By Jorea M. Marple
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools
Writer Robin Cook once said, “Education is more than a luxury; it is a responsibility that society owes to itself.” Education is indeed a responsibility I take personally as I begin my new role as West Virginia’s 27th state superintendent of schools.
My entire professional life has been in public education; it is the work that I am passionate about, that I love and honor. There has seldom been a day during the last 40 years that I have not felt the great blessings that come from having the opportunity to touch the hearts and minds of our children.
Over the past few weeks, I often have been asked what I would like to accomplish in West Virginia schools and how I would address the challenges facing public education. I believe, there are four critical areas that all of us must consider if we are to significantly improve our schools:
We must more effectively serve the personal learning needs of each student. We lose far too many students because of disinterest or because academic and personal challenges have not been met. Every one of the 280,000 plus students in our public schools has unique talents and abilities that we have an obligation to recognize and enhance. This commitment to individual student success must be the cornerstone of everything we do. We must have a curriculum that emphasizes the arts, music, dance, drama, foreign languages, physical activity and wellness, career readiness, technology fluency as well as a solid foundation in core subjects, such as science, social studies, reading and math.
Already, the West Virginia Board of Education has taken steps to incorporate 21st century learning into the classroom with the addition of world-class rigor to core subjects. The 21st century learning plan is called “Global21: Student’s deserve it. The world demands it.” It makes an important change to align state standards with national and international standards.
We must assure we have great teachers in every classroom who are honored, supported and rewarded because being an educator is a tough job. West Virginians should not stand for teacher pay in our state to rank 47th among other states. Yes, teachers are accountable for every student’s progress but with this obligation also must come the respectability of adequate salaries as well as the time and the tools to do an effective job.
We must provide greater flexibility to schools to meet the 21st century learning requirements. Many of the ways we operate schools today were determined more than a 100 years ago. The length of the school year, teaching separate subjects from textbooks, or organizing instruction in classrooms of 25 kids of the same age may not be the best way to engage our students. We must be smart enough to eliminate laws and policies that no longer work and use 21st century technology to excite our kids about learning.
We must convince all parents, agencies, community and business leaders, and legislators that they have an important role in improving our schools. The potential for great schools lies within each community. I am convinced that we can make great leaps forward if we can rally the concerted and unified efforts of parents, community agencies, lawmakers and business leaders to provide the support needed for our schools to improve. The many problems that educators face are often rooted in issues beyond the walls of the school. These problems will take all of us to solve.
As I travel across this state, I am humbled by the potential I see in our students. Their creativity, joy, interest in the world around them, and sense of right and wrong lift my spirit. I want to use my time as state superintendent to enhance these dispositions, talents and abilities. My hopes and dreams for our students are the same ones I had raising my own two children: To develop children who are healthy, responsible, self-directed and who have the knowledge and skills necessary to live satisfying and productive lives; in essence, “Good Kids Doing Great Work.”
I look forward to meeting with parents and teachers, principals and students, superintendents and business leaders, policymakers and service personnel as I travel around the state. The insights and opinions of those most directly involved in the education of our children will prove invaluable as we plan our pathway forward.
There is no question that critical work awaits us. Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.” I promise to treat the children of West Virginia as if they were my own as we work together to prepare them for the world that awaits them.
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