CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Fayette County school system will have a new superintendent next month.The West Virginia Board of Education on Monday announced that Keith Butcher, a former principal in Nicholas and Braxton counties, will step in as the new school chief on July 1, taking the place of longtime educator Dwight Dials."I believe that continued economic development in Fayette County is dependent upon having an outstanding school system," Butcher said. "I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to working with the educators, parents and students in Fayette County."Dials announced in early June that he was halting his career in education to spend time with his 90-year-old father, who is battling serious health issues.
"I love children, I love what I do, and this is a very difficult decision," Dials said. "But I'm tired and I have to make other priorities to my family over the school system."Dials was appointed as superintendent of Fayette County Schools in February 2010 after the state took over control of the school system amid ongoing concerns about slumping student achievement and deteriorating school buildings.Butcher, who currently serves as executive director of Regional Service Agency 1 in Beckley, will inherit many of the same problems two years later.Since he has been at the helm, Dials has overseen often controversial school consolidations that still divide factions of the Fayette County community.In January 2011, state Board of Education members voted to close Mount Hope High School and merge it with Oak Hill High School. State education auditors had described the high school curriculum as "weak and thin" and said Mount Hope had the worst math test scores in the state."There are a lot of concerned people here who want to change and a lot of real caring and sensitive people who want the status quo," Dials said. "It's a confrontational job. Being a change agent is difficult. This is a job where there's no middle ground."Most recently, Dials came under fire for moving forward with the state's plan to close Nuttall Middle School and Danese Elementary School. The state said closing both the schools would save $580,000 and result in safer facilities, more access for students with physical disabilities and expanded course offerings.Despite the anti-consolidation pushback from many community members, Dials said he feels like he made a positive impact on the school system and hopes Butcher will continue to press for change."We depend on education to prepare for a better future and a better economy to get the job done," Dials said. "This is a hard job, but I would like to think [Butcher] will do it well."Reach Amy Julia Harris at email@example.com or 304-348-4814.