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Review shows Marple was implementing board's 'new direction'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education's firing of state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple contradicts a glowing evaluation of her work that board members gave her just five months earlier.

Marple's performance evaluation, which commends her for her leadership of the board, her efforts to keep the public informed and for a wide variety of improvements in schools, was conducted in June and included a $2,000 raise.

"Dr. Marple approaches all of her work with an unwavering commitment to students and educators," board President Wade Linger said in a news release following the evaluation. "She is an outstanding visionary and leader. In just over a year, she has brought national recognition to our state and worked diligently regarding teacher quality, school nutrition, pre-[kindergarten] education and organizational leadership."

The title of the press release that announced her evaluation was: "Leadership Noted Among Top Qualities of the State Superintendent of Schools."

The "evidence-based progress report" lists numerous accomplishments achieved since Marple took over as state superintendent. That includes an increase in certain test scores and participation rates, an emphasis on health and wellness and students who are better prepared for college or the work force.

The evaluation points to the following statistics as "evidence of results":

  • The 2012 Quality Counts report ranked West Virginia third in the nation for standards, assessment and accountability policies that guide student achievement.
  • Scores increased in all subjects on the WESTEST and on college prep tests. Significant increases were seen in the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes and completing work readiness certifications.
  • West Virginia was one of nine states that showed improvement in science by the National Assessment of Educational Progress standards. The state closed the performance gap by four points, while the nation improved by an average of two points.
  • An increase in arts education and a significant improvement in state ranking by the Arts Education Partnership standards.
  • An all-time high in preschool enrollment, ranking in the top five states for access, according to the annual State of Preschool report.
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  • A significant increase in breakfast participation and physical activity during the school day.
  • However, the state board pointed to a different list of statistics last Thursday when it voted for a second time to fire Marple by a 6-2 vote.

    Linger joined board members Gayle Manchin, William White, Lloyd Jackson, Michael Green and Robert Dunlevy in voting to fire Marple. Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips voted against it.

    The revote was in response to a pending lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court. The suit alleges that the board's firing process broke state sunshine laws.

    Education officials and members of the public statewide have voiced their displeasure with the board's lack of reasoning for Marple's firing. Linger attempted to give them more specific reasons at Thursday's meeting.

    He pointed to the following statistics:

  • West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress.
  • Education Week's most recent Quality Counts Report gave West Virginia an F in K-12 achievement.
  • The statewide graduation rate is only 78 percent.
  • One in 4 high school students in West Virginia does not graduate on time.
  • "The board determined that in order to fix these problems, we needed to head in a new direction with new leadership," Linger said.

    Linger said the main issues included a lack of a sense of urgency in the department to address some concerns that have been outlined. When discussing the concerns, the board was often met with excuses and not actions, he said.

    In addition, the board had been told that things couldn't change instead of being offered solutions, Linger said. When regular practices were challenged, board members often found people being defensive, he said.

    In response to Linger's reasoning, shouts of "not good enough" came from people attending Thursday's meeting.

    Some of Linger's concerns were also pointed out in Marple's evaluation, but the positive results outweighed the "evidence of concerns."

    The evaluation noted that while West Virginia saw some gains on the NAEP and WESTEST, the overall percentage of students who score proficient "needs significant improvement." It also noted a lack of growth in students' knowledge of health information and the recent Quality Counts Report.

    The evaluation also highlights "significant obstacles" for the board to overcome. Obstacles include increasing the quality of instruction, low teacher salaries that provide little incentive for attracting quality candidates, West Virginia's high rates of diabetes and teen pregnancy and getting more students to go to college.

    Linger recently went before a legislative committee to present a plan for the board's direction in addressing these issues, along with the recommendations that came out of the governor's statewide education efficiency audit.

    Linger identified the board's "game changers," which include increasing local district control, emphasizing learning with technology and making major changes to "professional development," which is curriculum training for teachers and staff.

    But education leaders, including current and former state board members, say many of those "game changers" were introduced by Marple before she was abruptly terminated.

    Alterations to state code to allow change, such as implementation of year-round schools and changes to Department of Education staffing levels, was at the top of Linger's priority list when he presented the board's plan to the Legislature recently.

    In the past year, under Marple's leadership, the board eliminated 60 policies and had begun to downsize the number of department positions by keeping 30 positions vacant.

    "What I find very interesting is that they indicate going in a new direction, but this was the direction Jorea was going," said Lowell Johnson, whose term on the board expired last month before Marple was fired. "Year-round schools, changes to professional development, that came from Jorea. So unless there's something there that the other members of the board know that I don't, then I don't get it."

    Haden said Marple was already working on many of the recommendations that the audit suggests to help turn around low-performing schools.

    "Truthfully, Dr. Marple introduced a lot of those things to us. I had never heard the term, 'balanced calendar' before she brought it to us. She was superintendent when the year-round school was put in place in Kanawha County, and it's the only place where it's really been sustainable. She's been a great advocate for that," Haden said.

    West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee has been vocal about his displeasure with Marple's ousting, claiming the reasons were merely political.

    Lee said Marple's work in one year has been "astounding," pointing to her work on a new teacher evaluation system, nutrition programs and improving the juvenile education system.

    "She went out in the schools and listened to teachers, the people who teach students each and every day and have to abide by the policies that are handed down. And after listening to those teachers, she made many changes," he said. "She allowed each classroom to reach its highest potential instead of abiding by a cookie-cutter mold. What changed from then to now?"

    Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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