BUCKHANNON — Upshur County held a community forum Monday evening in regard to the Upshur County School’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
Devising a new plan every 10 years is a requirement from the state. What Upshur County has created so far, has been a yearlong process. This 10-year plan is to address what the county wants to see implemented for Upshur Schools.
According to Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, they came together in June and held a community meeting to discuss with their stakeholders what they wanted to see in a graduate from Buckhannon-Upshur High School. “Schools are more than the building that holds the students,” Stankus explained. “We are intimately involved in our community of schools and we have to think about our entire community.” Dr. Stankus asserted, “We as a community are so diverse in our people, but we all share one thing - that everyone wants the best for our kids.” She continued in saying education has been called the great equalizer, because no matter what income, zip code, or dysfunction, a person can have the opportunity to education. Stankus explained she has invested her lifetime in helping that mission. She thanked community members, board members, and people in positions of power, such as Mayor David McCauley, for coming to talk about the children of Upshur County and what is best for them.
Ted Shriver, an architect and Education Planner with Williamson Shriver Architects, has guided the county through this entire process. He explained this is just the end of phase 1 – the data collection and bringing it to the public. He explained they have visited schools and evaluated tenure plans and generated three subcommittees to tackle this venture – the Goals and Objectives Committee lead by Tim Derico, the Community Committee lead by Vanessa Perkins and Jeff Harvey, and the Educational Plan Committee lead by Jody Johnson.
At the end of phase 2, Shriver explained another community forum will be held. Jodie Akers also recognized many community members for their hard work, commitment and involvement in the plan, such as Dr. Joseph Reed and Kathy McMurray.
According to the goals and objectives committee, there are several things that minimally must be addressed to comply with the requirements, such as adequate funding, administrations and resources, as well as renovations that are maintained, to comply with state regulations. A maintenance policy, resources and preventative maintenance plan to ensure that facilities are maintained already exists in Upshur County. These plans are intended to be fluid, so when things evolve over the 10 years, these goals are adapted for that. Based on their data thus far, there is a want and need for community and parental collaboration, and a need to assure students are employable after graduation.
The Community Committee, presented by Jeff Harvey, explained they wrote about 14 pages about our community. This included things such as population trends, housing trends, income trends, employment trends, services available in community, and so many others. They experienced fluctuation with population, for example in 2011, population was 24,263 and in 2017 it approximately 24,464 – our population has been pretty steady, according to Harvey. The median income is slowly but steadily going up, unemployment rate is trending down, while housing and property value is trending up, explained Harvey. However, just like with any area, there are challenges.
In Upshur County, the committee found specific challenges such as homelessness being higher than expected, rent prices being higher than expected, which causes strain when it comes affordable housing, the opioid epidemic, and a high number of children in foster care. According to Harvey, there are groups actively trying to combat these issues. Upshur County also has transportation and infrastructure locally, which allows easy access to the remainder of West Virginia and metropolitans close by, such as Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. Development has been steady, locally and regionally, such as healthcare development, vibrant arts and entertainment, and Upshur County is constructing buildings on their main street which is uncommon for a lot of towns that are the same size, according to Harvey.
Vanessa Perkins explained that the CEFP is a daunting task and takes a whole year to complete. After the plan is finished, they have to “sell” the plan to the School Business Authority on why they want and need the funding. According to Perkins, Upshur County children and students need more STEM and arts, more vocational, technical, dual credit, more improved facilities that are conducive to these objectives, and all of this is contingent on funding and potential partnerships with colleges and businesses.
Jody Johnson, Director of Federal Programs and Title I, explained the findings from the Education Committee, which is made up primarily of educators. She explained they are creating a flexible design to accommodate the changes as they deliver all these expectations. They have created very detailed expectations for the needs of students at every educational level in the County – elementary, middle and high school. These expectations are different for each level of education and are based on the input of students, teachers and community members. These things include more personalized learning, more emphasis on vocational and technical learning, preparation for college and employability after school. Johnson explained that at B-UHS, they have a mission that their students must be one of the three Es upon graduating – Enlisted, Enrolled or Employed.
Many questions and concerns were expressed at the conclusion of the forum Monday evening. Kyle Nuttal asked if there was anywhere to look at the data that has been compiled because he would like to be more involved and Dr. Stankus explained they will scan it onto their website at upshurschools.com. Board of Education Member Greenbriar Almond explained that times are changing, and our academic environment must look radically different than what we have right now.
Sarah Wamsley, a business and computer teacher at B-UHS was wondering about space for all these career and technical opportunities and suggested creating a Career Technical Education (CTE) wing to create a specific career and technical environment. She explained her students are doing big things, and they need a space to accommodate their learning.
Leslie Wright, an IT professional, expressed a need to educate students about concrete STEM opportunities and what skills they need to achieve this. She also asserted that behavioral issues are hindering the academic process in Upshur County. Karen Taylor, a concerned parent expressed that the school system cannot exclude students in the process, because each student should have the same and equal opportunities, regardless of their backgrounds and struggles.
Accountant Don Nestor added that we need to instill in the children that “Okay, is not okay,” and that they should have an insatiable desire to be the best they can be. Some members wanted to know if they are going to be building a new school, not building, or just adding on. Ted Shriver explained that is a phase 2 question, and right now they are just collecting the data. Another parent mentioned concern for students who do not have access to internet or technology at home. Brian Allman, a teacher at B-UMS, explained that the last time this plan went through, the community did not support the construction of a new middle school, although it was needed. So, he suggested pushing hard to get more community support this time around.
Dr. Stankus presented the closing statements and the meeting was adjourned. Stay tuned for continued information regarding the new 10-year CEFP for Upshur Schools.