Break-out groups of concerned residents discuss the ideal Upshur County School System and what that looks like as well as what is needed to reach that ideal situation.

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Board of Education hosted the first of many conversations with community partners to help form the CEFP – the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan Thursday afternoon.

“This is a 10-year plan we are charged to do,” Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus explained. “Thank you for being here and thank you for caring about our students and their education.”

Upshur County Schools treasurer George Carver explained West Virginia is unique when it comes to facilities.

“In order to build school facilities, you have to go to the voters and get approval for a bond,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, if the school district wants to build a new school, they raise taxes until the bonds are paid for. But, in West Virginia, the Legislature has enacted several code sections that govern how facilities are constructed and maintained.”

Carver said in West Virginia, the West Virginia State Board of Education has policy 6200 which outlines what must be in a CEFP.

“It talks about the 10-year plan each school district has to do,” he said. “The first thing it says you have to do is establish a CEFP planning team and committees representing citizens and staff of each attendance area. In Upshur County, we have one high school, so we have only one attendance area.”

Carver said that team then develops county-wide goals and objectives.

“Then they translate educational needs into facility needs. That is what we are going to ask people involved in the committee to do,” Carver said. “We will have members talk about what we, as a community, want for our schools and how we want to do that, then assess the facilities we already have and then look at what we need to do to improve those facilities and add or subtract to those facilities over the next 10 years.”

Those attending broke into small groups to discuss four items as they relate to academics, facilities, athletics, extracurricular activities, the arts an career/technical education – the ideal picture of an Upshur County School system; what aspects of the picture are already in effect; where is growth necessary in order to attain this system; and how the system can be realized.

Ideas suggested from the groups included: increasing the size and the amount of offerings in career and technical education; staying ahead of the curve of what is needed/required by those hiring in the area and across the United States; hosting meetings in the smaller communities of Upshur County to let folks know what is happening and solicit their input and needs; and be more inclusive.

Assistant Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison at Thursday’s forum on developing a CEFP.

Additional ideas were integrating career/technical education with academics; replacing old facilities such as the high school or middle school; teaching life skills; focusing on quality of assignments rather than teaching to a test; helping students develop critical thinking skills; addressing student mental health issues; developing support and training resources for parents; collaborating on grant writing; encouraging after-school activities; and surveying students to learn what they feel they need.

“All of my life when I was a little kid, I dreamed about leaving Upshur County,” Vanessa Perkins said. “I joined the military and I did – and as an adult, all I wanted to do was come back to Upshur County.”

She said the reason she wanted to come back was because Upshur County is a great place to live and raise children.

“I firmly believe that we are a county, that given the opportunity, can turn our education system around by supporting it,” she said. “The main thing that I think, as a parent and a community member, is our teachers do a wonderful job teaching. But the problem is they are doing so much more than teaching – they are feeding kids, clothing kids, counseling kids and children have to have their needs met to learn.

“So, I feel in order to achieve that, we need community partnerships for our children. We need groups to come into our schools and offer children the needs they must have so our education system can then educate our children.”

She said county should focus on meeting the needs of the children and the assets in the community must do so via partnerships.

“The middle class is often forgotten,” she said. “I think a lot of children don’t want to go to college and area afraid to go to the technical school, and they don’t have the best home life. They need an outlet. So why not partner with our communities to offer internships for our children? There, they can learn and can apply what they are learning in their job and find a home per se.”

“And it starts building pride in our community,” Perkins added. “We have to come together and have pride in what we have and we have to come together as a community before we can fix anything else.”

Another important issue Carver highlighted was population. He said most of the counties surrounding Upshur are losing population, but Upshur has basically the same amount of people as it had 10 years ago.

“That speaks volumes to our county,” he said. “With the addition of pre-K, it also means our facilities are overcrowded.”

BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples thanked those gathered Thursday.

“This gives me hope,” Samples said. “We are moving forward, coming up with ways to help our students. I can’t say how much we appreciate everyone coming out today and giving of your time. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, and thank you from our students. This can only benefit them.”

Following Thursday’s gathering, Stankus said she was pleased with the input and ideas that came from the session.

“I loved the ideas that we heard today,” Stankus said. “I am really excited about the positive energy from our community.”