PARKERSBURG - Local educators say a new state superintendent will bring stability to West Virginia's education system, at least for a little while.
James Phares was hired Wednesday as West Virginia schools superintendent after the state Board of Education unanimously voted to hire the Randolph County school chief. The length of Phares' tenure, which would start Jan. 2, is unclear. The board also agreed Wednesday to conduct a national search for a long-term superintendent. That plan calls on the Legislature to revisit the job qualifications and duties, amid questions over whether the relevant law is too restrictive or fails to reflect current needs.
A few local officials spoke of the hiring Thursday during a break of the Wood County Board of Education's annual retreat.
Board President Tim Yeater said he was happy to hear of the hiring, considering the recent fallout concerning the ouster of former state Superintendent Jorea Marple. Marple was fired without warning or explanation by the state board and a lawsuit has been filed over the dismissal.
"It was a volatile change," Yeater said. "We were asking ourselves, are they looking for an abrupt change in services for the state?"
Yeater said under Marple's leadership the state Department of Education had initiated numerous social programs, such as a push to get more students eating breakfast. Officials were unsure whether a change in leadership would affect those programs, and there has been little guidance or leadership from the state on those issues.
"At least by getting a temporary person in there, it shows a positive step in that direction, in restoring some leadership," Yeater said. "Day-to-day operation goes through the superintendent. That's essential to the effectiveness of the board."
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said restoring that leadership will help ease some of the uncertainty facing school systems throughout the state.
"Hopefully what it will do is give us a clear direction, moving us past the point of a lack of leadership," he said.
Law said he was contacted prior to Phares' hiring by state school board member Priscilla Haden and asked if he would apply for the temporary state superintendent position.
Law was one of three people contacted by Haden, and all three declined to apply.
"I'm very flattered she would call me and consider asking me," Law said. "I told her it would be a very challenging position at this time. I am very happy where I am and wasn't interested in making a change at this time."