New Superintendent hopes to use prior experience in Gilmer County to solve problems in Randolph County
By Alex Wiederspiel, WV MetroNews
ELKINS, W.Va. — In the middle of declining revenue and population, staffing cuts, and the looming threat of a state takeover, the Randolph County Board of Education is hoping their choice for the county’s next Superintendent of schools will right the ship.
But that won’t be easy–and Gabriel Devono knows that.
“There’s some situations with personnel that we’ll have to look at,” the outgoing Gilmer County Superintendent said. “Maybe do some attrition or some vacancies that are there that we won’t hire back teachers, which will help us in personnel.”
That’s one of many difficult choices the new Randolph County Superintendent will face when he assumes that role on July 1 later this year. Outgoing Randolph County Superintendent Pam Hewitt already made recommendations for major staffing cuts, a majority of which were approved by the Board of Education last month, that could trim close to $875,000 off the budget.
But Devono is accustomed to difficult choices, he said. He joined the Gilmer County school system in 2014, appointed by the State Board of Education to try and steer Gilmer County back into local control.
“I came in 2014 and set four goals to myself and accomplished all four goals,” he said. “On January 9 of this year, they gave us control back, and that was the last goal.”
Devono has a long history in education. He spent 14 years in Virginia, but returned to West Virginia as an assistant principal in the early 2000’s. He served in a stint as assistant Superintendent in Lewis County before eventually taking over as the director of the state’s largest Regional Education Service Agency (R.E.S.A. 7). With a number of teachers in the family, a brother who is the Superintendent in Monongalia County, and a nephew on the Harrison County Board of Education, Devono said it was fair to call public education the “family business.”
“The big thing our parents always made sure that we had the education,” he said. “That’s one thing they always told us. They can take anything away from you, but they can’t take away your education from you. That’s something that my brother and I and my sister instilled within our kids.”
Unlike his time in Gilmer County, Devono hasn’t yet set a specific list of goals for his future in Randolph County. Rather, he wants to start by reviewing the budget and spending time with the school system’s most important resource: the staff.
“I told them in my interview, if you want a Superintendent that deals with text messages and e-mails then you don’t want me because I don’t like to sit behind a desk,” he said. “I want to be out supporting my staff and my teachers along with getting to know my kids.”
Randolph County faces a number of serious issues. The county failed to carry over the standard amount of cash reserves from the previous fiscal year. Mixed with serious damage to Homestead Elementary School, voters failing to pass a levy on three different occasions in less than 12 months, and the overall declining enrollment, budgetary concerns reign supreme.
“I’ll look at the budget,” Devono said. “I’ll work with Brad Smith there. He’s an excellent treasurer and see where we need to go and how we can do some cuts.”
His experience in Gilmer County in bringing the school back to local control is one potential asset he can bring to Randolph County. But, he said, the other asset he’ll bring is his penchant for transparency.
“I went out in the community,” Devono said. “I had community meetings and got to know the people in the community and always kept them abreast. That’s something that I feel like I need to do when I get to Randolph County too.”
Devono said he expects to begin a tour of the school system next month.