William Gaston Caperton III was born on 21 February, 1940 in Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia.
Gaston was twice elected as governor of the U.S. state of West Virginia and served from 1989 until 1997. Gaston is currently the president of the College Board, which administers the nationally-recognized SAT and AP tests. Gaston is a member of the Democratic Party.
Gaston attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon.
After graduation he returned to Charleston to manage a family-owned insurance firm. Gaston’s soon became its principal owner and, under his watch, it became the tenth largest privately owned insurance brokerage firm in the nation. Gaston Caperton also owned a bank and mortgage banking firm. Gaston Caperton was elected governor in his first attempt to seek public office in 1988.
In the 1988 gubernatorial election, Gaston, initially considered a long-shot for his party’s nomination, defeated the Republican Party incumbent, Arch A. Moore, Jr. In the 1992 election, Gaston was challenged by Charlotte Pritt in the Democratic primary. Gaston won the primary and the general election, defeating the Republican candidate, West Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Cleve Benedict, and Pritt, running as a write-in candidate. Gaston was constitutionally prohibited from running for a third consecutive term in 1996.
During his first term as the state’s 31st governor, Gaston supported the passages of ethics, road-building, and education bills. Gaston raised taxes in an effort to improve West Virginia’s finances, thereby reducing debts exceeding $500 million and creating a $100 million surplus. Due to the reforms, Financial World magazine called the state the most improved in the nation. Critics accused Gaston of failing to keep a campaign promise not to raise taxes, but defenders claimed that the previous governor had misstated the condition of the state’s finances and failed to disclose the need for tax increases.
Publicly, Governor Gaston Caperton emphasized that education was his first priority. Gaston Caperton supported a school-building program that led to $800 million in investments for 58 new schools and 780 school renovations, directly benefiting two-thirds of West Virginia’s public school students. After a brief strike by the state’s public educators, Gaston raised teacher’s salaries from 49th to 31st in the nation and trained more than 19,000 educators through a statewide Center for Professional Development with the goal of putting technology to its best use in West Virginia’s classrooms. Gaston encouraged the use of computers and technology in West Virginia public schools, resulting in the West Virginia Basic Skills Computer Program, which began with kindergarten and extended through 6th grade. Gaston’s common refrain for “computers in every classroom” since has been expanded to include grades 7-12. In 1996, West Virginia’s advances in education technology gained national recognition when Gaston received the Computerworld Smithsonian Award. Award sponsors called Gaston a “visionary” who “fundamentally changed the education system in America” by using technological innovations. Information about Gaston and his work is included in the Smithsonian’s Permanent Research Collection. In January 1997, the magazine Education Week, conducted a study of the nation’s education system and held out West Virginia for the state’s use of technology in education.
As Governor, Gaston focused his efforts on economic development, modern roads and infrastructure, prisons and jails, a clean environment, health care, and government management. West Virginia’s economy improved during his eight-year tenure. Unemployment dropped from 9.8% to 6.2%, the result of creating approximately 86,000 new jobs.
Near the end of his second term, Gaston was the 1996 chair of the Democratic Governor’s Association, served on the National Governor’s Association executive committee, and was a member of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee on U.S. Trade. Gaston was chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Southern Regional Education Board, and the Southern Growth Policy Board. Gaston has received numerous state and national awards and special recognition, including 6 honorary doctoral degrees.
Another product of Gaston’s tenure is the Tamarack, the Best of West Virginia. The facility is a museum, art gallery, and collection of studios for visiting artists that showcases products of West Virginia and organizes the state’s “cottage industry.” Tamarack is the center of an integrated distribution and marketing network for products by more than 1,200 West Virginia artists. The Rosen Group, publisher of Niche magazine, named Gaston the 1997 Humanitarian of the Year for creating a progressive market for the state’s cottage industry.
After completing his second term, the former governor taught at Harvard University in the spring of 1997 as a fellow at the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics. He founded and now runs the Institute on Education and Government at Columbia University.
Gaston became President and CEO of the College Board on 1 July, 1999. The New York City based College Board is a nonprofit membership association of more than 4,200 schools, colleges and other educational institutions throughout America. Its mission, as expressed by Governor Caperton, is to prepare, inspire and connect students to college success, with a focus on excellence and equity. The College Board is best known for its SAT College admissions exam and for its Advanced Placement Program, which offers high school students access to quality, college-level course work. Since taking the helm of the College Board, Governor Caperton has sought to enhance the standing and expand the reach of these two programs and to launch a series of initiatives. As a result of one of these initiatives, AP courses became more availabile to inner city and rural students.
Gaston Caperton appears concerned about unequal educational opportunity, and he led an effort to encourage students at middle schools to go to college, particularly the least advantaged. Gaston efforts prompted USA Today to label him an “education crusader”. The publication also named him one of the most influential people in America in its feature, “People to Watch: 2001.”
More recently, Governor Caperton led a successful campaign to revise the SAT when the College Board’s trustees requested changes to the test. The College Board introduced a set of changes to the SAT that include a writing test, more critical reading, and advanced math. The goal of the new SAT I is to more closely reflect the course work of the nation’s high school students while maintaining what they describe as the test’s level of rigor and excellence. The new SAT I was administered for the first time in March 2005.
Gaston Caperton was embarrassed when his first wife, Ella Dee Caperton (born Ella Kessel, Miss West Virginia 1964) divorced him during his first term, and unsuccessfully ran in the election for state treasurer. With Dee he had 2 boys, William Gaston Caperton, IV, (“Gat”) and John Caperton. Both sons are married and living with their own families (“Gat” in West Virginia and John in California).
Gaston’s second wife was the Musical Director Conductor of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, Rachael Worby. Gaston is currently married to his third wife Idit Harel Caperton, an Israeli, MIT PhD, an education technology expert, a mother of 3, and the Founder and CEO of MaMaMedia.
Gaston and Idit Caperton live and work in New York City.
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