Shortly before 6 p.m. Nov. 15, Wade Linger, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, issued the following statement:
"The West Virginia Board of Education has appointed Deputy State Superintendent Chuck Heinlein as the new state superintendent of schools until the board is able to hire a longer-term individual to serve in that position.
"State law does not allow the position to remain vacant.
"Board President Wade Linger has indicated that at a special meeting called for Wed. Nov. 21 he will recommend the board hire Dr. James Phares to fill the position. Phares is currently the superintendent of Randolph County Schools. "
The West Virginia State Board of Education fired state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple today in a surprise move during the board's regular meeting.
Marple was hired as the state superintendent of schools in 2011, and her employment status was not an item on the board's agenda. However, during the meeting, the board went into executive session, came out and voted to terminate Marple.
Because Marple is an at-will employee, the state Board of Education is not required to give a reason for her termination. However state Board of Education President L. Wade Linger Jr. offered the following statement after the meeting:
"Dr. Marple's concern for and commitment to West Virginia's schoolchildren is well known. She has served them with distinction, and we appreciate her public service. However, the West Virginia Board of Education believes this is a time for a change in direction. As such, we think it is important for new leadership.
"The board will continue its on-going, open dialogue with educational stakeholders, the governor, and members of the West Virginia Legislature to move forward with education reforms that advance student achievement levels and the well-being of our more than 280 thousand students."
Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro also confirmed that board members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden resigned in reaction to Marple's termination. Their resignations are effective as of December.
Marple is the wife of Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who was defeated last week in his bid for re-election.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin thanked Marple for her service.
"She has worked tirelessly over the last several decades and has truly put her heart into improving our state's education system," he said. " I appreciate everything she has done, and I wish her the best of luck in her future."
Kym Randolph, director of communication with the West Virginia Education Association, said she was shocked by the decision, calling it "disgraceful." The WVEA had endorsed Marple when she was appointed superintendent.
"WVEA is appalled at the actions of the Manchin appointees on the State Board of Education," Randolph said in a prepared statement. "Dr. Jorea Marple has done a great job during her short term as state superintendent of schools. She has led by example. Her actions have always been guided by what is best for children.
"Dr. Marple is widely respected by her peers and is highly regarded by the education employees of our state," Randolph further stated. "The actions of the BOE appear to be politically motivated and that is a shame. At a time when we are trying to work together and move our state's education system forward, we have taken a step back."
Randolph concluded by saying she was "extremely disappointed."
"The Manchin appointees clearly have an agenda of their own and it is not necessarily in the best interest of students," she said. "A lifelong educator who is acknowledged by her peers has been let go by a group of people who have little if any knowledge about teaching or public education. I understand why the public has lost faith in public education."
Judy Hale, president of AFT-West Virginia, also was surprised.
"And quite frankly, I was dismayed in the manner they did it," she said. "It was a surprise to most people in the room. So, I felt that they owed the public some discussion about the reason for the dismissal of Dr. Marple."
Hale said the board's decision leaves employees with a void.
"There was no discussion of an interim superintendent of sorts. Nothing of that fashion. It leaves all employees, not just state board employees, but children with a real void there with who the leader is at this point."
"I just hope that the board is forthcoming about how we move forward and provide for the public education of children in West Virginia," she later added.
Marple was the unanimous choice of the State Board of Education to become West Virginia's 27th superintendent, moving up to the position from the deputy superintendent's office. The first woman to hold the office, she replaced the retiring Steve Paine effective March 1, 2011. Her annual salary was $165,000.
At the time of her appointment, Haden was the board president.
Marple carried the endorsement of the West Virginia Education Association.
A native of Sutton, Marple's great-grandfather was an early superintendent of schools in Braxton County. Her father was a funeral director, and her mother was an educator.
Marple graduated from Sutton High School at age 16 and attended West Virginia University and West Virginia Wesleyan before receiving her bachelor's degree in elementary education from what was then Fairmont State College. She returned to WVU for her graduate studies, including a master's degree in reading and a doctorate in education administration.
Marple taught in a small Monongalia County elementary school while in grad school. She also taught in Marion, Greenbrier and Kanawha counties before moving into school administration. She is a former superintendent of Kanawha County schools.