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Tough Job

New state superintendent of schools must be found

It is unfortunate that West Virginia state school Superintendent Steve Paine is retiring under the circumstances he outlined in a surprise announcement last week. Paine explained he is leaving because “a member of my family is facing a health crisis and I want to be fully present for my family.”

Family is the central concern in life for most West Virginians, so we wish Paine and the family member of whom he spoke well.

His departure, planned for June 30, is a concern for Mountain State residents worried about the need for improvement in many public schools. Paine had served previously as superintendent from 2005-11, then returned to the job in March 2017.

Paine began his second stint as the state’s top educator at a time when demands for major improvements in schools seemed to be increasing.

You may remember that for years, complaints about public schools were dismissed by some education leaders with the claim that standardized tests did not present an accurate picture of student achievement in West Virginia.

But now, the standardized test is one developed by the state itself. And — no surprise — results remain distressing.

Paine took ownership of the problem, admitting public schools must do better. One of his initiatives in that regard is aimed at increasing student achievement in mathematics. How much it helps remains to be seen.

“I think we have the foundation which we can improve,” Paine said this week.

Let us hope so. But still, the state Department of Education fumbles the ball on a regular basis. Controversy over a proposal that could have reduced high school students’ exposure to both U.S. and world history is an example. After an outpouring of criticism, Paine was forced to tell state Board of Education members the plan was being withdrawn.

Not all schools in West Virginia are bad. And, as we have emphasized, the many good, dedicated teachers with whom we have been blessed are not the root of the problem. It is our system of public education — and it needs foundational change.

Now, state board members must find a successor to Paine. That man or woman needs to start work with the attitude that public education in West Virginia is broken — and needs to be rebuilt.