Lesson Learned (July 9)


Because an attack by an invisible enemy—this new (or “novel”) Coronavirus, our world as we know it is tottering. A new disease, for which we have limited prevention and treatment tools, has closed down our schools and our economy. Every person is at risk. Natural immunity does not exist. Researchers have not had time to develop vaccines. Medications have not been tested for safety and efficacy. We have significant morbidity and mortality, especially for the elderly and those with co-morbidities.

For such a time as this, our Board of Education selected a new Superintendent of Schools on July 1, 2018. Lesson Learned watching the transformative leadership of Dr. Sara Stankus leading our Upshur County Schools Reentry Advisory Council two years later reminds me of other great community leaders I have watched in action. Practicing psychiatric medicine in the hills of West Virginia for a generation, I observe carefully what helps and what harms us. Serving as an elected member of the Board of Education gives me a seat at the table for this time of charting an unmarked trail through the wilderness. Originally, John and Samuel Pringle founded our community 250 years ago. Now Superintendent Stankus must balance, maintain and grow our public educational system in wild and tumultuous times.

Under the transformative leadership of West Virginia Wesleyan College President Dr. Stanley Hubert Martin, a dreamer and a giant, WVWC experienced a great period of growth. Wesley Chapel, Christopher Hall of Science, Benedum Campus Center, Middleton Hall, and five residence halls were added. In addition, the library was enlarged to nearly double the size, Haymond Hall of Science was remodeled, a wing was added to Fleming Hall, and plans were started for the John D. Rockefeller IV Physical Education Center. It was his vision and planning that resulted in the architectural style of the majority of campus. Enrollment tripled. How glorious an administration! I watched Dad and President Martin fish the Middle Fork River at Hemlock, pulling in native brook trout while solving the world’s problems.

Now our relatively new, home grown, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Stankus lifts a beacon of hope as we face the darkness of the pandemic that will not recede quickly enough. COVID-19 will require many months of sacrifice, struggling service and plain-speaking encouragement. For the arduous tasks ahead, our Superintendent Stankus assembled the professional leaders from our community for an initial conference TEAMS technology meeting June 5th. This will be an ongoing advisory group. She has hired Dr. Jeff Harvey, a known leader in disaster preparedness, to join our Upshur County Schools team. These are wise moves on her part.

The Coronavirus Pandemic is a once-in-century scourge of Biblical proportions—surely on par as a tribulation. Few of us are trained to treat sick communities and continents. Unfortunately, that is our task during a pandemic. The origin of the word “pandemic” comes from the Greek “pandemos,” where “pan” means “everyone” and “demos” means “population.” Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus has been elevated to leadership at a very difficult time.

For my lesson learned, I see her instilling confidence and a can-do attitude into our public school community. Her roots growing up in Queens, a rural village on the banks of the Middle Fork River, has taught her the value of interdependence that can never be underestimated. She depends on the God of her pastor father who preached of His kindness and grace. I see Sara leading like her dad, with listening ears; helpful hands; and wise, comforting, and correcting words. Keep your eyes peeled. Never give up, for we are blazing new trails through the wilderness is my lesson learned. We will come through this time Upshur Strong.

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