CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thursday's action by the West Virginia Board of Education was akin to a coup organized by political powers wishing to impart their own vision of educational reform. The removal of Dr. Jorea Marple as state schools superintendent was a travesty and has darkened the educational system of our great state.
An educational philosophy and vision that included a complete arts education for every student will now be compromised. Upon becoming superintendent, she funded an elementary dance program in West Virginia schools (North Jefferson being one of the pilot programs) and regularly told members of the Department of Education that the arts, foreign language and health/wellness were to be a major priority for the next 10 years.
"Dr. Jorea Marple was the first person to write me a handwritten congratulations for being a nationally board certified teacher," says dance teacher Brandy Butcher of Hedgesville High School.
During a four-day arts education tour of West Virginia, Eileen Miller of Magnolia High School in New Martinsville had this to say:
"Last month, for the first time in my 40-year career, I had the privilege to host a state superintendent at Magnolia. She talked with the students and asked them questions. She also talked with teachers in our little school. We were all inspired by her visit and she made us want to do even more for our students. [Upon hearing of Dr. Marple's firing] several students came into the library to ask what I thought they could do to help Dr. Marple. That's right -- students want to help because they feel as if she cares about them! Her beliefs about education, particularly in the arts, were regularly questioned by county superintendents."
In the brief tenure of Dr. Marple, I have never heard any educator speak an ill word about her work. Personally, I have met her on several occasions and she would show concern in whatever I had to say. I have worked for years in summers providing professional development for educators, and until Dr. Marple became superintendent, I felt as if there was little purpose or vision. The vision Dr. Marple brought was intrinsically student-centered and focused on educating the whole student.
Self-paced education is a major component of this vision, along with testing models that are more performance-based. The vision she created and began to implement was not shared by all members of the teaching force, but the vast majority of educators supported her and agreed with her policy and philosophy. Her removal is nothing short of a political agenda brought forth by a silent minority who struck when the time was right, similar to how snakes hunt, biding their time until the victim is directly in the cross-hairs.
Board President Wade Linger tried to legitimize the firing of Dr. Marple by citing a lack of changes proposed by the state school audit. The audit, which was published in January, showed how the state could save $90 million. However, it takes time to implement action, something Governor Tomblin understands, something Dr. Marple understands, and something the BOE does not understand.
Linger's firing of Dr. Marple and naming a replacement the same day can only be interpreted one way. There are no dots to connect. Deductive reasoning leads me to believe that political motivation is pushing its agenda on education and wishes to operate the Department of Education without the knowledge required.
Education is not a business; it is a safe haven, an art studio, a place to read, write and express your opinion, a place where students identify problems and solve these problems, a place where self -expression is tolerated and opinions are valued -- a place where students were the focus until the board took away our leader and our reason for looking for policy changes and a leader who was accessible not only to the board, but also teachers and students.
The BOE has done an injustice to the education of every student in West Virginia, and teachers and parents need to be heard.
Glendenning is theater director at Jefferson High School at Shenandoah Junction, Jefferson County.