Kathy D’Antoni is retiring Friday after serving as West Virginia’s top public school vocational education leader for the past decade, during which she oversaw the creation of the state’s Simulated Workplace program.
Before joining the West Virginia Department of Education, she served for years as vice chancellor of the Mountain State’s community and technical college system, the adult arm of vocational education.
D’Antoni, 77, said she plans to continue helping the education department innovate after her retirement. She said it’s still undetermined whether that will be a paid role.
“You know when it’s time to make another step in your life,” she said, “and I spoke to Superintendent [Clayton] Burch about my ideas and we started talking about things. And so, for me, this would be the best of both worlds.”
She made $134,000 annually, according to education department spokeswoman Christy Day.
D’Antoni had been one of the three finalists in the past two state schools superintendent searches, in 2017 and this year. She was passed over both times for the position.
In June, the state Board of Education chose to keep Burch, who had been filling in as superintendent since February, as the permanent state superintendent.
Burch subsequently promoted Michele Blatt, the department’s former top accountability official, to the deputy superintendent position he had held.
That’s the No. 2 role in the education department. Blatt will make $139,000 annually, according to Day.
In a Wednesday news release announcing D’Antoni’s retirement, Burch said “Dr. D’Antoni is one of the greatest champions for West Virginia’s children.”
“Under her leadership, the state has renewed its focus on career technical and adult education, as she committed herself to educating tomorrow’s workforce,” Burch said. “Kathy’s vision and dedication are inspiring, and I am proud to have served the children of West Virginia alongside her.”
Regarding the superintendent role, D’Antoni said, “I had an opportunity to express my vision and to give to the board a vision of education that I think would’ve been helpful to all students. But I will be very truthful with you: They picked a very good superintendent.”
In Simulated Workplace, students at standalone career and technical education centers or “comprehensive high schools,” which offer vocational courses, form their own companies that create products and offer services.
They’re drug-tested and serve in leadership roles as part of these companies.
“The pillars of Simulated Workplace are giving students a voice in their education process and providing them opportunities for leadership roles, for soft skills that they have not had the opportunity to earn, or create or to gain for themselves,” D’Antoni said.
Those “soft skills” include things like attendance, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
“They start to see for themselves what it takes to be successful,” she said. “You don’t have to tell.”
D’Antoni said participants have had very high attendance rates and low discipline referrals, and her discussions with Burch on her possible role in the future have involved spreading “that environment across the entire education system.”
D’Antoni said her associate superintendent role might not be filled as part of a change in how career and technical education fits into the department.
Day wrote in an email that “Dr. D’Antoni’s retirement has just been confirmed this week, changes to the [department’s] organizational structure have not been finalized. Those are expected within the next week and will be made public on our website. Likewise, due to the recent development of her retirement, details regarding her role as an adviser have not been finalized at this time.”