More than 10 hours after the meeting started, the West Virginia Board of Education named Randolph County Superintendent James Phares the new state superintendent.
The announcement was made just before 9 p.m. Dec. 12 at its monthly meeting, which took place in Lincoln County.
Phares and Kathy D'Antoni, assistant superintendent of schools with the division of technical and adult education services, both were questioned by board members during the meeting. Members took a few breaks and went into executive session twice.
Board members voted earlier in the meeting to conduct a nationwide search for a superintendent after they approach the West Virginia Legislature, which goes into session Feb. 13, about the current qualifications for state superintendent of schools that are set in statute.
"The current state statute does not allow for individuals who are highly educated but happen to have a master's degree in something other than educational administration to even apply for the job," board president Wade Linger said in a news release. "I am confident that Dr. Phares can do the job but it is important that we also conduct a nationwide search as we move forward with education reform."
Phares will be the state's 28th superintendent of schools when he assumes his new position Jan. 2. Chuck Heinlein, who had been serving as superintendent since Jorea Marple was dismissed Nov. 15, will return to his position as deputy superintendent.
""This is an important position for the children of West Virginia," Linger said in a news release. "The West Virginia Board of Education is confident Dr. Phares will provide the necessary leadership our public schools need as we move forward with education reforms that advance student achievement and the well-being of our students."
Phares will earn $165,000 per year in this position. State code sets the maximum salary for a state superintendent at $175,000.
Phares was hired by the Randolph Board of Education in 2009 after a report by the Office of Education Performance Audits found several problems that put the county on the road to a possible state takeover. Phares made changes to the school system and full accreditation was eventually given to the system. He also helped spearhead an excess levy that passed in 2010, a first in Randolph County since 1989, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.
Phares has a doctorate degree in education administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, he has experience as a classroom teacher, university professor, assistant principal, principal and as county superintendent in Pocahontas, Marion and Randolph counties.
Some might argue the West Virginia Board of Education has been a ship without a captain for quite a while.
Former superintendent Jorea Marple was abruptly fired behind closed doors without much explanation Nov. 15. During a Nov. 29 meeting, board members maintained that decision during a six-hour meeting by a vote of 6-2.
Assistant state superintendent Chuck Heinlein was named superintendent of schools for the time being, but the question of a permanent replacement lingered.
During a lengthy Dec. 12 meeting in Hamlin, members put the superintendent discussion at the bottom of the agenda.
Members nominated several people with ties to education, such as Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring and Wood County Superintendent Pat Law. They all declined.
However, the nominations for Kathy D'Antoni, assistant superintendent of schools with the division of technical and adult education services, and Randolph County Superintendent Jim Phares, carried.
The Dec. 12 meeting started at 10:30 a.m., and members stopped for both lunch and dinner breaks.
Members of the board approved a motion to conduct a national search for a superintendent and ask the Legislature what limitations on a search may exist and what laws could be changed regarding a search.
Lawmakers start the regular session Feb. 13.
Members decided to move into executive session after their dinner break to discuss the interview process of nominees — whether D'Antoni and Phares should have open or closed interviews.
State code dictates the state superintendent have at least a master's degree in educational administration and have no less than five years of experience in public school work. The code also outlines that the state board should report to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability concerning its progress during any hiring process for a state superintendent.
The state Constitution spells out that the state superintendent will be selected by the board of education, will be the chief school officer of the state and will have "such powers and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law." The state Constitution also states that the superintendent will be a member of the board of public works.
Some local school boards were granted control over their school districts during the meeting.
Schools in Fayette, Gilmer, McDowell, Mingo and Preston counties are currently under state intervention.
Board members voted to return complete control of Lincoln County Schools to the county school board after 12 years of intervention.
The district also was granted full accreditation.
The board asked the Office of Education Performance Audits conducted an audit of the county school system in October, and OEPA recommended those provisional oversights be lifted.
"A professional culture and climate exist at both the county and schools," OEPA Director Gus Penix told the BOE. "Extensive evidence shows that Lincoln County Board of Education members no longer are attempting to interfere in employment decisions, nor are they allowing political factions to influence personnel decisions."
Problems were discovered in a 2000 audit review, such as questionable hiring practices, financial practices and issues with facilities, curriculum and leadership.
The county received provisional control, with personnel decision-making authority, but a partial audit in 2011 showed the county had "regressed," according to a news release from the BOE.
Board members also granted partial control to the Grant County Board of Education.
The decision-making powers in curriculum, policies, facilities, transportation and the school calendar were returned to the county following an OEPA audit. A follow-up review is scheduled for September.
"Some concerns for developing capacity for board leadership development remain," Penix said. "The improvements to-date warrant conditional approval status."
The state stepped in for Grant County in 2009 after an audit discovered problems with leadership, personnel and curriculum.
Some new faces joined the meeting as well. A new student representative, Luke Massey, a high school senior from Preston County, will serve as the board's student representative through February. Former state delegate Tom Campbell of Lewisburg took the oath of office during the meeting. Campbell, former House of Delegates education committee chairman, replaces Lowell Johnson, whose term expired in November.
"I look forward to working with my fellow board members and all stakeholders as we work to prepare all of our children for career readiness and success in life," Campbell said.
The board, made up of 12 members, includes nine citizens. All the members are appointed by the governor and serve overlapping terms of nine years. Three non-voting, ex-officio members are the state superintendent, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the chancellor of the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical Education.
The board also heard a report from Reconnect McDowell and teacher-in-residence programs.
The first teacher-in-residence program, created under a new state law, is in Clay County. West Virginia State University collaborated with the county for the pilot partnership that put a senior from the WVSU education preparation program in a public school classroom when there is no other teacher to fill the vacancy.
The program is different from student teaching, which puts a college student in a classroom for 12 weeks with a veteran teacher's supervision.
Nearly 11,000 of the state's 24,000 public school educators will be eligible for retirement within the next five years, according to the WVDE.
"This program helps fill a void many counties face in trying to fill high need areas in their schools with a qualified teacher," Heinlein said in a news release. "Educators and policymakers are continually searching for new ways to recruit and retain excellent public school teachers, and this is but one additional way to do that."
Board members approved a new teacher-in-residence program through Concord University to serve several southern counties, including McDowell.