Lesson Learned Column- May 29, 2019

One of the challenges of serving as a member of the five-person Upshur County Schools Board of Education comes from growing leadership. With 550 full-time employees, we are always in flux. Like the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, who was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down when it neared the top, repeating this forever, so our BOE must roll our rock.

Fortunately, a year ago we selected Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus to be our Upshur County Superintendent of Schools. She has super skills as a rock roller from growing up in Queens. I laughed every time during the selection process last year when she reminded us that her home village was Queens. Perhaps it is the rockiest and hilliest part of Upshur County. Our family has roots in a farm in Hemlock which is even more remote than Queens. We fondly call it “The Almond Wilderness.”

Dr. Stankus has been on a sharp learning curve her first year, rolling her rock up the hill only to have it roll down the hill again and again and again. Quickly in her tenure we learned together as BOE and Superintendent the importance of each employee classification. For example, school bus drivers deserve special attention in the early months of the school year. The dedication and skills making a good driver cannot be assumed. The need for substitutes cannot be underestimated. All of us rolled up our sleeves to roll up our rocks together for the sake of our students.

Perhaps Sara thought she had rocks in her head, for Dr. Stankus came “all aboard” the very time we were intensely working on our School Levy Renewal. Sara visited every Upshur civic group, every business group, many community groups, and spoke eyeball to eyeball often to employees and families of students. Her goal was to educate all to the merits of Levy Renewal. That was a big rock to roll up the hill. Certainly the results gave us pause as the voters shouted out a resounding “Yea” with a nearly 2/3 to 1/3 margin of victory. However, Superintendent Stankus knows the rock rolling continues, for the next levy is a rock we roll again in five years.

Abraham Lincoln, an amazingly great leader who preserved our United States of America Union, serving during our Civil War, often declared his roots to be quite humble. In the fall of 1808, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln settled on Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky. Two months later on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born there in a one-room log cabin.

Yes, I am making a comparison between Sara Lewis-Stankus and Abraham Lincoln. First are their remote and humble beginnings. Second are their leadership skills honed in farm life chores. My lesson learned comes from observing leadership in action. I have described my
profession of psychiatry humorously not as a “shrink” but rather as a “stretch.” Reading about success in biographies of great lives like Honest Abe prepares me for inspiring greatness in the lives of those with quiet dignity like Sara.

Our BOE made the obvious decision on April 30, 2019, to ask Dr. Stankus to continue serving as our Superintendent. “Let’s roll!”

She responded by saying yes: “I am so blessed to work with this motivated group of people who truly care about the children and families of Upshur County. This board wants the best for Upshur County Schools. Tonight we signed a two-year contract to work together, with plans for a bright future for our schools and community! This work is important, and I am grateful for all those who make our schools and community amazing! Together we are Upshur Strong!”


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