Wade Linger, the Marion County technology mogul who is president of the West Virginia Board of Education, orchestrated last week’s ugly and unprecedented power grab to oust Superintendent Jorea Marple. No reason was given, and the move will hurt schoolchildren and communities throughout West Virginia.
With the next edition of the Spirit of Jefferson not out until Thanksgiving Eve, we take the unusual step of posting our first online editorial, to voice our distrust of and displeasure with Linger, and to ask readers across West Virginia – particularly educators and parents – to take action against Linger now.
Jim Phares, a former Marion County schools chief who worked with Linger a decade ago when Linger served there as a volunteer on a school improvement council, has announced he’ll resign on Monday from his current position as Randolph County’s schools chief.
He’s told reporters he plans to be in Charleston on Wednesday, ready to take command of the school system. He, apparently, has no doubt that his friend Linger – along with Gayle Manchin and the others appointed to the board by then Gov. Joe Manchin – will hand him the state’s top education job. In an interview with a reporter from the Charleston Daily Mail, Phares admitted he’d chatted with Linger over the phone last week about whether he’d be interested in Marple’s job “should it become available.”
During Thursday’s state school board meeting, Marple’s contract was terminated by a 5-2 vote. The item was not on the stated agenda, a violation of the state’s Open Meetings law. But immediately after that unlawful action, Linger had another outrageous proposal – on the spot, he proffered Phares to step into Marple’s shoes.
Instead, the board voted to install an acting superintendent from the Department of Education, but Linger made it known that he will push for Phares to be placed as Marple’s successor this week – without even so much as a perfunctory search.
In a state with a reputation for shady political deals, this power play of Linger’s stands out as the worst in memory. After Marple’s dismissal, she asked for a reason and none was given, except the vague rationale that the board wanted to move in a different direction.
It’s frightening. Why would West Virginia want to lose the leadership of a fine, caring educator such as Marple, the first woman ever to hold the state superintendent’s role? In the job only since March of 2011 (she won the position after a national search, by the way), the Sutton native has made great strides in getting the state’s schools focused on student achievement.
Marple, a former Kanawha County schools chief who holds a doctorate in education, has written a book about improving schools. She spent much of her long career on the ground, including as principal of Kanawha County’s Tiskelwah Elementary, a Charleston school serving mostly low-income children where Marple introduced innovative, inexpensive ideas that transformed the once low-performing school into a model as a National School of Excellence.
In just 18 months at the state helm, Marple was making progress in a similar transformation of all of West Virginia’s schools. Her job evaluation this summer was positive – even meriting her a $2,000-a-year raise. But now Linger, wanting his man in the job, summarily has undone all that good.
Let Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin know that West Virginia’s schoolchildren should not be made victim of Linger’s desire for more power. On Monday morning, call Tomblin at his office (888-438-2731) of at the Governor’s Mansion (304-558-3588).
If email is easier, fill out the comment form here. Another option: Send your thoughts to Office of the Governor, State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Blvd., E., Charleston 25305.