(06/27/2011)
The West Virginia Board of Education has appointed a superintendent for Gilmer County schools, after the state taking-over the system last month.

Calhoun resident Ron Blankenship (left) who has nearly 30 years experience as a superintendent, was named to the position yesterday.

The state took over the Gilmer County schools in June after the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA) found significant leadership, technology, facility, personnel and finance issues.

They said the county had a "dysfunctional" county school board.

Still, Gilmer schools had some high student achievement outcomes in the Mountain State.

Blankenship retired from the Calhoun County school system in 2007, after 26 years there. He previously spent three years in Gilmer County.

Blankenship, during his years of service, was named WV Superintendent of the Year.

Blankenship will work with the state and the Gilmer County school board to "jointly develop and present to the state board a set of standards and a strategic plan that must be implemented before the Gilmer County board can regain control of its school system," according to a state news release.

OEPA made an unannounced visit to Gilmer County on May 24 and found that "county board members were in discord, the county board operations were dysfunctional and meetings were unproductive and resulted in the board being incapable of following State Code and West Virginia Board of Education policies," according to the state press release.

OEPA Director Kenna Seal said "delaying the intervention for any period of time would not be in the best interest of the students."

"Based on the entirety of the problems in the county and the decisions, or lack thereof, there is scant hope that the school system can be improved with the current county board," Seal said.

Auditors said Gilmer schools had "flawed hiring, transferring and reduction in force system. Numerous questionable and irregular decisions are being made by the board prompting distrust and suspicion."

The audit said three of the five school facilities in the county are "sorely lacking and maintenance at all facilities is desperately needed."

On a 3-2 vote last month, Gilmer County school board members hired William K. Simmons to take over as superintendent. Simmons was a former president at Glenville State College who resigned in 1999 after a tumultuous tenure.

Simmons hire was nullified by the state take-over, and Ted Mattern was appointed as Gilmer County interim superintendent.

Mattern says one problem the takeover must tackle is the condition of the county's three elementary schools. At one, all the students are housed in modular classrooms. The other two are buildings dating back to the early part of the last century.

Gilmer voters rejected a bond that would have turned four elementary schools in to two.

Critics of the take-over say it is driven to close the county's small community schools, saying that has been a major goal in most county's taken over by the state.

Gilmer County is the sixth county school system under state intervention, joining schools in Fayette, Grant, Lincoln, Mingo and Preston counties.

Most take-overs last 3-5 years.


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