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W.Va. State School Board Approves Superintendent’s Transfer; New Superintendent Named

Burch

CHARLESTON – In a sudden move, the West Virginia Board of Education approved a request Wednesday morning by State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch to be transferred to the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind as its new superintendent.

The state board approved the transfer Wednesday morning during its monthly meeting at the Department of Education offices on the grounds of the State Capitol in Charleston. In Burch’s place, state School Building Authority Executive Director David Roach was selected by the board as the new state superintendent of schools.

Burch’s transfer was effective at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The vote was unanimous. Burch also will see his salary reduced from $230,000 to $142,327 for the new position.

Roach, who was a county school superintendent in Cabell, Lincoln, Mingo and Wayne counties, will take on his new role at a salary of $230,000. Roach was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice as executive director of the SBA in 2018. Roach has a background as an assistant superintendent, principal, assistant principal and Biology teacher. Roach was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“I know that we’ll be scrutinized for moving quickly and that’s okay. That’s fair,” said state Board of Education President Paul Hardesty prior to the Wednesday afternoon vote for Roach. “Look at the gentleman’s qualifications first and foremost and see if this board made a prudent wise decision. His qualifications are impeccable.”

Burch’s request for transfer was added to the Board of Education’s meeting agenda last Thursday, taking board members by surprise. Hardesty, the newly elected president of the state Board of Education whose first meeting as president was Wednesday, said the choice was Burch’s and that he was not being pressured out by himself, the board, or Gov. Justice.

“I had a board member call him and the board member called me back and said, look, this is a move he wants to make,” Hardesty said in a phone interview prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “I called (Burch) and said, look, if this is what you want, you memorialize that in paper and send it to me that I can give to the board…you write your own narrative.”

Board members are expected to approve a new permanent state superintendent of schools during Wednesday’s meeting. Hardesty said with school starting in different counties over the next few weeks, it was imperative to have a permanent superintendent in place.

“I’ve got school starting around the rest of the state shortly thereafter,” Hardesty said. “If there is going to be a transition, it needs to happen.”

Burch was chosen by the board as superintendent in June 2020, more than three months into the COVID-19 pandemic and public schools were shut down, after serving as acting superintendent earlier that year, succeeding former state superintendent Steve Paine. Burch was one of three West Virginia candidates interviewed by the board for the position.

Burch was named associate superintendent of schools for the Department of Education in 2017 by Paine. Before that, Burch was head of the department’s Division of Teaching and Learning, in charge of early learning, secondary learning, special programs and assessment and research.

Gov. Jim Justice also appointed Burch to two acting cabinet secretary positions – as acting secretary of the state Department of Education and the Arts (since renamed the Department of Arts, Culture and History) after Gayle Manchin – former first lady and wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin – was fired by Justice in 2018; and acting secretary of the Department of Commerce after former secretary Woody Thrasher was forced to resign during the summer of 2018.

The Schools for the Deaf and the Blind have dealt with a number of issues over the years. Burch selected an intervention team to help get the school back on track in 2021. A report on the school cited leadership issues, deteriorating building conditions, students being ignored, and faltering academic achievement. There was also a fire in one of the older buildings earlier this year.

Board members also received a report on accountability results for students enrolled in a full academic year based on the general summative assessment students take each school year. The report compared 2022 results with 2021 and 2019. There were no results for 2020 due to schools being shut down during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaughn Rhudy, director of assessment in the Office of Teaching and Learning for the Department of Education, told board members that overall scores in Math, English and Language Arts (ELA), and Science improved slightly over 2021 numbers after the pandemic but were still below where they needed to be for student to be proficient.

“We see these as very positive in terms of that we’re showing some signs of recovery from the pandemic,” Rhudy said. “We’re not back where we want to be. We have a lot of work to do, but I think that this also shows that our teachers and our students have worked very hard throughout the year to try to address some of the gaps that were left from the effects of the pandemic.”

“These are not good,” Hardesty said. “We are not giving these children, in math, the proper background in (pre-Kindergarten) through (third grade) to give them any kind of a chance to succeed going forward in higher level math. “It’s just not happening.”

“The numbers show year after year we fall off the cliff when it comes to middle school and high school with mathematics scores,” Hardesty continued. “We have come through a challenging two years. No one will question that. But I’ll be honest with you. Public education is under attack across the country right now and results like this, they give credence to that attack whether we want to accept it or not.”

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