BUCKHANNON – Upshur County community leaders, school administrators, staff and the Board of Education have been meeting to engage in ongoing discussions about what a Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate should look like.
Now, the BOE is formulating plans to help that graduate – well, graduates – obtain the skills they need upon graduation, whether their path takes them directly into the workforce, to a college or trade school or into the military.
During the Tuesday, Jan. 28 regular meeting of the Upshur County BOE at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, BOE members and those attending the meeting learned more about a potential program that could help students learn about vital leadership skills.
Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Eddie Vincent said Upshur County has talked about having a military-type ROTC program for many years.
“A couple years ago, I started looking into it and asked a lot of questions,” Vincent said. “I wasn’t getting anywhere because there are not a lot of new ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) programs.”
Vincent said he went to a conference where he met someone from the National Guard who spoke about the Future Leaders Program.
“We got a team together and went to Hurricane High where they have this program,” he said. “We learned about the program. I believe this is something our county wants and needs. I think our school would benefit greatly from this program.”
Lt. Col. James Reese, a 1997 graduate of B-UHS, spoke about the Future Leaders Program.
“First of all, it is not Junior ROTC,” Reese said. “It is different and unique. We explored JROTC (Junior ROTC), but it is a very expensive program and it isn’t growing. We went back and looked at specific points when it comes to recruiting in West Virginia … in West Virginia right now, 72 percent of our 17 to 24-year-olds are ineligible to join the military due to medical requirements, law enforcement violations and academic performance.”
Reese said projections in the next five years show that rate will increase.
“We looked at all of the other state programs and pulled that together and applied for funding for our own program,” Reese said. “We developed curriculum. Last year, we had five pilot programs – Putnam, Logan, Wyoming, Clay and Mineral counties with about 525 students.”
He said they are working with the Legislature to see what the state can contribute to the program, adding there are approximately 10 more counties wishing to come on board. Reese said the program costs approximately $80,000 a year plus $5,000 for travel.
“We try to find instructors that are native – an integrated member of that community – who have military service,” Reese said. “We vet those instructors very thoroughly. They have to have the right personality and background to mentor and guide the youth of the next generation.”
David Eldridge spoke about the Future Leaders program curriculum.
“We are not an ROTC unit – we are a high school leadership program,” Eldridge said. “It emphasizes leadership, citizenship, life skills and military science. We have had really good results in the pilot programs.”
Eldridge said program officials want students to give back to their communities while making sure they are successful in life, stay in West Virginia and contribute to their communities. He said other parts of the curriculum focus on stress management, time management, study habits, anti-bullying, First Aid, suicide prevention and how to read a map.
He said they are looking for a mixed group of kids – not just those who are planning to go to the military, adding kids learn better when they are in a mixed society.
In other schools-related news, Tuesday’s BOE meeting began with the second public hearing on the proposed 2020-2021 school calendar. No one came forward to offer any comments on the proposed calendar.
Upshur County Schools Financial Director George Carver reported to the BOE that Upshur County Schools would not be taken off the watchlist because in order to do so, they must have 3 percent of their yearly budget in the fund balance. He said the financials will be audited soon.
“We have about a $700,000 balance in our unreserved fund balance, and they like you to have about 3 percent of your budget,” Carver said. “That would be approximately $1.2 million – so we are a little more than halfway there to where we need to be. But our balance is not negative. I would hope that when we do financials for this fiscal year, we can meet all of the goals to be removed from the watchlist.”
Upshur County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison spoke about the definition of qualifications to be used in the RIF – or Reduction in Force – process. Harrison said the proposed change is in response to the passage of House Bill 206, the ‘Education Omnibus’ bill.
“It identified that counties need to come up with a definition for qualifications, especially in the Reduction in Force process,” Harrison said. “It indicates that a county ‘shall’ make their decisions based on seniority, certification, licensure and performance evaluations.”
‘Shall’ typically indicates that something is mandatory.
Harrison said when West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven L. Paine reviewed that law, he based his interpretation on the ‘shall’ component of the code and indicated that county boards should base their RIFs on the four specific categories – seniority, certification, licensure and performance evaluations.
Upshur County has opted to go with the state superintendent’s interpretation, with one special note –“that any classroom teacher who has received two unsatisfactory evaluations in two consecutive years, regardless of the years they have served, can be replaced by someone with less seniority as long as they meet the other three criteria.”
BOE Vice president Katie Loudin said she thinks the change gives more power to the county BOEs.
“We have been yelling, it seems, into the void, it seems … with that in mind, I would motion to accept the policy as proposed,” Loudin said.
BOE members voted unanimously to accept the new verbiage for the criteria for RIFs.
Also, during Tuesday’s BOE meeting, members met in an executive session for approximately 15 minutes to discuss the possible approval of replacing the wastewater treatment plant at Washington District Elementary School. After returning to their regular session, no action was taken on the matter.
BOE members also considered the sale of real estate property located in Buckhannon at 10 Tucker Street, which is the former maintenance building. BOE member Alan Souder made a motion to get an appraisal on that property. BOE members voted unanimously to follow through with obtaining an appraisal of the property before taking any further steps.
The next Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.