Dr. Sara Stankus speaks to community members at a forum at the Opera House Friday, Dec. 7.

Residents, educators, employers paint ideal ‘Portrait of a B-UHS Graduate’

BUCKHANNON – Community leaders, concerned residents and officials from higher learning institutions recently gathered with Upshur County Board of Education administrators to begin a conversation about what characteristics and skills an Upshur County Schools graduate should possess.

The idea behind the program, dubbed “Portrait of a Buckhannon-Upshur High School Graduate” is to have conversation with community members to uncover what they’d like to see in B-UHS graduates, superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus said.

“We wrote a grant and were funded through The Education Alliance,” Stankus said. “We are talking about what knowledge, characteristics and skills do we want to see in our graduates. We want to know what hard skills as well as what soft skills in our graduates.”

Stankus said the Friday, Dec. 7, gathering was about listening to partners from business, industry, community and higher education that are important to the public school system.

“We are listening to them to hear what they have to say about what they want to see in our graduates,” Stankus said. “Then, what are the next steps to achieving those goals.”

She said the gathering was important because it highlighted the “Upshur Strong” theme the school system has recently embraced.

“All of us together create this great community,” Stankus said. “It is a great community in which to live, to educate our children and to be employed. We to offer those opportunities so if our children decide to stay and live here, they have opportunities they need to do that.”

Upshur County Schools wrote a grant for the program and then received funding through The Education Alliance; the county is one of three to be funded.

Dr. Amelia Courts of The Education Alliance said the program is part of a national and district level effort.

“It is a growing phenomenon in education to revisit our expectations of our high school graduates,” Courts said. “The thinking behind it includes a couple of things. We are hearing more and more that the need just to have rote memory of knowledge sets is still important – but with technology, more and more value … [is being placed] from the human side on the soft skills.”

Courts said the focus is on not only expanding to include a stronger knowledge base, but also incorporating certain skills and characteristics.

“Things we are looking at are things like problem-solving, collaboration and work ethics,” she said. “Those kinds of things – and creativity – are more and more valued by higher education when students apply for post-secondary (education opportunities) and also by employers.”

Courts said Upshur, Berkley and Jackson counties were selected to serve as places for pilot programs because they were looking for a mix of geographical locations as well as a variety of smaller and larger school systems.

“Several districts are asking, ‘what should we really be expecting of our high school graduate?’” Courts said. “We know our world is changing. The knowledge, skills and characteristics that students need today – some of them are the same as students needed 20 years ago – many of them are evolving. What better way to know the knowledge, skills and characteristics that students need than to listen to the people in this room?”

During the program, participants worked to make a list of skills, knowledge sets and characteristics they felt were important to see in high school graduates, whether they would be seeking employment in the community or going on to post-secondary education. Ideas included better communication and listening skills, empathy, sympathy, working with others, time management and integrity. It was also pointed out that the change has to begin when students enter school and cannot wait until they reach high school.

Stankus said Dec. 7’s conversation was just the beginning.

“We are very optimistic about the things that are going to happen from this work,” she said. “Our leadership team will meet again, and we will send everyone the results of this meeting. We will have more conversations with you. We want to hear from you. We believe if we want to see true change in our community and our school system, we can’t keep doing things the exact same way we have always done them. That doesn’t mean we have a terrible system, but we have a generation that may need some different instruction than we have ever had before.”

Jeff Harvey, of J.H. Consulting, said he joined in Friday’s conversation because he wanted to learn more about the program.

“More often than not, as a local business owner in Buckhannon, the community has been very good to me and my business. This is a way to be good to my community and to contribute to some of the course corrections that will make the educational experience even more enhanced for our students,” Harvey said.

The Education Alliance was established in West Virginia in 1983 by business executives who thought it important to support public schools and give the business community a voice in education. Its vision is that every West Virginia public school student will graduate ready to begin a career or pursue additional education and training.

Additional information about The Education Alliance is available online at www.educationalliance.org.

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