ASHFORD — When Joe Tagliente Jr., 79, retired from the Boone County Board of Education, the news came as a shock to many — but the career educator said his timing was calculated and he knew it was time to enjoy being a grandfather, above all else.
“I want to spend some time with my grandchildren, watch them playing ball and all the stuff kids do,” he said over lunch at Park Avenue Restaurant in Danville. “You can’t get that time back, and it is time. I feel like I could still preform my duties, I feel my mind is still sharp, but it is time to move on. I’ve had a good run. I’ve been on the board for over 15 years serving people. That is enough.”
Tagliente, (mispronounced by locals as “Tu-lane-ie” for decades), said he can’t remember a time when his name was pronounced correctly.
“I had a professor at Morris Harvey named Dr. Wolf (Henry S. Wolf) who had traveled to Italy and he asked me how I got that out of my name. I told him that it was the way I had always heard it pronounced back home. It never bothered me. It seemed to bother him, though. When my family came here, it was ‘Taglienti’ but somewhere along the way we got that ‘e’ on the end of it.”
Tagliente said that his grandfather, Sylvesta, came south from Ellis Island to work in the coal mines.
“They gave him a dollar or two and sent him to West Virginia to work in the mines in Kanawha County. He came first and then my grandmother came over. I could barely understand her. He was killed in the mines during a slate fall. They had three kids and my daddy worked in a little butcher shop before he was old enough to work in the mines. He would bring home any scraps that the butcher didn’t use and my grandmother would turn it into dinner. That is how hard they had it at first. She sold eggs and would sew for people.”
Joe Tagliente Sr. worked nearly five decades in the coal mines. He lived to be 94.
“Daddy wore a respirator every day in the mines by his own choice and the other men would always say things to him about it, but looking back, I’m sure it contributed to his long life,” he said. “My mother (Carneda) suffered with Alzheimer’s disease and Daddy outlived her.”
Tagliente Jr. began teaching at Nellis Elementary in 1963. He taught physical education and the eighth grade, before junior highs and middle schools were the norm in West Virginia.
“It was some of the best years of my life over there,” he said. “I mean, what great people and educators at that school. I learned more in that first year of teaching than I did in college. I taught English, reading, science and math. I had to study myself to teach those kids.”
He added with a laugh, “I had two or three kids who were smarter than me.”
After five years in Nellis, he took an administrative position at Ramage Elementary, where he spent another six years.
“I inherited the most awful mess you ever saw,” he said. “The kids were completely out of control. I had a meeting with the teachers and they told me they would back me up in cleaning up the place and getting the kids back in line.”
It was the late 1960s, and paddling was widely accepted in schools.
“I straightened it out in a hurry. I’d be in jail today,” he said. “But we gained control of the school.”
Tagliente said that when he left the school, the PTA held a dinner for him and presented him with a Remington pump shotgun that he still has today, nearly 50 years later.
“My grandson is eyeballing it and it is in my gun cabinet,” he said laughing. “I told him he can’t have it until I’m gone.”
From Ramage, the Boone County Career and Technical School was opening in the early- to mid-1970s and he was hired as the assistant administrator and curriculum specialist. He was part of the inaugural year of the center, which is still thriving today.
“They brought a consulting firm in and they brought specialists in for every area that was going to be taught there and we spent two weeks at Marshall and West Virginia University, and it was called competency-based education. We were the only one in the state that had that. I helped write the curriculum. The teachers could buy their own stuff that they needed in their classrooms and I told them there was never a teacher in the county to write their own curriculum and buy their supplies. It was incredible.”
Tagliente spent six years at the career center, and in 1980, he began a new path and once again he was asked to inherit a challenging situation, according to the retired educator. This time he would be the principal of Madison Junior High.
“The school was out of hand,” he said. “The board wanted me to take the job. It paid $3,000 more a year and that was a good raise back then. It was a tough job and it was a challenge to clean up. The kids were coming in late and not paying attention to the teachers. I gathered the kids together and told them it was going to stop or I’d kick them all out of school. So, I started kicking kids out of school in droves, including a mayor’s kid and a judge’s kid. I didn’t care who they were. Parents came in and supported me. They told me I’d have no more trouble out of their kids and we didn’t. It was smooth sailing after that.”
He added, “Then they turned Scott into a middle school and nobody knew what that was. Maintenance boxed up our stuff and sat it in the floor. We opened school with teachers unboxing their stuff.”
According to Tagliente, it became the first school in the county to be recognized as an “Exemplary School.”
Tagliente said the plaques have since been removed from the walls of the school, but he’d like to see them displayed once again.
“I don’t know who removed them, but I’d like to see them back where they belong,” he said.
Tagliente had spent about three years at the school when Kenneth Mabe resigned as superintendent of schools in 1988 and he applied for the position.
Manuel Arvon was voted into the position by the board, and Tagliente served as an assistant superintendent for over a decade in the school system.
In his years as an assistant superintendent and board president and board member, he says, there were many challenges to overcome.
“The worst is having to consolidate schools,” he said. “That is terrible. It kills communities and it is hard on the kids. Then we went broke and had to lay off all of those good people. Some never got their jobs back.”
Tagliente cites a 2011 incident at the career and technical center as a low point that made news around the globe. The center was shut down after an administrator and teacher were linked to traces of methamphetamine throughout the school, including the principal’s office, the bathrooms and the hallways. Parts of the facility had to be gutted before reopening — costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
On a positive note, he is proud to have been a part of the planning to restructure the parking area of Sherman High School that saw the bussing loop come to fruition that is in operation today. He’s proud to have been part of a West Virginia Exemplary School. He’s proud to have served with former superintendent Jeff Huffman, whom he called, “maybe the best one we ever had.”
He said he is proud to have been endorsed by the UMWA and to have stood for educators and supported them through multiple challenges, even when it meant heavy scrutiny from onlookers.
Tagliente said that looking back, he’s ultimately proud of quite a few things, but there was one in particular that he hangs his hat on.
“I treated the poor kids from the hollow with the same respect that I did the big wigs from Madison,” he concluded.
Joe and the late Marilyn Tagliente have two children, Tony and Karla, and three grandchildren in Hunter Dingess and Luke and Molly Tagliente.