Some media reports and talk radio show hosts in the Charleston area have been critical of the West Virginia Board of Education and its members for not inviting representatives from certain employees’ organizations, the news media and the public to participate in or watch the exhaustive recent interviews of candidates to become the next State Superintendent of Schools. Because of the importance of this selection, we will not be improperly influenced by anyone or any organization in the search process. It’s time to explain the role of the West Virginia Board of Education and the reasons for remaining above the political fray.
We will not allow this search to become a sideshow where reporters and TV cameras encircle all candidates, their current employers, family members and friends, where misinformation is circulated and information is taken out of context. Morever, we will not allow the news media or special interests to control the search process or to ruin the reputations of good people.
Vested with the general supervision of the state’s 824 elementary and secondary schools, we take our responsibility seriously. Each member of this diverse group brings insight and a strong commitment to the job at hand – ensuring that every child in West Virginia is provided with a quality education. We have worked in a variety of occupations and represent a cross section of West Virginia in terms of age, gender and race. We are parents, and a few of us are also grandparents, so we have a personal interest in seeing that the state’s education system is second to none. One member on our Board has served for over 20 years, while one has served only a few months. This range of experience provides the board with historic as well as fresh perspectives on education.
Just as the founders of this great country carefully crafted a Constitution that guaranteed a balance of powers by the branches of government, sage West Virginians developed the current design of the Board of Education so that its members can oversee the operation of the state’s education system without having to succumb to political pressure.
As outlined in the West Virginia Constitution, the State Board of Education is an appointed board, whose members serve without pay, receiving only reimbursement for their expenses and a per diem. Members serve overlapping nine-year terms, to ensure that each member’s tenure extends beyond the scope of any one governor. To further ensure that this Board remains balanced, the Constitution allows that no more than five members of this Board may belong to the same political party.
Last year, Dr. Henry Marockie, the State Superintendent, announced that he would be leaving his post on June 30, 2000. Prior to beginning the search process for a new State Superintendent of Schools, we deliberated and determined that it would be in the best interests of the state’s children to utilize the services of an expert who could assist us. At that same time, we determined that it was our responsibility to be the search committee. We decided that we would not delegate that responsibility to anyone, as we consider the selection of a superintendent to be our Constitutional duty and the most important task we will ever have. In September 1999, we selected Isaacson, Miller, a nationally-recognized consulting firm with extensive experience in executive and superintendent searches, to assist us.
Our purpose was to develop a search process to ensure that a number of qualified, capable applicants were encouraged to apply, as the education of our children is too important to place in the hands of a person whose knowledge and abilities aren’t equal to the job of leading West Virginia’s schools. We truly want only the best to lead our schools as we start this new millennium.
To gain public input at the very onset of this search, we invited a group of 38 community, state and educational leaders from across the state – including past state Teachers of the Year and Milken Award-winning teachers – to serve on the Superintendent Search Advisory Committee. This Committee was formed to determine the qualities and characteristics for the new state schools chief. We knew that we needed and wanted input from the public, but we believed that this input would be best served at the beginning of the search process.
Representatives from the Board and Isaacson, Miller met with Governor Cecil H. Underwood, legislative leaders, county superintendents, Department of Education staff members and others who work closely with the State Superintendent to gain additional input before the interview process began.
We assure all West Virginians that this entire search process has been conducted with the best interests of our children in mind – and without political pressure from anyone or any organization. Members of this Board have thoroughly reviewed all applications, interviewed candidates for hours and conducted comprehensive background investigations. Our goal is to ensure a quality education for all children in the Mountain State. We take our sworn oath and Constitutional duties seriously.
To do otherwise would be to neglect our responsibility as outlined in the West Virginia Constitution and could result in the politicizing of public education. We can’t allow that to occur.