Lesson Learned (March 18)


“Optics” is a term heard frequently in news broadcasts during our season of hyped political activity. Typically in a political context, optics is the way in which an event or course of action is perceived by the public. Here is my Lesson Learned serving as a member of the Board of Education (BOE): The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Do we have the best of all school superintendent performances—good optics and real accomplishments? As I participated with all other BOE members in the performance review of Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, I wanted to be certain that our schools are better off following three years of her leadership. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, do we “expect excellence” really, or is it just a motto? Are we getting our education bang for our education buck under the leadership of our superintendent?

My elected duty has everything to do with Mission Action, Accountability and Achievement. After all, I am the member who recites our Mission Statement at every public meeting: “The mission of Upshur County Schools is to provide academic preparation; social responsibility; employability; and a desire of lifelong learning.”

I see no mission creep. Optics yes, but also real mission accomplished results in our coronavirus pandemic convoluted circumstances. Are we better off under the leadership of Dr. Stankus? I believe so. Are we making smart decisions in the best interests of student safety—not simply making changes that win political points for optics? Time will tell, but the vital signs look healthy.

Our Upshur County Schools BOE discussion at our February 23 public meeting, completing the superintendent’s evaluation, weighed in on many factors including satisfying West Virginia

Code 6-9A-4(2)(A).

Here are examples of accomplishments for which Dr. Stankus can rightfully claim to have made a difference:

School levy passage by the largest margin in the history of our county: We engaged many local partners for the first time.

Fiscal management and improved efficiencies: We have gone from one of five counties financially distressed to nearly having our required two-month fiscal reserve.

Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan completed ahead of schedule: This sets us on track to build a new Buckhannon-Upshur High School after the school bond 44 years ago.

Truly we can point to our teachers being the brightest and the best: Brian Allman received the coveted recognition as West Virginia Milken Educator Award winner in 2019. Now we have the 2021 West Virginia Teacher of the Year as we honor Erin Anderson, Tennerton Elementary School fifth grade teacher.

Grants applied for and dollars received: The significant $2,208,389 for Hodgesville Elementary School is an example of eight major grants received.

Technology advancement: One to One Apple Initiative enhances teaching and learning opportunities ahead of struggling counties throughout West Virginia.

Upshur STAR Awards: Each public meeting is a grand celebration of our student and staff achievement.

By the time this community column publishes, Dr. Sara Stankus and the world will know that we find her leadership meets acceptable standards. Hopefully old news will indicate that Dr. Stankus accepted our offer to have her lead the Upshur County Schools again.

As a community column, I want to take the prerogative to lift up Dr. Stankus’s character traits and sphere of influence. They stand alone, and they are obvious to anybody who knows Sara. However, they are worthy of notice because they mark greatness living amongst us in these central Appalachian Mountains:

Look at Steve and Sara’s children. Hannah, Leah and Isaac are pursuing life abundantly. The three have been trained well and loved well.

Look at the folks who stand up in public, testifying Sara cared for them when they dreamed big dreams as a child. She stood with them, and in some instances was the only one who believed in them.

Look at the new crop of leaders coming along beside Sara in various directorships and principal roles. These are high caliber professionals. Some will learn from Sara and go on to their own greatness. For the present, our children and grandchildren will benefit from the synergy.

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