BUCKHANNON – Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus, Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, quoted Mark Twain in her opening speech to Upshur County School employees.
Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Stankus, who started her new position July 1, said she knew her ‘why’ at a very young age.
“When you find work that you love to do that doesn’t feel like work, you realize that is what you are supposed to be doing,” she told My Buckhannon in a recent interview. “For me, that is working in education.”
She grew up in this community on a small farm in Queens and was one of seven children. Her father was a Baptist Minister and a coal miner, while her mother stayed home to care for her and her siblings until they started school.
She said her parents taught her and her brothers and sisters to work hard and do their best at everything.
“When I was younger, I thought maybe I wanted to open a Christian school and teach children,” Stankus said. “I thought maybe I would like to be a missionary. But as I grew, I realized I can do work here with the people in my community who I love and who inspired me and gave to me.”
Stankus brings 30 years of educational experience.
“I was the principal at Union and Rock Cave Elementary Schools,” she said. “I was a counselor at Buckhannon-Upshur High, Union and Hodgesville Elementary Schools. And I began my teaching career at East Main Elementary School, which is now Stockert Youth Center.
“I went to a two-room school when I was young, and I loved my teacher,” she shared. “She was young, wonderful and very energetic, and her name was Pat McGowan-Currence. I give her credit for my first love of teaching education. People who have gone before me inspired me to love the work because teaching, learning and all we do in education is to inspire people to do more and be all they can be.”
Stankus said her vision for Upshur County Schools is one of efficiency.
“I see a system where we have employees who are focused on the good of the system and the students,” she said. “I see administrators who are focused on the good of the employees – so everyone is taking care of one another.”
Another goal Stankus said is important is community involvement.
“I believe schools are a reflection of the community,” Stankus said. “Whatever challenges we face as a community, we will face in our schools. The things we deal with as a culture are hard on our kids and our families. Schools have to be prepared to respond to these issues. The children bring issues to school and we have to be able to work with these challenges and be encouraging.”
Stankus and her husband, Steve, have three children – Hannah Stankus, who will graduate in December from Ohio University with a degree in Pre-Med/Biology; Leah Stankus, who is a sophomore at Shepherd University, studying environmental science; and Isaac Stankus, who is a junior at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
The couple lives on a small farm and enjoys gardening.
“I love to bake, cook and feed people,” she said. “My children keep me very busy. I believe I have sat on the sidelines in about every ball field in Upshur County.”
Stankus said she and her family are very involved in the Tallmansville Baptist Church, where her father was a minister when she was a child.
One final message Dr. Stankus said she wanted to share is how much she appreciates the support of the community and how much the community values education.
“Being the superintendent is not about me. It’s about ‘we,’” Dr. Stankus said. “We can do so much together. I need and I appreciate the support of this community. I feel blessed to live here in Upshur County.”
Stankus said since assuming the position, she’s had residents come up to her and tell her how proud they are that she’s the superintendent of Upshur County Schools.
“I appreciate that, but I think we need to be proud of ‘us,’” she said. “We are doing the work we believe is important. I don’t believe I should go ahead and pull people. I want to go alongside of others as we do this fine work of educating our youth together.”