom in everything.
“It has been my pleasure to serve on the Board of Education for over five years,” Jackson said in the release. “When Governor Tomblin asked me to serve on the Board, I was not seeking the appointment but was happy to serve Governor Tomblin and, more importantly, the young men and women who should be the primary focus of the Board.
“At the suggestion of Governor Tomblin, the Board helped develop significant policies that are calculated to improve student achievement in West Virginia. Among those are assuring our students receive 180 separate days of instruction, and developing an accountability system that accurately measures the performance of our students through aligned standards and assessments, and through an A through F system that reveals to students, parents and other stakeholders exactly how their schools are performing.
“It is apparent that Governor Justice wants to pursue a different course. Additionally, with the resignation of Dr. Martirano effective June 30, 2017, it will be imperative for the State Board to begin the process for selecting a new State Superintendent. With all these changes pending, I believe it best to allow a new member to make the necessary decisions.”
Mickey Blackwell, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Elementary/Middle School Principals, said he hopes the state board will focus in the future on things like effective assessments and finding mental and physical health resources for students.
“Principals across the state have been looking forward to working with the new state board and we look forward to sitting down with our new leadership and helping them make our schools more successful,” Blackwell said.
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