The first thing you notice when you talk with West Virginia’s next public school superintendent is his enthusiasm. We know that Michael Martirano at least sounds like a guy who is up for the considerable challenge of leading, and improving, our state’s school system.
This is no easy task. West Virginia’s system of public education has myriad deficiencies:
Test scores lag. The most recent results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) finds that only one in four high school seniors scored at or above proficiency in math, while just one in three were proficient in reading.
Bob Wise, former West Virginia Governor and now the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, told the Charleston Daily Mail that the scores are a “wake-up call to high school seniors and an alarm to the nation’s colleges and businesses.”
We have a shortage of certified teachers. Each year, thousands of students are taught subjects by teachers who are not certified in that discipline. As a result, students fall short of the skills necessary for their next level of education or their post-high school career.
Teacher pay remains below the national average. This is an ongoing issue in West Virginia. The state loses teachers to neighboring states with higher salaries, but West Virginia’s tightening budget makes it difficult, if not impossible, to remain competitive in pay.
One in four high school freshmen will not graduate high school on time. Students who drop out of high school have virtually no chance of a productive career and are far more likely to be a financial drain on the state.
Our public education system is too centralized. County boards have little latitude to adjust their education systems to reflect the unique needs of their communities.
Into this maelstrom steps Mr. Martirano. His qualifications, on paper at least, are impressive. He has done everything from teaching at a middle school to serving as principal at the elementary and high school levels to his current position as superintendent of St. Mary’s County (Maryland) public schools.
He has established a reputation as an innovator who makes schools better rather than just maintaining the status quo. During his nine years at St. Mary’s, the graduation rate has improved ten points to 92 percent.
Martirano is a native of Frostburg, Maryland and his grandfather was a coal miner. He has some familiarity with the culture here, but he also brings to the state a badly needed set of fresh eyes.
West Virginia has an obligation to teach its children well. The state Constitution requires “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” West Virginia has many dedicated, excellent school teachers and administrators, but still it’s arguable that we’re falling short of the high bar set by the state’s founders.
Welcome to West Virginia, Dr. Martirano, and let’s get to work.