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Incoming W.Va. schools chief to apply ‘laser focus’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The man expected to be West Virginia’s next schools superintendent says his primary focus will not only be graduating more students but closing the achievement gap shown by poor and minority students.

In West Virginia, more than half of all students live at or below the poverty line, while the 10 percent of students who are minorities score lower on tests than their classmates.

Photo from The Charleston Gazette Michael Martirano
Photo from The Charleston Gazette
Michael Martirano

In Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s County, the school district Michael Martirano has overseen as superintendent for nearly a decade, the childhood poverty rate is much lower, around 10 percent. About one in three students qualify for free or discounted meals, and about 20 percent are minorities.

Martirano said those students who struggle have been a main focus of his all along, and they will continue to be in West Virginia.

“We’ve been able to close the achievement gap here tremendously. When I first got here, the graduation rate was 82 percent. Now I’m leaving at 91.5 percent — an all-time high for the district. It’s that intentionality of, ‘what gets measured, gets done.’ And it can be done — I’ve been able to do it in every position I’ve been in,” Martirano said in a telephone interview with the Gazette.

“But it needs laser focus. It just can’t be everybody doing random acts. It charges me up tremendously to come into the state, and I hope to replicate a lot of the work that I’ve done in Maryland in West Virginia.”

Martirano, who is from Frostburg, Maryland, and has a doctorate in education and school management, said West Virginia’s consistently low national rankings in student achievement don’t worry him, they motivate him…

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