Community column: An open letter to Upshur County residents about public schools

Editor’s note: The following letter is a column that was submitted to My Buckhannon.

To the community of Upshur County:

A few weeks ago, a letter was shared with our Upshur County Board of Education confronting the current state of our school district. A growing number of parents, community members, and staff within our county named three critical issues in our current school system. These issues include an unhealthy organizational culture, fading community and family support, and a lack of strong leadership.

Now, we want to share a letter with the broader Buckhannon and Upshur County community.
We are in unprecedented times as a culture.

As parents, educators, administrators, and leaders, the past three years have been tumultuous. To speak to some of the epidemic issues facing education systems statewide, in 2015 there were 600 West Virginia classrooms with non-certified teachers. In 2021, that number had grown to 1,200. In 2023, there are 1,544. West Virginia teachers face some of the lowest salaries in the country; less than every other state surrounding us except Kentucky. One-third of West Virginia teachers are leaving education in their first four years.

With those statistics in mind, it is critical that we also understand the reality facing us here in Upshur County. In the past five years, over 100 teachers and administrators departed our county for other positions or to leave the education field altogether. There have been over 23 principal changes in the past few years. In Upshur County, at the High School level alone, only 7% of students are meeting or above standards in math.

From 2018-2019 to 2021-2022, the number of students either partially meeting or not meeting standards in reading rose from 47% to 67% and in science from 73% to 86%. We are ranked 53 of 55 counties in Math and 51st in English Language Arts. Our Middle School has the lowest test scores in West Virginia. We are staring at the reality, as stakeholders in our education system, that the excess levy did not pass in the previous vote.

While we can identify Upshur County as part of a larger state and national trend, we must also deal with the fact that our local situation is in a critical state of failure. These facts point to the issues named above — unhealthy organizational culture, lack of support, and failed leadership.

What comes next?

We are writing to the Buckhannon and Upshur County community members because it is time to recognize the state of emergency facing our local schools, and, more importantly, the students within those schools. It is time to engage and become a supportive coalition of action-oriented community members who care more than they criticize.

Our educational leaders are in a perilous position. They are being called to a higher accountability than has perhaps existed in decades. We have been frustrated and called out issues and we will continue to do so. However, it is not enough to stand at a microphone with calls for change if we are unwilling to jump in the trenches beside them.

At the center of our Upshur County school system are students; and while we may disagree about a number of issues including curriculum, certifications, compliance, funding, staffing, sports, arts, and on and on the list goes, it cannot be argued that students are the purpose of why our schools exist.
Our teachers are tired, burning out at incredible rates. Our administrators are overwhelmed with issues they never dreamed of facing. Our parents, grandparents, foster parents, and guardians are worn down. We share these things in common, and it makes us a community. And that, the fact that we are a community, gives us an unimaginable potential.

We are writing to the larger community to call you to act. To come alongside our school system and our leaders, teachers, administrators, and personnel, to influence change, improvement, accountability, and a good future for the students of Upshur County.

For anyone who might be interested, we will gather as an informal group simply committed to helping improve the state of our schools on April 18, 2023, at 6 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Buckhannon. This will be a time to name issues, prioritize issues, and make plans to act. It is not a gripe session, not a complaint session, not a personal bashing time. It is a time for a community to be a community and move towards the betterment of education for our students.


Justin R. Bowers —

Joshua Stump —

News Feed

Subscribe to remove popups, or just enjoy this free story and support our local businesses!