Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Christy Miller

In Upshur County, nearly one-in-five kids ‘chronically absent’

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Superintendent of Schools recently expressed concern about attendance throughout the schools.

Superintendent Christy Miller attended the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce meeting on Jan. 10 to discuss the state of the school system and how it can be improved.

“Our overall attendance rate is not good,” Miller said. “A lot of people in the school system today did not grow up when I grew up — when you had that daily register, and the teacher had to go in and put these marks in it, and then at the end of the year, everything had to balance because that went into what that funding cycle looked like for the next year.

“They don’t understand the importance of this daily attendance,” she continued. “That really does drive additional funding that comes to us from the state, and we need to have that at 95 percent or better, so we have more work to do.”

In a previous My Buckhannon article, the attendance rate for last year was 90.92 percent.

“Chronic absenteeism was one of the areas in the accountability system that showed we’re not performing at the levels we need to,” Miller said. “Students actually being in school doesn’t take into account whether it was an excused absence or whether it was an unexcused absence — it’s simply about kids actually being in the buildings with us.”

If a student misses 18 days out of 180, they are considered chronically absent, and 21 percent of the students at Upshur County schools are chronically absent.

“What we have to watch are the numbers of students who are not coming to school on a daily basis,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, they don’t care about respiratory illnesses that are going around — if it hits us, it hits us. We have to make sure those things we learned during COVID about protecting ourselves and protecting each other, like spacing and cleaning, washing our hands, all of those good things that we learned during COVID, stay in place.”

Miller emphasized the importance of passing the upcoming excess levy during the May election.

“I know it went down in defeat last time and a lot of folks are not too sure about it because ‘you didn’t manage finances right in the first place’ — I get that,” Miller said. “If I don’t try to get it through, the system will suffer more than it has through this takeover. Our students, our kids will be the ones who will get the short end of the stick because we won’t have funding to be able to do some of the things that we currently do.”

Miller said services at all the schools would be greatly reduced if the levy doesn’t pass.

“That includes providing materials that our teachers need,” Miller said. “I’m not talking about textbooks; the state gives us textbooks. I’m talking about what we provide for our kids who take classes that are not part of the everyday regular curriculum, our students who are in some CTE programs. Busing to extracurricular activities, field trips, those kinds of things, we won’t be able to do those at the level that we currently do.”

City recorder Randy Sanders cited a previous meeting where someone said the average school system takeover lasts about six years and eight months. He asked if that will be the case in Upshur County.

“Since I’ve never been involved in a takeover before — I’ve never been a student in one or an administrator or a teacher in one — I don’t know,” Miller said. “But I can tell you this, I’m going to continue to push, I’m going to continue to work hard to try to help that be reduced by at least half.”

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