CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some West Virginia lawmakers say Thursday's firing of state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple could pave the way for the state to adopt changes recommended in an education audit that Marple was expected to resist.
But other legislators said Marple was moving West Virginia schools in the right direction -- and that she had the expertise to implement the audit's best recommendations and reject those that wouldn't improve student achievement.
"She was very open and willing to work with us," said Mary Poling, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, which is reviewing the education audit. "She updated us regularly. She was always responsive to our questions."
Poling said Marple's departure took her by surprise. She criticized the five state school board members who met behind closed doors before voting to fire her. The board voted 5-2 to dismiss Marple.
"I consider it to be very unprofessional and cause for all the questions we have now about their action," Poling said. "I don't like the way it was done."
Poling also urged board members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden to reconsider their plans to resign. Phillips and Haden plan to resign in protest of Thursday's action.
State board President Wade Linger and board members Bill White, Gayle Manchin, Bob Dunlevy and Mike Green voted to oust Marple.
State Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said Marple's departure comes at a "critical tipping point" for education in West Virginia.
Behind the scenes, Marple and board members had been at odds over the education audit, including a recommendation to slash Marple's staff at the Department of Education.
"This could be a new starting point," said Prezioso, a former teacher, principal and central office administrator.
Prezioso, who sparred with Marple earlier this year during a legislative meeting to discuss the Department of Education's goals, said he wasn't going to second guess the state school board's decision to dismiss Marple.
"I'm not going to question their decision," he said. "That's their duty and responsibility."
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said it makes sense for the state school board to remove Marple if they believed she was an impediment to "wholesale, top-to-bottom change" for West Virginia schools.
"Anyone not willing to make those changes probably should step aside," Lane said Thursday. "Hopefully, this bodes well for the audit, and we will achieve some positive results for kids."
Lane said he hopes state school board members adopt many of the audit's recommendations, especially those designed to improve student achievement and cut wasteful spending.
"Maybe we should see this as an indication that the board is serious about making changes," he said.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said he was "a little shocked" about Marple's firing, which comes just three months before "the most important legislative session relevant to education I've ever been involved with."
Plymale said Marple was making changes spotlighted in the education audit.
"Dr. Marple was very knowledgeable," Plymale said. "She had a very good grasp of what was going on in the classroom. This is one of the toughest jobs: You're trying to please nine people on the [state Board of Education] and 1.8 million people in the state."
State lawmakers said they now await the state board's formal response to the audit, which could come as early as next week at legislative interim meetings.
"I hope we can make a positive out of this because we've got a lot of work to do," Prezioso said. "The system will survive. It's built to survive."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.