Gov. Jim Justice names three new state school board members, all at once

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice, a little more than a week after promising big changes to West Virginia’s educational system in his inaugural address, has named three new members to the state school board.

Justice announced the three new members all at once. They are Miller Hall, Barbara Whitecotton, and Chuck Hatfield.

“The politicians and bureaucrats in Charleston have failed to listen to our teachers, so I appointed three educators with significant classroom experience to the state Board of Education,” Justice stated in the announcement.

“Miller Hall, Barbara Whitecotton, and Chuck Hatfield have dedicated their lives to improving public education, and on the state Board of Education, they will help me deliver results for students across West Virginia. They all share my vision for making education the centerpiece of our state.”

The new appointees will be sworn in at the next board meeting in February.

The announcement included a joint statement from the new board members, reflecting Justice’s sentiment:

“We want to return local control to our school districts, give our teachers and schools the freedom to properly educate our kids, stop over-testing students, and eliminate the complex bureaucracy holding back our schools,” the three said in the joint statement.

Two seats on the state school board were already open because one had been occupied by Gayle Manchin and another board member, Tina Combs, had continued to serve after her term expired. Another seat opened Monday when Justice named board member Bill White to direct the state Office of Minority Affairs.

The board has nine members, and Justice has the ability to shape it significantly starting now. Another state board member, Scott Rotruck, will finish his term later this year. Board President Mike Green’s term will end in late 2018.

Justice also named Frank L. “Bucky” Blackwell to be executive director of the West Virginia School Building Authority. Blackwell served seven years in the West Virginia House of Delegates and has been an educator for 47 years.

“Local schools are the heart of any community, and too many West Virginia schools are falling apart; I know Bucky will help change that,” Justice stated.

Miller Hall is a Beckley native who has served in the Raleigh County school system for more than 40 years. He taught social studies at Woodrow Wilson High School, served as dean of boys, assistant principal and later as principal of Woodrow Wilson for 10 years. In 1999, Hall was promoted to the central office position of director of pupil services, then became director of secondary schools and finally went on to become assistant superintendent of support services for Raleigh County.

Barbara Whitecotton retired in June of 2016 after working 41 years in West Virginia public schools. She worked in Pendleton and Hardy counties — 23 years in administration and 18 years in the classroom. She served as superintendent of Hardy County Schools for eight years, and as assistant superintendent for three years. Before becoming an administrator, she taught students with disabilities.

Chuck Hatfield is a retired educator with 43 years of service in West Virginia public schools. Hatfield retired in July, 2016, as superintendent of Putnam County Schools, where he had served since 2004. During his tenure as superintendent, Putnam County Schools led the state in academic achievement and employee salaries. In 2009, Hatfield was named West Virginia Superintendent of the Year by the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.

The SBA appointee, Bucky Blackwell, served seven years in the West Virginia House of Delegates and has been an educator for 47 years in Wyoming County. He’s been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent of Wyoming County Schools. Blackwell served as superintendent from July 1,1982, until he retired in June of 2016. He was selected West Virginia Superintendent of the Year by his peers.

Justice is a billionaire businessman who has his teaching degree, spent a short time on the Raleigh County school board and coaches high school basketball in his spare time. He has made education one of his top priorities.

Prior to the election, the campaign platform on his website featured a section about education policy that included three bullet-point items: get the politicians out of the classroom, prepare students for a career in West Virginia and pay our teachers what they’re worth.

In his inaugural address — and with different turns of phrase — he hit on all those points while also taking aim at the new A through F grading system for schools that debuted last fall.

“We’ve got 600 classrooms in this state that can’t even field a teacher,” he said. “We’ve got to get the bureaucrats out of the way. We’ve got to worry about our kids getting an A through F versus our schools getting an A through F. We’ve got to listen to people on the ground instead of trying to administer from Charleston when we don’t have a clue what’s going on and we have proven — we have proven — we know how to be last.”

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