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New W.Va. BOE member has business background, 'no agenda'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New state Board of Education member Tina Combs, of Berkeley County, said her local involvement in the public school system combined with her business background will allow her to bring a unique perspective to the board.

Her experience as a mom to recent public high school graduates helps, too, she said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Combs -- president and CEO of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce -- to the West Virginia Board of Education on Friday. She is replacing Jenny Phillips, who resigned after the board voted to terminate Superintendent Jorea Marple in November.

"Education has always been a passion for me, even though I'm not an educator. Education is such a key to economic development, and we need to provide a skilled and qualified work force in order to attract business. So, here at the chamber, education is something we've always recognized," she said.

In addition to serving as chairwoman on the Blue Ridge Community and Technical College Board of Governors and as treasurer for the Berkeley County Business Education Partnership, Combs also has headed different projects in the public school system, including serving on her Local School Improvement Council.

Outside of work, Combs has been involved with education on a personal level as a mother to two sons, with her youngest graduating from high school in 2011.

Both sons went on to college, one at Alderson-Broaddus College and one at Fairmont State University, helping Combs realize the importance of public school curriculum when preparing students in the state for higher education, she said.

"I've been involved with the school system fairly recently, and in working with the kids and parents closely, I think I can bring that perspective to the board," she said.

Combs said she does not have a specific list of priorities in mind to tackle as a state Board of Education member, but is instead "going into this with an open mind."

"I don't have my own agenda, per se. The board has done so much work, and I want to come in and help them move education forward in the state. The bottom line for me is: What can we do for our education system?"

With Marple's abrupt firing and two pending lawsuits against the board for its actions, Combs is aware that it's a controversial time to be affiliated with the West Virginia Board of Education.

"Obviously, I do know about the activities of the past. But those things happened before I became involved, and my passion for education and wanting to help our students surpasses any of those worries I might have had based on what's been in the news lately," she said. "I'm coming in with the attitude that I want to work with all of the board members to do what we can for education."

Combs graduated from Mountain State University in 2004 with a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership and development.

State Board of Education member Bill White, who served as the founding dean of MSU's School of Leadership and Professional Development, was appointed to the board in 2010.

Mountain State's primary accreditation was recently revoked by the Higher Learning Commission, which cited a series of leadership problems at the school. The University of Charleston has since taken over operations at the Beckley and Martinsburg campuses.

White said he has not worked with Combs in the past, but is pleased with her appointment because he had requested that the governor appoint more women.

Since both Phillips and Priscilla Haden resigned following Marple's sudden firing, Gayle Manchin is the only woman serving on the board. Former Randolph County Schools Superintendent Jim Phares has since replaced Marple as state superintendent of schools.

Combs' experience also includes a certificate in community economic development from the Virginia Institute for Economic Development at Virginia Tech and a certificate for nonprofit organization management from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

She will join the board for its regular monthly meeting in Charleston on Feb. 13.

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


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