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The Department of Education, part of the executive branch of West Virginia state government, is responsible for carrying out the policies and programs of the state Board of Education. The department is overseen by the superintendent of schools, who is accountable to the board. Over the years the superintendent’s staff and resources have increased tremendously, while his political independence has been curtailed. The department has been transformed into a modern professional bureaucracy, working to provide West Virginia children a good public education in the primary and secondary schools of the state.

The present department evolved slowly and in many steps. The first state superintendent of free schools, William Ryland White, was named in 1864. In 1908, the legislature created the state Board of Education, initially appointed by the state superintendent. It was the board’s responsibility to supervise the free schools of the state and (after 1958) to select the state superintendent. Before 1958 the superintendent was elected.

Until 1910 the state superintendent, then Morris P. Shawkey, had only a small staff. In that year, his department increased to five divisions: High Schools, Rural Schools, Examinations, Publications, and Institutes. With the increase in secondary schools, a legislative act in 1919 provided that the state superintendent of schools maintain a Department of Public Schools and employ an assistant and other staff. The act of 1919 also abolished the Board of Regents, the Board of Education, and the School Book Commission, replacing them with a seven member Board of Education serving both public schools and higher education. The state superintendent served as an ex official member of the Board of Education, with the remaining members appointed by the governor.

In 1946 a proposed amendment to the state constitution would have made the Board of Education a constitutional body. The amendment was supported by the West Virginia Education Association but powerfully opposed by State Superintendent W. W. Trent, whose job would have changed from an elected to an appointive position. The amendment failed. In 1958, after Trent had left office, a successful amendment did change the structure of the now nine-member board, made it a constitutional body, and made the superintendent’s job appointive. The appointment, rather than election, of the superintendent was meant to ensure that future superintendents would be professionally qualified and insulated from political pressures. It also deprived the superintendent of a political base, as Trent had foreseen.

Currently, the Department of Education consists of the office of the state superintendent, with two deputy superintendents, and the following offices: Federal Programs & Support, Accountability & Assessment, Instructional Leadership & School Improvement, Data Management & Information Systems, School Operations, and Career & Technical Education Innovation, as well as the Schools for the Deaf & Blind and the Schools of Diversion and Training. These offices consist of professional educators who coordinate, provide, and perform services for county boards of education, county schools, classroom teachers, and correctional institutions. The department’s staffs for certification, legal issues, and administrative purposes serve the state board and the state superintendent of schools. In addition, through the Schools of Diversion, the department provides comprehensive educational and adult educational services in 22 juvenile facilities within juvenile correctional and detention centers and residential treatment centers; adult educational services in 22 adult correctional and regional jails; and truancy and educational support in 11 community-based schools. Since 1969, the Department of Education has had no responsibility for the state’s colleges and universities.

Changes in programs and staffing through the years have resulted from federal and state legislation that have mandated various services and programs. The department has undertaken the direct management of troubled county school systems. Schools in Logan, Mingo, Lincoln, McDowell, Grant, Preston, Fayette, Gilmer, and Upshur counties have been managed by the department at various times.

This Article was written by James F. Snyder

Last Revised on June 27, 2023

Related Articles


Master Plan for Public Education in West Virginia. Charleston: West Virginia Department of Education, 1983.

Wright, J. Zeb. 200 Years of Public Education in West Virginia. Charleston: West Virginia Department of Education, 1976.

Cite This Article

Snyder, James F. "Department of Education." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 27 June 2023. Web. 24 June 2024.


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