New state school Superintendent James Phares has been given a head start over legislators in beginning major education reform in West Virginia. It will be important for him to use the time wisely.
Phares was sworn in last week and immediately pledged to make the "tough decisions" necessary to improve Mountain State schools. He added he plans to draw up a list of priorities for discussion with the state Board of Education next week.
Once he and the board agree on how to proceed, Phares will have about a month to take action before the Legislature convenes its annual regular session on Feb. 13.
Lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have indicated public school reform is high on their agendas for this year. A new sense of urgency seems to have been sparked by continuing low performance by many state students in some measures of academic achievement and by an "audit" recommending major changes in how schools are managed.
During the month Phares has before lawmakers begin formal sessions, he should take some decisive action, perhaps regarding state Department of Education operations. In doing so, he could prove to legislators that the agency finally is on board with the concept of basic changes - and that could encourage lawmakers to be bolder in their approach to reform. Heaven knows, boldness is necessary, and Phares should set an example of it.