BUCKHANNON – What are the knowledge sets, the skill sets and the characteristics that students need to be successful?
It’s a question that those gathered at the Upshur County Portrait of a Graduate session on Friday attempted to answer as Upshur County Schools begins a series of meetings to define what students graduating in Upshur County need to succeed in the real world.
Dr. Sara Stankus, superintendent, said, “We are really excited today as we begin listening to our stakeholders about what you want to see from our school system, what you want to see from our graduates. “I’m very excited to have Dr. [Amelia] Courts here,” she said. “We are one of three counties in the state of West Virginia to receive grant funding from Education Alliance to sponsor conversations like this.”
Courts serves as a president and CEO of Education Alliance – a statewide non-profit organization formed 35 years ago to connect and bring business and community support to public schools.
She said Upshur County Schools was one of the counties receiving a grant because of its leadership, collaborative nature and the location in the central part of the state which represents a similar demographic.
“The conversations are starting to occur nationally and in states like South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and now West Virginia, they are starting to look at the expectations of our graduates,” she said. “Those conversations are also happening locally. Districts across the country are now beginning to ask the question ‘what really should we be expecting from our high school graduates?’”
“The reason that question is so important is because we know that our world is changing,” she said. “The knowledge, skills and characteristics students need to day – some of them are the same as 20-30 years ago and many of them are evolving.”
“What better way to know what the knowledge, skills and characteristics that students need than to listen to the people in this room?” she said.
The luncheon brought together members of the business community and Buckhannon Upshur Chamber of Commerce, West Virginia Wesleyan College, health care professionals, educators, government officials and more.
Courts said over the summer, a group from across West Virginia encompassing educators, business leaders and community leaders met, to ask the same questions that were being asked of the Upshur County.
“Today, we are really excited to hear the Upshur County perspective,” she said.
Courts also said that the conversations need to start at the pre-K level.
“If we wait to ninth grade to really about those knowledge, skills and characteristics, it’s really too late,” she said.
B-UHS principal Eddie Vincent is in his third year as principal and said former principal Bob Wilmoth had made the school a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere.
“He worked very hard on the school climate and we have continued to do that and are working on the school culture now,” he said. “The climate is how the school feels and the culture is how we think. We are working at doing things differently.
“Our graduation rate two of the last three years has been over 90 percent which is the best it’s been,” he said. “I’m proud of that but one of the things I am concerned about is we can graduate a lot of kids. My question to you all is are they prepared to do what you need them to do wheter it be college administrators we have here or our business leaders? I don’t know that answer yet. I hear some things from people and sometimes what I hear is not very pleasant. Are we really preparing our kids for what’s next?
In our school mission statement, we want to improve our community by improving academically and socially every day. Everything we do is centered around that.”
The CTE program uses simulated work places in the building but Vincent said something being explored is putting students in the work place out of the school building for parts of their day.
“The state has dropped graduation requirements but our school still has 26 required credits,” he said. “Every student has eight classes a year so over the course of four years they can get 32 credits. The state is only requiring 22 now, so we have to change somethings we are doing and we are in that process. We also have some flexibility from the state now. We would love to be able to send some students out in the real world while they are still in the high school.
“We would like to take kids and put them out with you all,” he told the business community. “I think that would enhance their experience while they are in high school and maybe prepare them to be better employees for you all that are here and better students for our college administrators.
“We have almost 1,100 students at the high school and about 95 percent of them are really good people,” he said. “They are solid citizens and they are going to be very good employees with the right training. We are very fortunate and when I hear from other schools they are not as fortunate as we are. You might hear some of the bad things but I’m here to tell you that 95 percent of our students are good human beings that are going to make good adults. We spend a lot of time with that 5 percent that is not there yet,” he said.
After roundtable discussions, the groups shared ideas they thought an Upshur County graduate should have upon graduation.
Under knowledge, those included being able to read and write and do math, effective communication and life skills, civics, content areas, career awareness and financial responsibility.
Under skills, those included problem solving, human connection, writing, critical thinking, communication, personal care/coping and interview skills.
For characteristics, that included manners, community minded/service, drug free, initiative and drive, coping/stress management and work ethic.
Stankus said the leadership team will be meeting and will share the information gleaned Friday.
“We want to hear from you,” she said. “We want this conversation to continue and this is not just a conversation. We believe that if we want to see true change in our community and our school system, we can’t keep doing things the same way we have always done them. That doesn’t mean we have a terrible system, but I think we have a generation that may need some different instruction than we have ever had before.”