It appears West Virginia needs a new interim state superintendent of schools. When one is found, he or she will be the third temporary superintendent used while the state Board of Education searches for someone to fill the post permanently.
Dr. James B. Phares has held the position since January 2013. This week, he revealed he plans to retire. No reason was given.
Phares was hired on a temporary basis to give the state board time to conduct a thorough search for a replacement. He followed Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein, who slid over to the top job for a few weeks between the board's firing of former Superintendent Jorea Marple and Phares coming on board.
For more than 15 months, then, Mountain State schools have been administered by temporary superintendents. Another one probably will have to be hired, because the state board is still searching for a permanent replacement.
Effective state superintendents of schools do not grow on trees, of course. Finding someone who can and will address the many challenges facing West Virginia public schools is not a process that can or should be rushed.
But 15 months - and counting?
Phares appears to have done a good job at a challenging time, when Mountain State residents finally are coming to the realization that our students need and deserve better schools. During his tenure, the Legislature approved a massive school reform package, and Phares has begun to implement it.
So much remains to be done, however. West Virginia students continue to perform below their peers in most other states on standardized tests and other measures of academic quality. Earlier this year, the national Kids Count organization concluded ours was one of just four states where average reading proficiency among fourth graders declined.
Getting a permanent superintendent in place is necessary to pursue effectively the many changes our schools need. State board members should accelerate the process of hiring a good candidate.