The Upshur County Schools Board of Education held our first public meeting in the new decade at Tennerton Elementary School on January 14. A lesson re-learned, as we seek improved student achievement, came as a reminder that, while progress has been made, still there is more stirring up that needs done.
The “10,000 hours” principle comes from the touted theory highlighted in a 1993 psychology paper and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” 10,000 hours is how long Gladwell suggests it takes to become skillful at any craft. Even for the greatest artists and musicians of all time, their tremendous inborn talent wasn’t enough to achieve the level of expertise that they would eventually attain. They needed to immerse themselves in their craft every single day. We are in that 3-5 year window for achieving expertise in staff, translating to excellence in student achievement.
We have retired 800 years of experienced school employees in recent years. Now we have a younger and less experienced corps of teachers and support personnel. We have hired the best; however, they are growing. An excellent team still takes time.
The BOE, elected by our peers, seeks a measurable return on our investment of time and energy by a united Upshur County community. We are generally pleased with our 550 dedicated employee educators and support personnel who now carrying out our Mission:
“The Mission of the Upshur County Schools is to provide academic preparation; social responsibility; employability; and a desire for lifelong learning.”
I endorse the concept of “10,000 hours.” That would translate into 3 to 5 years of practice, honing the noble educators’ trade before they function as a team of which matches our motto: “EXPECT EXCELLENCE.”
At this first meeting of the decade, we applaud Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus’s goal of visiting every classroom of every teacher and all our children and grandchildren before Spring Break. The message during these important visits will be that achievement strategies already tried did not work as planned. But let us be open to new and creative strategies to increase the learning experience for our students.
Another socio-economic factor discussed at our meeting is a reality we recognize—our geographic location in the Central Appalachian Mountains. While our Upshur County School District continues steady with a 3,709 student population and a county population of 24,415 residents, West Virginia has lost another 4,000 students and lost 12,144 residents (0.7% loss of total population, the highest percentage of any state) in the past year. This means fewer resources spread across our 55 counties. We are always considering how to manage a possible 10% cut in our budget ordered by our Governor. Basically, we are conservative economically. The easier option for improving achievement might be to budget more dollars for our district, adding measures for quality improvement. That is simply off the table in West Virginia. In 2018, the last year for data, Upshur County had 23.65% of our ages 5 -17 children and grandchildren living in the poverty range. However, what a significant sacrifice for our citizens who renewed our Levy last year for five more years. I say a big Thank you to my fellow citizens who showed how highly they value education. That is a trust issue for us to show what we are capable of doing with improved achievement.
I consider again “10,000 hours.” That brings me to the final observation from our first BOE meeting of the 2020 decade. We had a first reading and approval of a proposed revised policy #2001 Instructional Materials. We are broadening this policy to make it a “Resource Adoption Policy.” What could be more appropriate as we challenge ourselves to consider what resources we will use as tools to educate our children and grandchildren. We will continue to improve and renew policy #2001. My high hope is that achievement follows the measures we are putting in place.
My hope for educational excellence for our children, with measurable high achievement following, is based on evidence of who we are here in Upshur County. Allow me a high privilege to salute one of our truly great Upshurites who has recently crossed the bar to his reward—Dayton Ellis Howes (June 28, 1932 - January 4, 2020).
When my musically talented wife, Araceli, and our likewise musically gifted daughter, Maria, wanted to join the Buckhannon Chamber Orchestra, they consulted longtime director Patience Brock. She recommended we drive out to the hilltop home of Dayton Howes beyond Brushy Fork to see what violins he might offer. How pleasant to sit on his front porch in a house built from where he could sit looking toward a distant mountain range, seeing his beloved childhood home in Hemlock.
We found out he was a master craftsman, creating violins for Cincinnati Orchestra players and Pittsburgh Orchestra players as well as other violin virtuosos from around the world. Since childhood, Dayton had a passion for the violin encouraged by his father, Clyde. Dayton began to make fiddles in the 1970s like his father before him. Soon, by demand due to his excellent skill, he had a new profession following a full career of patriotic service in the United States Air Force.
Naturally, he taught the creation of his exceptional violins at the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College. Dayton’s fiddles/violins found their way into the hands of classical musicians across our country. Proudly Araceli learned her craft on an exceptional Dayton Howes violin. Maria started on a junior size instrument but graduated to a Howes treasure!