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West Virginia Superintendent Announces Resignation

State Superintendent Michael Martirano, who led West Virginia's schools through a rapid loss of student enrollment, dramatic budget cuts, and a nasty state-versus-local control fight over school construction, has announced that he will leave the position at the end of this school year. 

The reason, he said, is the recent death of his wife, Silvana Martirano, who had cared for his children in Western Maryland since he took the job in September 2014.  

The board will now spend the next several months vetting potential candidates for the position.  

I first met Martirano a year ago in an elevator during a Council of Chief State School Officers conference in Charlotte, N.C. He struck up a lively conversation with me about the state's evolving role in helping the growing number of financially and academically struggling districts.

The near-collapse of the coal industry had left local board members strapped for cash, taking out risky loans, shirking building maintenance duties, and slashing away at extracurricular programs. With the shifting state industry, families, especially in the state's picturesque rural areas, were packing up and leaving the state in droves, leaving aging school buildings half empty and further exacerbating academic challenges.  

One district in particular, Martirano said, illustrated West Virginia's predicament.  Several weeks later, I traveled to Fayette County to write about a fight over which of the district's schools, many in severe disrepair, should close.  

Martirano joins a long list of state superintendents in West Virginia and elsewhere who have resigned within three years of being hired. State departments' growing role in evaluating teachers, rating districts, and turning around underperforming schools has made the superintendent's position particularly political. 

Adding to the pressure: State chiefs are in the throes of crafting their education plans to be executed under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal policy gives states plenty more rights—and responsibilities—in shaping the way they evaluate teachers and schools. 

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