Career and tech ed opportunities, more space top list of priorities at Upshur County educational facilities forum

BUCKHANNON – More space, increased career and technical education opportunities, an emphasis on entrepreneurial skills and additional STEM classes.

Those are the items that topped the list of future student needs at Monday’s community forum on a new Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, which took place at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School. The forum took place in order to give stakeholders and community partners the opportunity to ask questions and make comments on the school system’s new CEFP.

Every 10 years, county boards of education must draft a new approved educational facilities plan that’s kept on file with the West Virginia Department of Education and the School Building Authority of West Virginia, according to SBA’s website.

At Monday’s forum, Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus thanked the nearly 80 folks in attendance and explained planning for the CEFP is a year-long process. Noting Upshur County Schools’ current CEFP expires at the end of December 2020, Stankus said the plan essentially outlines what the community wants for the schools in Upshur County.

The process of drafting a new CEFP – which must be completed every 10 years – began in summer 2019, with meetings at which community members and stakeholders described what they wanted to see in a Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate.

“When we talk about facilities, we realize schools are more than just the buildings that hold the students,” Stankus said. “Schools, now, are very involved with families – we are sending backpacks home on Friday nights; we are having socials during the week; the high school is the social mecca center, and we are having things there every night.”

Stankus said the schools, likewise, are very involved in the community.

“When we think about schools, we have to think about our entire community,” Stankus said. “Everyone wants the best for our kids. We know if there is one factor that can change the playing field for all our children, that it is education. Education has been called the great equalizer because no matter what your zip code, no matter what your income, no matter how dysfunctional your family, when you come to school, you are given the opportunity to learn, to graduate and to go on to be whatever it is you choose to become.”

Ted Shriver, architect and educational planner with Williamson Shriver Architects, Inc., said he was retained by Upshur County Schools to assist in formulating the CEFP.

“The CEFP generally needs to start by talking about education and curriculum,” he said. “It talks about what was done 10 years ago in the previous CEFP and what you [envision] moving forward. In order to receive school funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority, systems must complete the plan.”

Shriver said the CEFP is important because it gets the committee thinking about – and planning for –what curriculums and education should look like in the next 10 to 20 years.

“Then, we plan for that,” he said. “This meeting tonight is kind of ending what the state calls ‘Phase 1.’ It includes the data collection. The committee has evaluated building from a life safety standpoint to see what is compliant and what is not compliant and evaluated what needs done at each school.”
Shriver explained in the next step, the BOE and central office will need to take what the three committees – the Goals and Objectives Committee, the Community Committee and the Educational Planning Committee – determined what the best course of action is from a building standpoint.

Committee members reported one of their goals is to keep the schools well-maintained and to create a preventative maintenance plan, which Shriver said is an important component when seeking SBA funding.

Jeff Harvey said his committee found area population is trending downward, but relative to other West Virginia county populations, Upshur County has been stable, and the median income is rising as are household properties. He said unemployment is trending down.

Vanessa Perkins said her committee found that current structures and strategies used would not adequately prepare future graduates for job expectations because of a changing social and economic environment.

“Our students need more career and technical education, and they need more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes,” Perkins said. “They need more dual-credit opportunities and vocational opportunities. Most importantly, they need improved facilities that are more conducive to this type of learning environment. The direction we go is contingent on funding.”

Perkins said they want to provide the community with CE and STEM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – learning institutes.

“We want facilities that will allow seniors to graduate high school with associate degrees and we want facilities that will offer vocational and technical opportunities, but not those who take away from Fred W. Eberle Technical Center,” Perkins said.

Upshur County Schools instructor Sarah Wamsley said she feels she needs more space in her classroom.

“I think we need more space so the students can get that hands-on learning,” Wamsley said. “I have a computer lab and a work lab all in one small room. We need space.”

Wamsley said the students also need to learn entrepreneurial skills so they understand how to build a business.

Stankus said as the CEFP process enters the second phase, they will come back for another community forum. When completed, the CEFP must be approved by the state Board of Education as well as the Upshur County BOE. Comments will also be received at a public hearing.

“Thank you again for coming out tonight,” Stankus said. “We have listened a lot and we will listen some more. Together, we can go far, and I think we can put a plan together. This is about our schools, our students and our community. We have so many things we can do together. Don’t be afraid to share different ideas. We like different ideas. Everyone here wants the best for our kids, and they deserve it, sooner than later.”

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