The state Board of Education wasted no time hiring a new state Superintendent of Schools. Clayton Burch’s transfer from the job of superintendent to take over at the state School for the Deaf and Blind in Romney came at the same meeting Wednesday as the hiring of his replacement.
The Board, after an executive session, voted unanimously to hire David Roach as the new Superintendent. Roach is currently the executive director of the state School Building Authority. He has also served as a county superintendent and principal. Roach is a Marshall graduate with a degree in biology and a masters in school administration.
The hiring may arouse controversy because there was no search. However, Board President Paul Hardesty said he wanted to move quickly because the school year is starting. Also, several board members who have worked with Roach spoke highly of his qualifications.
Roach steps into one of the most difficult state jobs. The Superintendent is responsible for administering the mind-numbingly complex 55-county system as it attempts to provide the state constitutionally-required “thorough and efficient system of free schools.”
Roach’s most immediate challenge is the shortage of teachers and staff with the start of the school year just days away. The Department of Education reported 1,196 teacher vacancies last school year and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, predicted on Talkline this week the number could be over 1,500 this year.
“Before we used to hear it’s only math and science,” Lee said. “No, it’s first grade classes, social studies, phys ed, health. Every discipline across the curriculum we’re having shortages.” Those staffing issues also extend to bus drivers and maintenance.
The problem is not unique to West Virginia. Fewer individuals are entering the profession because of low pay and the stress associated with trying to manage classrooms full of children who increasingly have a variety of issues. AdoptAClassroom.org surveyed 4,665 PreK-12 teachers nationwide and found four out of five say their overall workload has increased and they are spending more time addressing students’ mental health.
Roach’s overarching challenge will be trying to raise student achievement. West Virginia’s test scores, especially in math and science, were low by national standards before the pandemic, and then the dysfunction in education associated with Covid drove scores down even more.
The Board received updated test results Wednesday, prompting Board President Paul Hardesty’s blunt reaction. “These are not good,” he said, and then focused in on the poor math scores. “We are not giving these children in math the proper background preK through 3 to give them any kind of a chance to succeed gong forward in higher level math.”
Scores of various disciplines rise and dip somewhat from year to year, but the overall trend for years has been stagnant or declining. Test scores alone are not the sole indicator of whether a student will be successful in life, but there is a cumulative affect of underachievement.
One person cannot be expected to solve the worsening teacher shortage and the poor test scores. However, it will be David Roach’s responsibility to provide the kind of leadership necessary to begin to address the challenges that consistently bedevil public education in our state.