BUCKHANNON – During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting at Union Elementary School, members helped recognize Upshur Stars from the school which included students, faculty and teachers.
Union Elementary School Principal Michelle Fleming introduced those receiving 2020 Staff Awards.
“Leadership is difficult, challenging work,” Fleming said. “The leadership team of Union Elementary School works tirelessly to create a challenging, nurturing environment for our staff and students. Their knowledge and skills are only a portion of the success they exhibit.”
Fleming said the staff at Union Elementary School has a ‘we can do this together’ attitude, and authentic love, concern, respect, compassion, patience and flexibility contribute to their daily success.
“They exhibit no fear of learning new strategies or incorporating new technologies into their daily programs,” Fleming said. “They make it look easy and natural to be exceptional leaders and supports with Union Elementary School.”
Fleming then introduced the 2020 Union Elementary School staff awards recipients including Tiffany Beets, Courtney Frame, Andrea Westfall, Destiny Brady, Lauren Cain, Deidra Casto, Dustin Carlyle, Ellen Shepherd and Sabrina Loudin.
Next, Fleming recognized UES students including kindergarteners Oakley Moriarty and Grayson Bierce; first-graders Jada Mazarek and Uriah Weatherholtz; second-graders Aspen Rice and Jett Cuppari; third-grade students Gianna Monteleone and Joshua Curry; fourth-grade students Aliannah Lantz and Grayson Hoffman; and fifth-grade students Isabella Bowers and Sawyer Phillips for their achievements and academic success.
“We are so proud of the dedication and resiliency that our staff, students and community have exhibited with Union Elementary School’s teaching and learning plan,” Fleming said. “We wish we could recognize every single stakeholder in our community as we know it takes every one of us to serve and protect in the face of a pandemic. The staff chose two among many examples of the characteristics of highly successful pandemic learners – students who are self-motivated, independent learners with good time management and personal commitment to perform in order to achieve academic success.”
Also recognized were the UES teachers who completed the Schoology professional development. Those completers included Deidra Casto, Ciera Epperly, Courtney Frame, Lindsay Malenich, Elizabeth McClain, Aimee Payne, Haley Roberts, Ellen Shepherd and Ashley Woody.
Business items addressed during Tuesday’s meeting included:
-An update from Financial Director Jeffrey Perkins. He said concerning the budget, the Upshur County School system is where they need to be, and they are in the second day of a five-day audit, adding there was nothing to report at this time and he said he did not anticipate any issues.
-The technology department gave a report saying they are offering additional training for teachers and staff members which are one-hour blocks. “There was a session for art, music and gym and a session for special educators,” Quinten Oldaker said.
-Dr. Jeffery Harvey, director of emergency preparedness and school safety, told BOE members the Prevention Resource Officer funding was approved for Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School. He said the COPS grants were ongoing.
-BOE members voted unanimously to approve the superintendent’s recommendations for personnel.
Before the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting BOE members offered comments. BOE Vice-president Katie Loudin said she has been listening intently to community members and said she appreciated those who stepped forward to offer their thoughts and concerns.
“Some people have asked me why the BOE made the decision to go full remote,” Loudin said. “One reason is because we continue to struggle to find qualified personnel to keep our schools operating effectively while community spread keeps triggering family and close contact quarantines. Another is for the safety of our children and our staff. We saw our operations leveled by the outbreak within the transportation department. The state map continues to deceive.”
“For the record, the state map is orange this week and your kids would not be in school,” Loudin added. “Another reason is many parents and teachers I have talked to are tired of swinging an entire school system back and forth, week to week, not knowing if we will be in person or remote.”
Loudin said she hoped the break would give teachers time to offer quality remote learning instead of being in and out of schools. She said it also afforded a break from the outbreak fueled by the uptick in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I love my neighbors,” Loudin said. “I love my community enough to want to protect them. One person suffering long-term effects or suffering death from this virus would be one person too many for me.”
BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond said Tuesday’s BOE meeting was important.
“This virus is wrecking our economy and our school system, obviously,” Almond said. “We can survive if we do not fight one another. We are all in this together. I think the vote a couple weeks ago came because we felt the virus was getting out of control and we could buy a little time to stabilize ourselves. It had an impact on some and it also has caused us to say the next time we have a need for substitute teachers I hope everyone runs for the schoolhouse and says, ‘I can volunteer’ or, ‘I can help.’”
BOE member Pat Long said he felt Loudin stated the complexity of the BOE’s decision to go full remote until Jan. 4, 2021 very well.
“It’s not an easy decision and we all thought very long and hard about it,” Long said. “I also think we have become even more aware tonight of how our families are struggling. I think we need to reach out to every family here who is experiencing difficulties and see if there is any way to alleviate their concerns. We also need to look down the line to see how far our children are falling behind. As soon as this is over, we may need to have a summer school to keep kids from falling behind.”
Long thanked the families for coming out and expressing their concerns.
BOE member Kristi Wilkerson also thanked families for coming out to let BOE members know their concerns.
“This is not easy. We take all kinds of information into consideration. When you put all of the information in front of me, I am going to make a choice that I believe is safest for all children in Upshur County,” Wilkerson said. “I personally have known four different people who have died from this virus. That is a lot. I cannot and I will not make a decision that could risk another person’s life.”
Wilkerson said she has listened to everyone’s comments and said she wants kids back in school.
“I’m just not sure that is the best option. I want to err on the side of caution,” Wilkerson added.
BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples said everyone is the victim of something they cannot control since the pandemic began.
“We want kids in school. We know that’s where they learn best. For my community of Upshur County where I grew up and I went to school, one person is too many. That is where I have to think about everybody. It is difficult and it is not popular,” Samples said.
She said someone told her she does not care about kids.
“That nearly broke my heart,” she said. “I do care about kids. We have to look at all of those different things. I know in your worry, anger and struggle of what goes on at home, I know it is not easy. None of us thought it was going to be easy, but we are charged with making decisions for everyone. We have to look at what is happening and work with teachers to do this better.”
Samples said they must “look at the whole picture,” adding that some people who had reached out to her could not attend the BOE meeting to express their opinions because they are immunocompromised.
“As a board member I am tasked with providing a safe environment for our children,” Samples said. “We will move forward and look for ways to make this better. We hear you. We are trying to make decisions that keep our students, our staff and our employees safe.”
The next regular meeting of the Upshur County BOE is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at Tennerton Elementary School.