The Times West Virginian

July 19, 2013

Manchin takes charge during critical time for state school board

Times West Virginian

— Think back to your years in school.

Who was the one teacher who had the biggest influence on you? Surely there was someone. A teacher who helped you understand those tricky math problems, or stopped your fellow classmates from picking on you at recess, or simply offered a listening ear when you needed someone to talk to.

As the new president of the state’s board of education said earlier this week during an awards ceremony recognizing local teachers, “I don’t think there’s probably a one of us in the room that can’t think back on an adult or teacher, someone who came into our lives that had a great influence.”

It was Gayle Manchin’s first local speaking appearance since becoming president of the West Virginia Board of Education.

Manchin, who is the wife of Farmington native and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was elected earlier this month as the new president of the state board following a unanimous vote by her fellow board members. She had served as vice president since 2011.

A seasoned educator herself, Manchin took time at Tuesday’s awards ceremony to reflect on the importance of building relationships with students.

“That ability to relate to and integrate with students on a level that has nothing to do with curriculum or content area — you can’t really qualify that. You can’t measure it, but you can see the results,” she said.

That perspective is likely to serve her well as she steps into the president’s chair. Her new role, like any position of leadership, not only promises to be a challenging one, but is one that will be taken on under the public’s watchful eye.

And it’s coming at a critical time for the state board, which plans to conduct a nationwide search for a new state superintendent of schools as early as September.

Manchin said the controversial time leading up to this point — the board abruptly fired former Superintendent Jorea Marple in November, and she’s now suing the board for wrongful termination; in the meantime, the board hired Jim Phares to act as interim superintendent — has been a learning experience for the board, and its members have taken on more accountability than previous state school boards.

“I think we’re evolving into a state board that is willing to step up and assume the responsibility it should have, and also the accountability. The role of the state board had devolved into an area that really was not serving the purpose that it was supposed to have,” she told The Charleston Gazette earlier this month. “What has happened over the last six months is that this board has begun to grow and evolve into what a state board (is supposed to be.) And so now we have a lot of work to do.”

The work begins immediately, and we can think of no better person to lead the charge. After all, even though the state’s former first lady isn’t a Marion County native — she was born in Beckley — she has strong ties to this area. She knows the ins and outs of the education system. She knows what this state needs.

Plus, she follows in the footsteps of another prominent Marion Countian, Wade Linger, who was president of the state school board from 2011-13.

Marion County has been represented well at the state level, and we have no reason to think that won’t continue under Manchin’s leadership. We’re confident she has the knowledge and determination to succeed in this new endeavor, and we wish her nothing but luck as she works to improve education for each of West Virginia’s students.