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Upshur Schools’ application to partake in Innovation empowerment academies gets the green light from state BOE

TENNERTON – Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus announced recently that the West Virginia State Department of Education had approved Upshur County Schools’ application to be included in the Innovation in Education zone.

A letter from Sonya White, senior officer with the Office of Teaching and Learning, announcing the approval of the application was part of the information shared with Upshur County Board of Education members at their Tuesday, Feb. 22 meeting.

Stankus told BOE members the board office had worked with the curriculum team and Upshur County School principals to develop the application.

“This goes along with our designation as an ‘Empowerment District,’ and there are three goals in the Innovation Program,” Stankus said. “The first is that we create workplace environments; second, that we would create authentic learning experiences; and the third is that we will have entrepreneurial mindsets.”

“Really, it is going back to what we are already doing at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and plan to do more of at Buckhannon-Upshur High School,” the superintendent added. “We even have these programs in our elementary schools; we have a STEAM teacher at Washington District Elementary School who is setting up projects and going into the classrooms to work with the teachers and students. This is experiential learning and creating unique experiences that will increase and improve our achievement and our student and teacher motivation.”

Stankus said teachers and students alike are excited about the projects and teaching and learning.

“We saw a need and an excitement for this in our summer programs,” Stankus said. “We are really excited. The first year we will receive $112,000 from the West Virginia State Department of Education to kick off the program. We are working with SREB (Southern Regional Education Board), and we have met with our schools for their vision.”

Upshur County Schools Director of Federal Programs Jody Johnson said there is a STEAM teacher at French Creek Elementary School as well.

“As other teachers are seeing how the STEAM program is working, we are having requests now in personnel season for a STEAM teacher at all the schools,” Stankus said, adding that Mrs. Johnson is working to fulfill those requests. “We are also working with the model schools and the ICLE as B-UHS Principal Jonathon Pollock mentioned. That all goes together.”

Stankus said the state department of education has committed its full support to Upshur County. There are three county high schools that have been selected as Innovation in Education counties and they are in Upshur, Nicholas and Calhoun counties. According to information from the WVDE site, Monroe County’s Peterstown Middle School has also been tapped to participate in the program.

In other business, Quinten Oldaker, technology system specialist for Upshur County Schools, told BOE members March 17, 2022, would be the next Apple Teacher Workshop. Oldaker said an Apple representative would be in the county helping elementary schools work on innovation with the Apple Products.

“We continue to get boxes daily with our hot spots,” Oldaker said. “We hope to begin getting those out shortly. We will receive approximately 500 hot spots – which can be used to connect to the internet – and they are coming from AT&T and U.S. Cellular because there are different areas of need.”

Johnson thanked Jodie Akers and the Upshur County School principals for working on the WVES master schedules for the 2022-2023 school year.

“They worked with a representative and worked to get issues resolved to get the schools ready for next school year,” Johnson said. “The master schedule is how students are scheduled, but it is also how we assign many of our products and platforms including Clever and Schoology. All of that is a bridge we sign into between WVES and those companies. The master schedule is how things get assigned correctly. That was a lot of great work we think will help in the fall.”

During the delegation/public comment period, Derrick Aegan, who is running for election to the BOE from District 3, questioned the graduation rate in Upshur County.

“Mr. Pollock said we are at 92 percent graduation rate, and we are required to be at 90 percent,” Aegan said, “but proficiency rates are noted as decreasing as well as more discipline referrals. I know we have COVID, but I would be interested to know what 2019 held, prior to the pandemic. I want to make sure we are not relying on COVID as a crutch.”

Aegan said he realized the information would not be readily available during Tuesday’s meeting. He said he liked hearing about the Innovation in Education information, then asked former B-UHS Principal Eddie Vincent, now the countywide director of wellness and child nutrition, what happened with the Future Leaders Program Curriculum.

“We have always wanted an ROTC-type program at B-UHS, and this predates about 20 years,” Vincent said. “We do have Future Leaders Program established at B-UHS. We have had different people leading that class and are on our third person. The National Guard takes care of that, and it is off the ground. Jim Gregory was the instructor the first year for that, but he has since left and we replaced him. That gentleman has also left. It is going well, and they work with the Military Club and Mrs. (Cheryl) Cain and it has a lot of promise and potential. Mr. (Jeffrey) Perkins and I went before we started this and explored other programs. We are hoping to expand on it in the future.”

The next meeting of the Upshur County BOE is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8 in the B-UHS auditorium.

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