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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 a deputy superintendent, two associate superintendents, and two assistant superintendents who supervise six divisions: Administrative Services; Student Support Services; Technology; Teaching and Learning; Educator Quality and System Support; and Technical and Adult Education. Changes in programs and staffing through the years have resulted from federal and state legislation which have mandated various services and programs. Major changes came at the end of the 20th century, when the department undertook the direct management of troubled county school systems. Schools in Logan, Mingo, Lincoln, McDowell, Grant, Preston, Fayette, and Gilmer counties were managed by the department at various times.

Each of the six divisions consists of professional educators who coordinate, provide, and perform services for county boards of education, county schools, classroom teachers, correctional institutions, and the multi county Regional Education Service Agencies. The department also has a legal staff that serves the state board and the state superintendent of schools. In addition, the department provides educational services in 31 juvenile and adult state correctional institutions and 10 regional jails. Since 1969, the Department of Education has had no responsibility for the state’s colleges and universities.

This Article was written by James F. Snyder

Last Revised on August 07, 2013

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. 07 August 2013. Web. 06 February 2023.


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