New Union Elementary School Principal Carol Clay, at left, and new Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School Principal Samantha Leput. / Submitted photos

Principled principals: Two new Upshur County Schools administrators share their priorities for B-UMS, Union Elementary School

BUCKHANNON – Union Elementary and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle schools will both start out the 2021-2022 school year with newly tapped principals at the helm.

However, both administrators – B-UMS Principal Samantha Leput and UES Principal Carol Clay – are no strangers to Upshur County Schools, and they said they’re both ready to ‘hit the ground running’ to make it a great year for students, teachers, staff and administrators.

At its May 11 meeting, the Upshur County Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Leput as principal at B-UMS and Clay as principal at UES. Leput replaces Michael Lynch and Clay will step into the position formerly occupied by Michelle Fleming. My Buckhannon recently caught up with both administrators to talk with them about their background, priorities for each school and qualities they bring to the table.

Leput just completed the year at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, where she served as an assistant principal/CTE/tech coordinator. A Buckhannon native, Leput is a B-UHS graduate herself. She said her inspiration for choosing education as her career did not come to her at first.

“After graduation, I attended West Virginia University, where I got my degree in agriculture and environmental education,” Leput said.

Career-wise, she did not enter the teaching realm initially but worked first in the corporate world.

“I ended up in Mineral County, and when we started our family, I decided to go into teaching,” Leput said.

After that, Leput attended West Virginia Wesleyan College and earned a master’s degree in special education – and then she began substitute teaching in Hampshire and Mineral counties.

“Following that, I was hired as a special education teacher in Mineral County, and I worked at their alternative school for five years,” Leput said. “Then, I became the acting assistant principal at Keyser Middle School for a year and then last year, I was the assistant principal at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.”

Leput said she was very happy to come home to Upshur County and bring her family back to her roots.

“My son is able to be around all of his grandparents,” she said.

Leput said she applied for the principal position at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School because she feels the job offers so many possibilities and so much potential.

“I really want to be a part of Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School to help grow those possibilities,” she said. “I want to be able to influence the students in a positive way and allow the school to be a community for everyone. I want people beating down the doors – both teachers and staff – wanting to get into the school. I want us to be the school everyone wants to be at. I feel like I can help the school get to that point.”

Leput said this is a great time to be in Upshur County Schools.

“Lots of opportunities have been presented to the county – all of the technology we have now with the one-to-one devices and the Communities in School facilitators [and] the middle school is moving toward project-based learning, [so] it is about applying what the students are learning – not just being able to answer the question correctly, but being able to apply what they have learned in the real world.”

Leput said she sees that everyone – teachers, staff, parents, community members and administrators – want the best for the students of Upshur County.

“It is having the guidance to lead them in the right direction,” Leput said. “I think a big part of my job will be helping create consistency and accountability and follow-through. Preparing the students for high school is another one of my priorities.”

Leput said she is excited to begin at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

Clay, who will assume the duties of UES principal at the start of the school year, said she grew up in Lewis County and attended Glenville State College for her undergraduate work.

“Then I moved to Virginia, and I got my master’s degree at UVA,” Clay said. “I lived and worked in Virginia for nearly a decade before moving back home to West Virginia and have been back for nine years.”

Clay said during those nine years, she worked in Upshur County for three years – but she and her husband relocated in Pendleton County for six years.

“We decided to get closer to home, and so we are moving to Upshur County,” Clay said. “Union Elementary will make my third year as a principal.”

Clay said being in the Upshur County School System – and specifically at Union Elementary School – is something she’s really looking forward to.

“I know Union Elementary is a wonderful school with a great community feel,” Clay said. “It is about the same size as the school where I am currently serving as principal, so I know what to expect.”

Excited to get started at Union, Clay said she feels UES is a very progressive school.

“They do a lot with character development and community involvement and community development, and those are things I feel very passionate about,” Clay said. “Union Elementary School has a lot of great teachers and a great staff. I think they think about the students and do a lot of things to support those students, which happens in all Upshur County Schools, but I feel Union Elementary School is especially known for helping support their students.”

Clay hopes to enhance the culture and atmosphere at Union Elementary School, she said.

“I taught special education and elementary education, and I feel I have a strong desire to put children first,” she said. “I do not think you should make a decision without first thinking about how it will affect those children, which is a shared vision among people in Upshur County.”

Another positive quality Clay brings to the table is her passion for teaching and her ability to work with teachers and curriculums to move them “from good to great.”

“I feel this is something I am passionate about,” she said. “I have a great collaborative nature and am passionate about working with students and other teachers and staff to make sure children are getting a phenomenal experience. I do think education is one of the best gifts we have to give our children.”

Clay said working as an educator has felt very different over the past two years.

“It has been a very challenging field to work in for the last two years,” Clay said. “I believe the passion that we have for [helping] children thrive is great. The desire for teachers to go over and above for students in Upshur County is obvious. Erin Anderson was WV Teacher of the Year, and I feel like she embodies the Upshur County charm. They go above and beyond to meet the needs of students along with the staff and community members of Upshur County.”

Clay said she has two wonderful children – a three-year-old and a five-year-old.

“My daughter was in preschool this year, and we are excited that she will continue her education in Upshur County,” Clay said. “My mother received her GED when I was in kindergarten. I remember her walking me on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College and talking to me about when I go to college. I will always have fond memories of Buckhannon and Wesleyan. That was part of my passion for education – it started with my family.”

“I learned that knowledge was power and choices,” she added. “Horace Mann said education is the great equalizer of man. I think this is something we need to let children know: Their education is something that can never be taken from them and that it can take them places they want to go in life.”

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