Last fall, county voters rejected a bond that would have replaced four elementary schools with two. Last week, auditors from the State Department of Education made a surprise visit to Glenville because the county can't get together on a plan for its future school sites.
On Monday, the Gilmer County Board of Education hired William K. Simmons to take over as superintendent. The vote was 3-2.
Longtime readers will remember Simmons, president of Glenville State College from 1976 to 1998. During that time he helped oust a state higher education chancellor, then held the position himself, while keeping his job at Glenville.
In 1994, relations with his faculty became so strained and unproductive that the Faculty Senate, a relatively new feature at the college, voted that they had no confidence in him. He fired or demoted several department heads. The resulting lawsuits were eventually settled, and Simmons eventually resigned. He remained a professor, then retired, and has for several years taught graduate English classes part-time at various sites through the Marshall University Graduate College.
You can imagine the wave of anxiety that went through the county as residents learned that on July 1, Simmons will take over the $80,000-a-year job leading Gilmer County schools.
Simmons says he will not be a divisive presence. This is his home county, he said, where he got his start. People asked him to apply for the job, and he wants to help.
"Someone has to bring the situation together," Simmons said. "This stage of my life, I'm above politics. I'm looking at what needs to be done."
First thing on the list, where to put new elementary schools?
The state Office of Education Performance Audits dropped in on Gilmer County schools last week because of that very question.
"What attracted us there was there was no approved comprehensive educational facilities plan," said Kenna Seal, director of the office.
The community and the board are divided, he said.
"It was a county office review." They did visit schools, but not to evaluate instruction.
"We examined the facilities themselves. We're looking at leadership issues, certification issues," Seal said.
Hundreds of communities across the state can feel Gilmer's pain, because they've been there.
At last count, Gilmer had 943 students in preschool through 12th grade, about 100 fewer than in 2003-04. They attend four elementary schools in pre-K through sixth grade and one high school with grades seven to 12. Enrollment has dropped steadily.