Ashton Marra Published

Four Recommendations to Improve Education from Retiring State Superintendent


West Virginia’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares announced his retirement in April, but last week, presented his final report to the state Board. In it, he recounted his accomplishments in leading the state’s education system forward, but also gave a warning about what work must continue in order to truly impact student achievement.

Some of the biggest accomplishments during his 18 month tenure included the passage and implementation of Senate Bill 359, the Governor’s Education Reform Act.

Among many provisions, the bill allowed counties to set their school calendar and gave teachers more of a say in hiring within their schools. Phares said he also worked with the governor and legislature to repeal 53 antiquated education statutes.

 The one accomplishment that sticks out to some, however, was Phares’s ability to repurpose millions of dollars in state funds from the central Department of Education in Charleston out into the RESAs and counties, all while facing major budget cuts, allowing for more local control of the education process.

 “What was hard was the process of people letting go of traditional ways that they had used that money in the past and so we have to change mindsets,” he said. “Changing mindsets and letting people go of traditional things, change in general, it’s always difficult.”

Phares ended his presentation with four recommendations to the eight-member board. They include:

  1. Creating a unified message from the Department of Education and the state Board of Education to send to the schools and to the public about the future of education in the state.
  2. Examine and review the capacity of the state department after budget cuts and losses of personnel to help aid the counties.
  3. Create an office to focus on the middle grades, which should include a leader who is focused on professional development for teachers in those grades.
  4. Find an alternative pathway, besides higher education, to help teachers become qualified as principals and administrators in their counties.

Phares final words of advice for his successor: go to the governor’s cabinet meetings. He said by building relationships with other cabinet secretaries during those meetings, he was able to collaborate and create a better education system.

The state board has completed its first round of interviews with 64 potential replacements. They are expected to choose finalists for the position before the end of the month followed by a public announcement of those candidates.