Upshur County Schools Superintendent Christy Miller

Superintendent sit-down, part one: Meet Christy Miller and learn what led to her being selected as the school district’s new leader

Editor’s note: This is article one in a two-part series detailing My Buckhannon’s in-depth interview with new Upshur County Schools Superintendent Christy Miller following the West Virginia Department of Education’s takeover of the school district.

TENNERTON – From the day she learned the West Virginia Board of Education voted for the state to seize control of Upshur County Schools, Christy Miller knew she wanted to play a role in righting the wrongs that had been – and continue to be – unearthed by monitors at the West Virginia Department of Education.

After introducing herself on July 11 at the first Upshur County Board of Education meeting since the June 14 state takeover, Miller sat down for an exclusive interview with My Buckhannon. She discussed what led to her selection as county superintendent, what’s going on now at the Central Office and some of the differences Upshur County Schools employees and community stakeholders will see at board of education meetings going forward.

“I think I kind of helped [the WVDE] select me as superintendent, in a way,” she said.

Miller, who was superintendent of Taylor County Schools at the time, said she reached out to then-Deputy Superintendent of West Virginia Schools Michele Blatt, who was subsequently named superintendent when former state superintendent David Roach unexpectedly announced his retirement. Blatt had been Miller’s boss at the WVDE when she served as the executive director of school improvement and leadership.

“But even prior to that, Michele and I also had a working relationship with the training of educational leaders throughout the state, and I reached out to her, and I said, ‘I know you have other plans for me, but I do want you to know that if you need me to assist in Upshur County, I am willing and able to do so – you let me know how you see me fitting in there,’” Miller recounted. “Then, that morphed into, ‘Christy, would you consider becoming superintendent there?’ because Mr. [Steve] Wotring, who took over the role until July 1, was not going to be able to continue.”

Miller hadn’t necessarily been vying for the superintendent role in Upshur County but felt she had the experience to assist in rebuilding the school system. She asked Blatt if the two could talk in person, so Blatt, Wotring, Miller and WVDE Educational Accountability Officer Jeff Kelley met multiple times during the 2023 West Virginia Association of School Administrators conference. At the conclusion of those meetings, Miller said everyone agreed that “it just worked; it just made sense.”

Miller currently lives in Marion County off Exit 132, but since West Virginia Code requires superintendents to live in the county where they work — or a bordering county — she’s looking for a place in Upshur or somewhere nearby.

“I’m seeking some housing here, so I have someplace to stay because I’m currently driving back and forth,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out where the best place is going to be for me; we do want to be invested in the community.”

One of the first and most glaring issues Miller addressed is the district’s financial woes and who is now in charge of money management. Miller confirmed that former financial manager/treasurer Jeffrey Perkins was “for all intents and purposes no longer employed by Upshur County Schools” but did not elaborate, saying it was “somewhat of a mystery” to her. Perkins was not listed as having resigned or retired in the July 11 personnel items.

Sarah Wills, who worked under Perkins, has been named interim treasurer, and Miller said Wills wasn’t in attendance at the July 11 meeting because she was at a three-day financial training session in Fairmont.

“One of the most important pieces about that training, aside from the knowledge itself, is that she will develop a network of people who she can pick up the phone and call, email and ask questions to as she is learning the role so she can learn it the right way,” Miller said. “And if she stumbles, there’s always going to be somebody there to help her.”

Christopher Brady, coordinator of payroll accounts, and Alex Pugh, coordinator of services for accounts payable, have also retained their positions.

“That’s a dynamic trio, and I think together, they are really going to be able to help us do the right things moving forward,” Miller said.

Another change that’s occurred at the Central Office is the hiring of Anthony McDaniels as the new Child Nutrition Director, and while no other major changes are imminent, Miller said the district is now ensuring every employee holds the appropriate qualifications.

“We will be taking a careful look at positions all across the county,” she said. “The state Department of Education recently did what is called a certification audit because we want to make sure that we do have all of our folks certified for what they’re teaching and the programs they’re supporting, so we have that report now that we’re going through.”

This October is a key time because that’s when official school enrollment numbers are submitted to the WVDE for certification, and those figures then dictate how funding is allocated.

“Once those numbers are certified by the state, you can start looking at what they are going to look like for next year,” Miller said. “You can start projecting, and you can start looking through the system to see where cuts need to be made, and they’re never easy, but a lot of times you can use the [employee] transfer process because you will have retirements or you have people who resign and move on.”

“That way, you don’t necessarily have to cut positions, which cut people from your system who are a vital part of making it continue to work,” she said.

Miller reiterated that during the takeover, board meetings will function primarily as informational sessions since the board’s decision-making power has been revoked.

“You will also see that moving forward, the personnel agenda will not just have resignations, the hirings and the transfers,” Miller said. “If at any time someone is terminated, it will now start appearing on the agenda, but it’s just that [those decisions] have to go to the state first for approval.”

When asked if circumstances at the Central Office were worse than she’d expected, Miller said yes – in some cases.

“In some aspects, yes,” she said, “but I say that with the understanding that we can fix it, and I have to say that I am so impressed with the people who are now at the board office and the fact that they’re willing to do anything they can to right what is wrong.”

“I’ll be very honest with you — I have heard the stories about the way people have been treated, about the favoritism, about probably deals that were struck behind closed doors or things that were done that were not on the up-and-up,” she added, “but my message to those who have been burned by some of that is, ‘that’s not who I am,’ and I think, over time, you’ll find out that’s not who I am.”

The minutes from the July 11, 2023, meeting are accessible here.

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