Virginia State Superintendent Steven Staples, who has led the state through charter school battles, department capacity challenges, and the ushering in of a new accountability system, announced Monday that he will retire in January.
Stevens is the third state superintendent in the nation to retire in the last two weeks. The average state chief’s tenure is two years.
Staples was appointed in March 2014 by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Currently, Republican Ed Gillepsie and Democrat Ralph Northam are in a heated race to replace McAuliffe, who is term-limited, and education issues—including the state’s restrictive charter school policy, the state’s accreditation process, and school turnaround efforts—have all taken center stage.
Staples, 63, said in an interview Monday afternoon that he wanted to let the candidates know he doesn’t want to be reappointed, but would assist with the transition for the next state chief. He said his last day will be Jan. 1.
During his three years in office, Staples, the former district superintendent of York County in Virginia, and the executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said he found crafting state policy to address an increasingly diverse state challenging.
“Coming from the local side of things, grasping the process at the state level policy is different and more complex with a lot more players engaged,” he said.
Virginia recently turned in its Every Student Succeeds Act plan to the federal government for approval. In it, the state seeks to upend its accreditation process and accountability system which, Staples said, has traditionally relied too heavily on the state test.
Going forward, he said the department’s ability to execute some of its longstanding and new initiatives will be a challenge.
“We’re opening 30,000 teacher license applications by hand still,” he said. “Since 2008, we’ve cut almost $12 million in our budget. That’s limited our capacity to do professional development and our capacity to do data analysis and use it to direct policy.”
He also said he has concerns about the short tenure of state superintendents nationally.
“Clearly, these are challenging and tumultous times in many states,” he said. “In Virginia, education is much less of a partisan and political issue than it is in other states, but those shortened tenures make it difficult to get traction on important initiatives. States that are going to get seesawed back and forth will limit their capacity to get important work done going forward.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.