CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a consortium of dance educators from West Virginia and founding board members of the newly forming West Virginia Dance Educators Organization, we are very disheartened by the action taken by the West Virginia Board of Education on Nov. 15. We are appalled at the unprofessional manner in which Dr. Jorea Marple was ousted and at the Board of Education's violation of the Open Meetings Act.
We find the actions of the board without cause and counter to the objectives it seeks to achieve, which should be to put the education and well-being of children first. The removal of Dr. Marple as state superintendent is a travesty and has darkened the educational system of our great state in myriad ways.
As the state's dance education organization, we credit Dr. Jorea Marple with an innovative educational philosophy and vision that includes a comprehensive, arts-rich, student-centered education for every student in West Virginia. This opportunity for our students has now been compromised. Numerous letters to the editor and editorial comments have been made in the paper. However, we found it imperative to voice our thoughts as the state's dance education collective.
Dr. Marple listened actively. She listened to teachers, to children and to the coordinators of programs all across the state. She visited parts of the state that had never been visited by a state superintendent. She sat down with local educators and asked them what was working and what was not working in the education system. She wanted to hear the voices of those who were in the trenches of education every day. She believed she could make a positive difference for our children, and most were 100 percent behind her vision of an individualized education that took into consideration the specific needs of the child.
Marple's vision was intrinsically student-centered and focused on educating the whole student. Self-paced education was a major component of this vision, along with testing models that are more performance-based. These components align with national initiatives and are research-based.
Dr. Marple also held the arts, world language and health and wellness as major priorities in our schools. Upon becoming superintendent, she funded an elementary dance program in West Virginia schools which was a vital step in moving dance and dance education forward in our state. She ensured that all disciplines received comprehensive professional development, not just the ones addressed in standardized tests. Marple understood the power of the arts and arts integration in aiding students in their ability to deeply understand concepts in other core academic disciplines, in solving problems, in thinking critically and creatively and in being innovative, the very skills that will be needed for our children in the 21st century and beyond.
Dr. Marple cared about students. It would not be unusual to see her bent down talking eye to eye with a student discussing life and education. She had the same rapport with educators. She was professional but approachable. She was focused but accessible. She was well liked and respected among her colleagues, educators and students. Those of us who have met her, heard her speak or have worked with or for her in programs on the state level are deeply saddened by the events of this past week and the tactics used in her dismissal.
We as educators in West Virginia demand to be heard. We demand an explanation. We demand that Dr. Jorea Marple receive the respect she deserves. If this was not politically motivated, then we ask the Board of Education to openly share with the state of West Virginia the specific and objective reasons for her dismissal. We also strongly request that the governor overturn the dismissal of Dr. Marple by executive order. We ask the Board of Education to apologize for the unfair, underhanded and unethical treatment and dismissal of Dr. Marple.
We, as dance educators and founding members of the West Virginia Dance Educators Organization, believe the West Virginia Board of Education has done an injustice to the education of every student in West Virginia and that West Virginia education has taken a step backward with her dismissal.
This commentary was submitted by the founding members of the West Virginia Dance Educators: Yoav Kaddar, president and dance program director at the WVU school of theater and dance; Stephanie Morris Lorenze, vice president and clinical assistant professor at WVU; Christa Crawford, dance department director and teacher at Jefferson High School; Brianne Solomon, visual arts and dance teacher at Hannan High School; A. Michelle Legg, dance director at Capital High School; Andrea Kilmer, dance director and teacher at Washington High School; and Brandy Butcher, health, physical education and dance teacher at Hedgesville High School.