CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia education leaders are up in arms about the sudden firing of state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple.
The West Virginia Board of Education voted to terminate Marple, who took on the role as the state's first female superintendent last March, in a 5-2 vote without discussion during a regular meeting on Thursday.
The two board members who voted against Marple's termination, longtime education leaders Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden, announced their intentions to resign following the motion.
Marple was shocked by the news and said she was given no reason for her termination, which leads her to believe it's a political move.
"I don't know why. I can only assume it is political. The statement was that they did not have faith in my leadership. So, that's it," she said. "We were making great progress. The decisions we've made have been about kids, from feeding kids to establishing expectations and policy that support good behavior and engaging our communities. We have won national awards. I could give you 5,000 things that have occurred, but I in no way want to be self-serving here. This isn't about me."
In an emergency meeting held following the termination, board president Wade Linger recommended superintendent of Randolph County Schools, Jim Phares, be appointed as the new state superintendent. Deputy State Superintendent Chuck Heinlein is holding the spot of superintendent until the matter is further discussed next week, since state law does not allow the position to remain vacant.
Haden, who officially resigns at the end of December, objected to the recommendation, and said a thorough search for a new superintendent should be performed.
"In my memory, we have done a search and we have given all educators in West Virginia the opportunity to apply and have even looked out of state on some occasions," she said.
Linger and board members Bill White, Gayle Manchin, Bob Dunlevy and Mike Green voted to fire Marple. All were appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator.
"The Manchin appointees clearly have an agenda of their own, and it's not necessarily in the best interest of students. For personal agendas to come into play is just appalling," said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. "Dr. Marple has moved the state forward. She's put the children first in every decision that she's made. She's done exactly what her job was supposed to be. For this to come out of the blue like this is just appalling. It appears to me that people want total control, and that's wrong."
Lloyd Jackson, a state board member who was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, was absent from the meeting Thursday and did not vote. Former board member Lowell Johnson just left the board, and Tomblin has not announced his replacement.
Lee said he and Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers, will "stand together in anger" to try to make it right.
"My question goes beyond what happens today -- where does this leave the state Board of Education? Are we in a state of chaos now? How do we go forward from here?" Hale said. "I am disturbed because of the manner in which this was done. It leaves a void for the children and teachers and service personnel across the state. I do not know what has motivated this."
But Linger said the accusations aren't true.
"What politics? I really don't know what they're talking about," he said in response to the claims.
Many were upset by the unusual process of Marple's termination.
The matter was not listed on the agenda. Board members spent more than an hour in closed session, excluding Marple. Then, after Linger called another short break, it was announced that an additional item had been tacked onto personnel matters.
Linger passed around a piece of paper stating that Marple's termination be effective immediately.