The Upshur County Board of Education meeting this week left West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares with a lasting impression.
The meeting is usually conducted in a classroom inside Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, but had to be moved to the school's gymnasium because of the anticipated number of guests, said Adrienne Hissam, the executive secretary to the local superintendent. She estimated that more than 200 people were in attendance Tuesday. The available seating was filled, and some visitors had to stand.
"I'll tell everybody that when I went to Buckhannon Academy (Elementary School) for their board meeting, they had more people there than any other board meeting that I've ever attended," Phares said.
West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares speaks at Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting.
"The thing that I've always noticed about Buckhannon and Upshur County was the fact that you're always in the pursuit of excellence," Phares, who resigned as the Randolph County Superintendent of Schools to accept the state position, told those in attendance.
More than 100 certificates were awarded from the local school board to students for varied academic achievements. Phares also recognized three teachers who were recently awarded Arch Coal honors in a prestigious teacher awards program: Union Elementary School teachers Brooke Scott and Megan Bacorn, and Buckhannon Academy Elementary School teacher Virginia Hicks.
"I'm proud of this county, and I'm proud of people who work here," Phares said.
Phares also noted that Upshur County schools have steadily improved scores on the WesTest, have successful building programs and have stable school board leadership.
Phares also spoke about West Virginia Board of Education changes, and how they might affect schools throughout the state. He said that the funding for 16 positions at the state Board of Education is being redirected into county schools, along with the funds from 10 positions where employees recently retired that will not be filled.
He said that for the first time, professional development funding will go directly to the county school systems this year and in following years.
"We feel that money will best be spent there. I think that tells you that we're serious, and what we're serious about is we all want you to own student achievement in your counties," Phares said, adding that the state school board wants to get away from telling county boards and teachers what to do, how to do it and what resources to use.
"What we're doing is providing a lot more flexibility to local boards," Phares said. "We feel that the decisions on how teachers need to be trained - what they need to be trained in - is best decided at the local level, is best decided by the teachers.
"I guess some would call it a risk; I don't," Phares continued. "I have a firm belief in teachers and in building principals. They know what they need to do, and they can get it done. What I'm trying to do as a policy maker is free them up so that the principals can lead their schools, and so the teachers can teach."