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State Board of Education member ‘appalled’ at ‘lack of transparency’

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A State Board of Education member who resigned in reaction to the firing of state Superintendent Jorea Marple said the public may never know the reasons behind the abrupt termination.

Marple was hired as the state superintendent of schools in 2011 and her employment status was not an item on the board's agenda for its November meeting.

However, during the board's Nov. 15 meeting, members went into executive session, came out and voted to fire Marple. 

Two board members — Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden — resigned in reaction to Marple's firing. Their resignations are effective as of Dec. 31.

Haden, who has served 11 years on the board, said board members are ethically bound not to discuss what was said in executive session. However, she did say she felt blind sided by Marple's firing.

"I'm appalled at the lack of transparency that accompanied that," Haden told The State Journal and WOWK on Nov. 16, noting there are some legal ethics questions involved. "We had no idea why we were going in, and on the agenda it said it was for another purpose."

"I was in shock," she later added. "I was in shock when we came out of the meeting."

 Haden said she was not part of the conversation to fire Marple.

"I was completely taken aback. I think that obviously the audit and the appointment of the new superintendent and asking of the resignation of Marple had to be decided by some people," she said.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Nov. 15, state Board of Education President L. Wade Linger Jr. announced the appointment of Deputy State Superintendent Chuck Heinlein as a temporary state superintendent.

The board also announced that at a special meeting Nov. 21, Linger would recommend the hiring of James Phares, the Randolph County superintendent, to fill the vacancy.

"There was a lack of transparency as to this issue of when this man was chosen and who chose him," Haden said. "This is a serious question, however, that has been added to the agenda for next Wednesday's meeting."

Because Marple is an at-will employee, the state Board of Education is not required to give a reason for her termination.

However in a statement prepared after the meeting, Linger  said, "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."

Haden said she is not concerned about finishing the next month of her service.

"I'm old enough to have been around a long time," she said. "Sometimes this is the nature of the game when you have a change in your boards and people have other business. It's necessary to move forward. I understand that. I don't approve of the lack of transparency of that process."

Mentioning a June educational evaluation where Marple received an "excellent" rating, Haden said she thinks Marple was a great superintendent.

"I would just like to take the opportunity at this time to say what an outstanding superintendent Dr. Marple is — was," Haden said. "There were several things in the audit that she immediately reacted to such as downsizing the department and initiatives that had been taking place over the state. I also know most of the superintendents were so pleased with her work as were teachers in our state."