The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 29, 2014

Man selected to be state superintendent of schools has record of meeting challenges

Graduating more students and closing the achievement gap shown by poor and minority students.

Those are the objectives of Michael Martirano, the man expected to be West Virginia’s next superintendent of schools, and he has a record of meeting such challenges.

He has been superintendent at southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s County for nearly 10 years. The childhood poverty rate is much lower there than in West Virginia, around 10 percent. More than half of West Virginia students live at or below the poverty line. About one in three students in the Maryland district Martirano served qualify for free or discounted meals, and about 20 percent are minorities. In West Virginia, the 10 percent of students who are minorities score lower on tests than their classmates.

Martirano is proud of his Maryland record and believes he will be an agent sparking change in West Virginia, even though the barriers he faces are different.

“We’ve been able to close the achievement gap here tremendously. When I first got here, the graduation rate was 82 percent. Now I’m leaving at 91.5 percent — an all-time high for the district. It’s that intentionality of, ‘What gets measured, gets done.’ And it can be done — I’ve been able to do it in every position I’ve been in,” Martirano said last week in a telephone interview with The Charleston Gazette.

“But it needs laser focus. It just can’t be everybody doing random acts. It charges me up tremendously to come into the state, and I hope to replicate a lot of the work that I’ve done in Maryland in West Virginia.”

Martirano, a Frostburg, Maryland, native, close to the border with West Virginia, said his grandfather was a coal miner and that he has fond childhood memories of the state he now wants to call home.

The state board of education will vote on Martirano’s employment Tuesday at the state Capitol. He is likely to officially assume the job in the fall.

He said it is important for the state to put a larger focus on early intervention, quality pre-kindergarten programs and more opportunities for struggling students to recover. Martirano, who is president of the Public School Superintendent Association of Maryland, said he wants to work closely with the county superintendents in West Virginia.

His primary focus, though, is the children.

“The job just really appealed to me in terms of compatibility, and I’ve been so impressed with the level of commitment from the state board of education that appears to be there,” Martirano said. “They really seem to have gone in and tried to change the focus and really go after improving student achievement. I am just truly honored and humbled to be selected for this position. I’m all about kids. I recognize adult agendas, but every job I’ve had has been to provide more assistance to kids, and I really want the citizens of West Virginia to be improving the quality of education.”

He’s also intent on making sure major educational issues — such as Common Core — are understood. In his Maryland district, Common Core regulations were implemented a year in advance, with all schools participating and also offering several informational sessions for parents.

“I’m a very assertive communicator. One of the primary ways to handle this barrier and combat fear is through communication about what the Common Core actually is. It’s a more rigorous curriculum that’s going deeper, instead of being an inch deep and a mile long,” he said. “I was, quite frankly, taken aback by the misunderstanding out there, but once we were able to provide communication and show exactly how it plays out, then people became extremely calm and understood the need for it.”

Improving education is critical if West Virginia’s economic future is to become better. Martirano has a history of leading change and deserves strong support when he is officially named the state’s superintendent of schools.

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