From parents to social media, Wager reflects on 45 years in education

BUCKHANNON — Standing in the classroom where his teaching career started in Upshur County Schools, the retiring superintendent of schools recalled the coal-fired stove, coat closet and a room bigger than the one in the remodeled Stockert Youth and Community Center.

Roy Wager began teaching at East Main Street School in the 1970s, and after holding various leadership positions — including the last five years as superintendent — he steps down from a 45-year education career this month.

“My contract was up and I decided not to renew it,” Wager said simply. “I’m just ready. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

Originally from New Jersey, Wager earned a bachelor’s degree in education from West Virginia Wesleyan College and later received his master’s in educational leadership from West Virginia University. He served two years in the United States Air Force before returning to Upshur County.

East Main Street School housed kindergarten through sixth grades when Wager started teaching, but later became a primary school. Wager taught third and fourth grade.

“My last year teaching there, they departmentalized and I was just teaching third and fourth grade social studies,” he said.

Wager, whose father was a teacher and counselor and mother was a school nurse, developed a passion for learning early on and knew he wanted to pursue education as a career.

His first principal’s job would come at Hodgesville Elementary before he was called back to East Main Street School as principal.

Wager was the first principal to open Union Elementary and served as its leader from 1988-2000. 

“It was brand new,” Wager recalled. “East Main Street School has a lot of character, but it was nice to have everything brand new.”

East Main Street School remained open a few more years with about half of the student population before it closed forever.

“Almost the whole staff from East Main Street School moved out to Union,” Wager said. “We also had the same kids we had at Main Street, it was just moving to a different building.”

In 2000, Wager was tapped to become Upshur County’s Title I director, a title which evolved into director of federal programs as more responsibilities were added.

“That was a new challenge, moving into the Central Office and learning all the federal programs,” Wager said. “Union had been a Title I School, so I knew as principal what it involved, but it was just taking over the whole county.”

After that, Wager took on new responsibilities such as overseeing pre-k and testing.

During his time as director of federal programs, Wager said Upshur County Schools first expanded its Title 1 program but later had to cut back after budget cuts came down from the federal government.

“We were able to get a lot of great programs started in schools through Title 1,” he said. “Title 1 also paid for the first round of all the smart white board and projectors in classrooms.”

But by December 2012, Wager was ready for retirement — or so he thought.

“I retired for six months,” he recalled. “I went to work for Pearson Book Company traveling all over the state.”

At the time, counties were doing textbook adoptions for social studies and Wager had a social studies background so was asked to handle that role for the company.

“I got to see all 55 counties, which was neat,” he said.

Then Scott Lampinen announced his retirement as superintendent of Upshur County Schools.

“I received a call from a (board of education) member asking if I was interested in being the next superintendent,” he said. “I had to think about it. It was a big decision.”

At the time, Wager agreed to just a one-year contract because the board said they needed help to get the excess levy renewal passed.

Not only did it pass, but it passed by one of the biggest margins ever. Wager said that was as much a credit to the committee as him.

“There was a great group of citizens behind that who worked really hard to get that levy passed,” he said. “Hopefully it will pass again next year.”

The board of education is exploring dates for the renewal of the excess levy.

“When the excess levy passed, the board said please stay, and I said I will do four more years. I said I would not renew after that.”

During his five years as superintendent, Wager has worked with a number of board members.

“It’s a very good board to work with,” he said. “They ask a lot of questions and there’s very little disagreements. They have been very supportive of me and the county schools.”

“I’m proud of the accomplishments of our [Career and Technical Education] programs,” Wager added. “Our Fred Eberle and vocational programs in the county, we have grown those a lot. Upshur County has the most kids going to Fred Eberle of any of the three counties (Upshur, Lewis and Barbour).

“I’m proud of all of our employees and the hard work they have put in the last five years. Another thing we have accomplished is raising our graduation rate quite a  bit — 97 percent this year, which is really high.”

A highlight of Wager’s tenure as superintendent was being asked to participate in an exchange with China which was funded by West Virginia University.

Wager was able to visit several schools in China and learn about their programs.

“Through that, we are supposed to have a Chinese teacher who will be half time at the high school and half time at the middle school paid for by the Chinese government,” he said.

That teacher is slated to be here for the coming school year.

Wager said he would miss the students the most, followed by his coworkers.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of the students at every school,” Wager said. “It’s an enjoyable part of the job.”

He also offers this advice to those considering going into education.

“Be sure that it is truly your passion and that you are willing to make a commitment — because it is a commitment — and to always think of the students first.”

In his 45 years, Wager can trace the advances in technology, the newer buildings and facilities, but he has also noticed other changes in society as a whole.

“I think the biggest change for me has been that when I first started, you had 95 percent of the parents backing everything that was going on in the schools,” he said. “Parents need to be more involved in their child’s education. I would love to see that come back.”

And with the advances in technology, Wager sees lots of advantages — and a few disadvantages.

“There’s a lot of information out there that you didn’t have access to before,” he said. “My wife (Patty) uses virtual tours of the Louvre and other places that some of our students will never get to see. All of that is wonderful.”

But technology also has a darker side.

“I absolutely detest social media, because it’s not used the way it was intended,” he said. “It’s not a place to go on and blast people. I think our reliance on social media has gotten a little bit out of hand.”

Wager’s last official day as head of Upshur County Schools is June 30, with Dr. Sara Stankus assuming the role on July 1.

Wager will be trading his business suits for work clothes as he tackles a to-do list of home renovation projects.

“I will be working on the house we built 35 years ago,” he said. “We are remodeling it. That’s going to keep me pretty busy.”

At some point in the future, when Patty retires, they have also talked about moving closer to their kids in South Carolina, Wager added.

But for now, Patty is continuing to work as an art teacher and head boys’ track coach at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

And Wager said he will be still be around to help out during track season.

“As long as my wife is doing it, I will be helping,” Wager said. “I truly enjoy that.”

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