West Virginia officially has a new state superintendent of schools. Jim Phares was sworn in Wednesday morning by state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

Phares, the former superintendent in Pocahontas, Marion and Randolph counties, was tapped by the board after former superintendent Dr. Jorea Marple was fired back in November.

Phares says there’s lots of work to be done and no time like the present.

“We hope to rebuild trust. We hope to rebuild communications. And above all else, we hope to be open and transparent with everything that we do,” Phares said.

First up for Phares is a 30-day chart of plans which will map out the first month of his tenure at the department. In that time, he plans to meet with a lot of education leaders around the state including county superintendents and boards of education, as well as the all the divisions within the department. He also wants to sit down with the teachers’ unions as soon as possible.

“Now will we agree on everything? Probably not. But I think it’s important to start the dialog,” according to Phares.

Also on the to-do list is to put teacher training back into local hands.

“Rather than centralize that professional development, we are going to move it out to the RESAs and localities,” Phares said. “One of the first things we’re going to do is send funds to the counties and the RESAs so that they can embed that as close to the classroom level as possible.”

Phares says he’s spent the past week familiarizing himself with the state department and believes most of those employed are highly qualified.

“One of the things that I found out is that we have an awful lot of people here who know exactly what their job is.”

Another priority is working with the state Board of Education and the legislature on the Governor’s Education Efficiency Audit which calls for major changes inside and outside the classroom.

Phares says there will be some growing pains but he is confident the state school system is moving in the right direction.

“It’s a good day for West Virginia and there are better days ahead,” he said.

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