State Board of Education President Dr. Jorea Marple was fired Thursday by the board.
According to Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro, the board voted 5-2 in favor of terminating her contract.
Board members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden voted against the measure, and shortly after the vote announced they would resign their positions on the board. Their resignations are effective Dec. 31.
After the board vote, Marple said she understands she serves at the will and pleasure of the board, but the data she has presented show the growth and progress the state has made under her leadership.
Visibly upset, she then asked the board to provide cause for her firing.
Board President Wade Linger said in a statement that the board believes the state’s public school system needs a new direction.
“Dr. Marple’s concern for and commitment to West Virginia’s schoolchildren is well known. She has served them with distinction, and we appreciate her public service. However, the West Virginia Board of Education believes this is a time for a change in direction. As such, we think it is important for new leadership,” Linger said.
Marple said in a telephone interview that she was surprised by the decision.
“I had received only words of encouragement,” she said.
She said she had tried as superintendent to identify issues, including ways to fund schools.
“My heart, my soul and my being are with teachers and children and I hope to continue to be an advocate for meeting the needs of the children,” she said.
Multiple sources pinned the decision on board members appointed by former Gov. Joe Manchin, including his board member wife, Gayle Manchin.
There was no open discussion about the matter during Thursday’s meeting, and it was not listed in the personnel matters included in the board’s agenda. The board went into executive session for more than an hour to discuss personnel matters, but Board President Wade Linger said no action was taken.
Later in the meeting, Linger called for a short break. Immediately following, he said the board was going to vote on personnel matters with an added item. He passed around sheets of green paper to all of the board members listing the termination of Marple effective Thursday. Marple took the role as superintendent in March 2011.
Outside the meeting room, the state’s education community was shocked by the sudden decision. Marple’s ouster came with little warning, though rumors had been floating in some circles before Thursday morning’s meeting, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said she was shocked to learn about the board’s action from news reports. Poling said she had no idea Marple would be ousted today.
She said more consideration should have been given to the decision, which was not talked about publicly in advance by the board.
The Barbour County Democrat credited Marple for addressing curriculum standards and overseeing a new way to measure student performance while responding to the governor’s call to trim the state budget.
“I think she was doing a good job,” said Poling, a retired educator. “I found no problems with her work ... I would like to know why they did that, and know of no reason why they would.”
Judy Hale, the president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Daily Mail that the board’s decision was a total surprise to her. She worried about the department’s immediate future if Marple is going to clear out her desk today.
“If this is immediately, which it seems to be, does that not leave the state Department of Education in chaos?” Hale said. “What is the plan to carry on the business of education?”
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee also was surprised the firing of Marple, whom he called a strong advocate for students, teachers and service professional. He also said he was appalled by the manner in which the board handled her firing, without warning.
“Dr. Marple has done a great job in her short tenure as superintendent,” Lee said. “It was completely out of the blue to me. Dr. Marple is widely respected, not only by her peers but by education employees around the state.
“The kids, the teachers and service personnel across the state will feel the effects at a time when we can ill afford it,” Lee said.
The Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are expected to focus on education in the legislative session early next year. As that approaches, the department has, as of today, no leadership heading into what could be a key period for the public school system’s future.
The move comes just days before the state board is expected to provide its response to the much talked about public education audit. A special board meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday afternoon.
A recent wide-ranging audit of West Virginia’s public schools describes a low-performing education system rigidly controlled by a state-level bureaucracy and a thick stack of policy-directing laws.
Marple had served as the state’s schools chief since March 1, 2011, and previously served as deputy superintendent. Her husband is Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who lost a bid for a sixth term in the Nov. 6 general election.