Randolph County's top education official said he will resign Monday in anticipation of being considered for the state superintendent of schools position.
"I am honored and humbled that I am going to be considered," Randolph Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares told The Inter-Mountain Friday. "I am compelled - if the recommendation is approved - to accept, for all the same reasons that I came to Randolph County."
The state Board of Education fired the state schools chief, Jorea Marple, in a surprise move Thursday that led to two state board members announcing their resignations.
The board met a second time Thursday and appointed Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein to replace Marple pending a Nov. 21 meeting to choose a long-term hire. Board President Wade Linger announced that he wants Phares for the job.
"I love the state of West Virginia and I'm an advocate of public education," Phares said Friday. "I want to offer my skill set to better the school experience of every student in the state."
Phares said he will step down from his Randolph County position next week.
"On Monday night I am going to ask the board to accept my resignation, which will be effective at the end of the day Wednesday," Phares said. "I will recommend that on Wednesday, the board have a special session to appoint an interim replacement until such time that a permanent replacement can be found."
Though he acknowledged that events are moving "very quickly," Phares said Thursday's move did not come as a complete surprise.
"The (Randolph) board was anticipating this. They did have a heads-up that this might occur," Phares said. "They may not have known that it would happen this fast."
Phares said state board officials reached out to him informally prior to this week. Linger is from Marion County, where Phares formerly was the superintendent of schools.
Phares met with board office staff early Friday morning, and then with the county's school principals.
"I wanted to express my appreciation to all of them," he said, also praising the Randolph Board of Education members for their willingness to work with him
"I think we laid a good solid foundation for them to move forward. The perception of Randolph County has changed dramatically," Phares said. "I'm not leaving with regrets - or apologies."
Phares was hired by the Randolph BOE in 2009, and took over the school system when it was under scrutiny from the West Virginia Department of Education and the Office of Education Performance Audit. An OPEA audit outlined several deficiencies in the school system that could have led to a take over of the local school system by the state. Phares helped lead the school system through the turmoil, and full accreditation was eventually given to the system.
"In 2009, I had already retired, but I felt that it was a calling to Randolph County," Phares said Friday. "I felt I had a duty to come back and serve the county. I'm a native of Randolph County and a product of the county school system."
Phares said he was proud of overcoming three major challenges in his first year after taking the position. The school system dealt with structural problems at Elkins Middle School, and the dilapidation of the former Elkins High School building, which had become "a symbol of decay," he said.
Phares also helped to spearhead the excess levy that was passed by voters in 2010. The levy was the first to pass in Randolph County since 1989.
"I'm tremendously appreciative of all the work done by the school staff to get that passed," he said. "The levy is the lifeblood of this school system. It makes us one of the premier school systems in the state.
"I'm most proud of the overall change in culture in the school system. They've really put students first."