By Mackenzie Mays, Staff writer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Board of Education President Gayle Manchin formally introduced new state Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano to the public in a ceremony Tuesday at the West Virginia Capitol.
While Martirano, who will officially assume the position in the fall, is transitioning from his role as superintendent in St. Mary’s County, Maryland — among the highest-achieving and wealthiest districts in the state — he said he is “invigorated and energized” by West Virginia’s challenges but isn’t going to focus solely on the state’s consistently low national rankings.
“I’ve always put myself in environments where they need improvement, and have gone in and put sustainable programs that last the test of time to get improved results,” Martirano said. “So, for me, the rankings become critical in terms of the analysis and the data, but what’s more important to me is that young people are achieving — that they’re retaining information ...
“So, if you go through with a very systematic process of tightening up our structures and what we offer starting from birth through the development process and keeping children in school and making sure we have a rich curriculum and having accountability pieces along the way, wonderful things can begin to happen to children,” he said. “But it’s not one silver bullet. It’s got to be a variety of things working in tandem.”
Martirano’s focus on getting the entire state involved in the public education system was at the center of his enthusiastic speech in the governor’s reception room Tuesday afternoon. He pledged to work closely with West Virginia’s 55 county superintendents and called on parents to become more involved in ensuring student attendance. He encouraged “wrap around” programs that assist students outside the classroom.
“I’m firmly committed to doing my part, but I’m also very hesitant about using the ‘I’ pronoun. The collective word that we need to use is ‘We’ — ‘Us.’ All of us celebrating the past, looking forward to the future with great optimism and great excitement and enthusiasm for all the young people in West Virginia,” he said. “I think what’s important is that everybody needs to up their game, in a sense, in involvement in education. I’ve talked about it being a community process — a statewide process. One voice, all arrows pointing in the same direction, so that children are ready to learn.”
Martirano said his primary goal will to be to increase the state’s high school graduation rate “at a level of fierce urgency” — pointing out that, when he took over his district in Maryland nearly a decade ago, the graduation rate was 84 percent, and he leaves it at a record high of more than 91 percent. West Virginia’s total graduation rate is at about 75 percent.
However, “the cornerstone of my administration” will be to recruit and train quality teachers.
“I clearly know that the difference is made by having that effective educator . . . . I want to make certain we have the very best teachers in our classrooms and are [making] all of our efforts to focus on that,” he said. “What we need to do is make sure that all of our policies support having the very best teachers. I’m very impressed by the fact that the state board has made some decisions about having all individuals involved in the hiring process. For me, it’s about recruitment, having all higher education institutions make sure teachers are prepared and that we don’t compromise our standards. That we only accept the very best, highly qualified teachers in our classroom, and it starts in the very beginning.”
Martirano said he’s had no problem feeling welcome in West Virginia, saying when he first met with state school board members, “the compatibility was there.”
“I’m driven by a great passion — a great passion to make a difference. A great passion to make a difference in the lives of young people, and the children of West Virginia deserve a world-class education where they can compete instate, out of state and internationally,” he said.
Martirano was chosen from a pool of 64 candidates after the Board of Education hired an outside firm to conduct a nationwide search to replace Jim Phares, who retired last month. Phares signed on as superintendent a year ago, after the school board abruptly fired then-superintendent Jorea Marple.
Marple is now suing the board for wrongful termination.
While state code does not allow for an interim superintendent, Phares took the position knowing that the board was in the middle of a national search for a more longterm replacement for Marple.
Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein is serving as superintendent in the window between Phares’ retirement and Martirano’s expected hiring in September.
Martirano will be West Virginia’s highest-paid superintendent to date, making a salary of $230,000, after the school board successfully convinced the Legislature to remove a long-imposed $175,000 salary cap.
Tomblin said Tuesday that Martirano’s leadership will help perpetuate his push for extensive education reform.
“As a former teacher, and as a father, I understand the importance of a good education,” he said. “As governor, I recognize that providing world-class education is essential to West Virginia’s future. Last year, I shared my goals for public education in West Virginia and, with the help of the Legislature, the state Board of Education, business and labor leaders, education advocates, parents and teachers from all across the state, we passed comprehensive education reforms that are putting our children first. We’re making progress in each of these areas, and I’m confident that, together, we will continue to make changes to provide better opportunities for our students.
“From our discussions earlier today, I think — I know — that Mike shares those same visions,” he said.
The state Board of Education meets in a regular session at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Capitol.