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WV schools chief resigns effective June 30

Charleston Gazette-Mail file photo by F. Brian Ferguson Michael Martirano waves as he is introduced as West Virginia’s new schools superintendent in a July 2014 ceremony. On Tuesday, Martirano announced that he is resigning, effective June 30, 2017.
Charleston Gazette-Mail file photo by F. Brian Ferguson
Michael Martirano waves as he is introduced as West Virginia’s new schools superintendent in a July 2014 ceremony. On Tuesday, Martirano announced that he is resigning, effective June 30, 2017.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Michael Martirano announced Tuesday that he is leaving his position as West Virginia’s 30th state schools superintendent on June 30, 2017, the end of the current fiscal year.

He’s spent about two years in the role, during which the Department of Education he leads has defended from legislative attack the state’s Common Core-based math and English language arts standards and its new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, and struggled to enact consolidation and build new school facilities in the state-controlled Fayette County school system.

Martirano, who served as superintendent of St. Mary’s County Public Schools, in Southern Maryland, for nearly a decade before coming to the Mountain State, submitted his resignation letter Tuesday.

“After much consideration and heartfelt discussion with my family, I have decided to resign my position as the State Superintendent of West Virginia,” Martirano said in a statement. “The past two years have been the most rewarding of my career and I could not be more proud of the work we’ve accomplished on behalf of our young people. Unfortunately, I have been challenged with personal family matters outside of my control and it is necessary for me to move closer to my family and my children and seek employment opportunities near them.”

“It is with a heavy heart that I accept Dr. Martirano’s resignation,” said Mike Green, head of the state Board of Education that hired Martirano, in a statement. “Dr. Martirano has done an outstanding job as our State Superintendent, has had positive impact on the state’s educational system and has mapped out a clear path for continuous improvement. Under his leadership, we have codified our College and Career Readiness Standards, we finally have a consistent and continuous assessment and accountability system, plus our students have shown gains in proficiency on assessments.”

Martirano’s wife, Silvana, died earlier this year.

“With the prolonged illness of my wife and her eventual death, I now find myself being both a dad and a mom to my three children who reside in Maryland,” Martirano wrote in his resignation letter, which state education department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson distributed. “After much prayer and consultation with my family, I have come to the conclusion that I must be geographically closer to them.”

Martirano said he doesn’t have a job lined up yet in the Maryland area, where he wants to relocate, but he’s looking to stay working in education.

“I’ve got some feelers out, I’ve got some things I’m pursuing,” he told the Gazette-Mail on Tuesday. He said he has three adult children and that his son is getting married and that he’s just gotten word that his daughter is having his first grandchild.

Martirano became the first person hired to the state superintendent position on a permanent basis since the state school board voted without discussion in 2012 to fire then-Superintendent Jorea Marple.

Much of the public education debate during his tenure has been focused on Common Core education standards and the Smarter Balanced end-of-year standardized testing, as well as the Legislature’s efforts to dump both of them.

Last school year, his department led a special review of the state’s Common Core standards that didn’t result in many changes, although Martirano still argues that the state’s standards no longer are based on the Common Core national standards blueprint. In that “Academic Spotlight” review of the standards, more than 90 percent of the more than 240,000 online comments from more than 5,000 individuals supported the standards, and although the website accepted comments from anyone over 18, self-identified West Virginia K-12 teachers were responsible for 91 percent of the comments.

Mountain State lawmakers, while highly critical of the Common Core standards, which also have been controversial in other states, offered few specifics about exactly why they dislike the standards.

In another review Martirano initiated that hasn’t led to much change, a majority of members of the Commission on Assessment he formed favored moving away from Smarter Balanced, but Martirano, who originally tried to keep the public out of the commission’s meetings before reversing course, never released official “final recommendations” from the group, and the state will continue using Smarter Balanced this school year.

After preserving those Smarter Balanced tests for two school years, state education officials say they now have the comparative data to finally debut this fall the delayed, controversial A-F grading system that will assign grades to entire schools largely based on overall scores and increases or decreases in scores on those tests.

 Statewide proficiency rates on the Smarter Balanced tests for West Virginia elementary, middle and high school students increased from the 2014-15 school year, the first year it was given and Martirano’s first as superintendent, to last school year in nearly every tested grade on all tested subjects, according to preliminary data. But even with the proficiency rate increases, the fact remained that less than half of the roughly 180,000 tested Mountain State students scored “proficient” or higher in English language arts, and only about a third were deemed proficient in math and science.

Martirano’s tenure has conversely seen an elimination of the annual end-of-year standardized testing in social studies and a reduction of such tests in science from grades three to 11, in which math and English are tested, to just grades four, six and 10. His department recommended these testing reductions, and the state school board approved them.

His tenure also has been filled with controversy regarding Fayette County, where the state took away control of the public school system from the locally elected school board members years before Martirano arrived in September 2014.

Much of the recent public attention and pressure to solve school facilities issues in Fayette came after Martirano ordered the closure of Collins Middle’s seventh- and eighth-grade building in January 2015 because of structural issues, sending about 400 of its students to county high schools and fueling the effort to pass Fayette’s first school building and renovation bond in more than 40 years.

Martirano supported putting a June 2015 bond election before Fayette residents to fund a school consolidation and construction plan to build a new Collins Middle, close high schools and solve various problems. Fayette voters shot down the property tax increase.

In December 2015, the state School Building Authority board refused to provide the requested $39.6 million to fund another consolidation plan that Martirano had backed.

Now, the department, an overwhelming majority of state school board members and SBA School Planning and Construction Director Scott Raines, who had criticized the department’s previous consolidation plan, are united behind a plan to be submitted this year for the SBA board’s funding consideration.

Recently, Martirano has continued advocating for increasing pay for teachers to solve educator vacancy problems in schools, further increasing the state’s high school graduation rates and further focusing on teaching young children to read on grade level.

He said Tuesday that he’ll focus through the remainder of his term on the need to increase teacher pay and address the vacancy problems, as well as making sure students spend as much time as needed to do their best on standardized tests. Last school year, the average time spent on the exams was below the amount that Smarter Balanced estimated students would take in every grade level, most significantly in high school math, where proficiency rates were lowest.

Martirano said he’ll also work to improve West Virginia’s high school graduation rate, which has continued its climb during his tenure, reaching 86.5 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

He said he never views the issues surrounding Fayette and the Common Core standards and testing as fights but as “an opportunity to advance greater options for young people to succeed.

“I’m a very aggressive administrator in the sense that I operate with the fierce urgency of now,” Martirano said.

Martirano is the highest-paid superintendent in West Virginia’s history, at an annual salary of $230,000. The state school board will now have to find a new superintendent.

“It has been a privilege to work with a very dedicated Governor, West Virginia Board of Education and Legislature,” Martirano said in his statement. “The professionalism, dedication and talent of our teachers, principals, superintendents, service personnel, local Boards of Education, the West Virginia Department of Education staff and our parents have impressed me. However, I have been most awed by our very respectful, genuine, and wonderful students. I have continually basked in their reflective glory as they have provided me with much hope and optimism for a brighter future.”

Reach Ryan Quinn at [email protected],, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

To see more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, click here. 


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