ELIZABETH - After 34 years in southern West Virginia, Mary Jane Pope Albin still retains a South Jersey accent.
But don't be fooled. Pope Albin is a West Virginian and devoted to educating its children. After spending the last few years in McDowell County, working as a school intervention specialist, Pope Albin took over last week as the new superintendent of Wirt County Schools.
"This is a great school system," she said. "I am excited. I chose this. I wanted this. I wanted to be here, and I am humbled that they chose me."
Wirt County Schools Superintendent Mary Jane Pope Albin talks with Wirt County High School senior Heather Salsbury. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
Pope Albin came to West Virginia from Moorestown, N.J., in 1979, to visit her sister-in-law. She said they fell in love with the Mercer County landscape she would call home.
The family settled in Spanishburg and she worked in the Mercer County School System for 25 years. Pope Albin has three children- including one who was a track standout at PikeView High School and a son who played linebacker at Marshall University-and a grandchild.
She spent the last decade working for the state Department of Education working with schools in Fayette and McDowell counties. Pope Albin most recently had been working with just two schools in McDowell County. The two schools are slightly larger than the entire Wirt system, she said.
Wirt is Pope Albin's first foray into this part of the state. She sees some similarities between Wirt- the smallest school system in the state- and southern West Virginia.
"It's different, but there are a lot of commonalities," she said. "There is a commitment to children.
"This is a community you would want to live in," she said. "It's very comfortable."
Friday morning, Pope Albin met with about 25 student leaders at the high school to discuss leadership, success and get ideas for positive promotion of the school and the county's educational system.
She paid homage to her predecessor Dan Metz, saying he laid a "wonderful foundation" for her to build on. Unlike Pope Albin's previous work to improve under-performing schools and systems, she takes over a high-achieving Wirt County School System.
"The things I know will help the school system," she said. "It's a wonderful experience for me that there's not a need for change to occur."