AASA Central | Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent, Upshur County School District, Buckhannon, W.Va. and Adam L. Cheeseman, Superintendent, Doddridge County Schools, West Union, W.Va.
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Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent, Upshur County School District, Buckhannon, W.Va. and Adam L. Cheeseman, Superintendent, Doddridge County Schools, West Union, W.Va.

West Virginia: Leaders Matter

Nominated By: Susan Lee Collins, Executive Director, West Virginia Association of School Administrators

Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent, Upshur County School District, Buckhannon, W.Va.



Sara Lewis-Stankus (https://www.upshurschools.com/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=271160&type=d&pREC_ID=staff)

and the Upshur County program is nominated for her ability to develop a systemic program that addresses a community and school need. Her leadership has engaged volunteers, business, community, civic and faith-based organizations to action.

As the school is the central organization in each small rural community, this is the natural place to serve children and families. Through this program, the community is working together to make a difference in food deprivation in Upshur County.

Nationally 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. In Upshur County, statistics show that children and families suffer from food scarcity. For many of our children, school meals may be the only meals they eat. What happens when they go home over the weekend? In Upshur County, school-aged children in all schools have access to a backpack and school pantry program that has been helping children get the nutritious and easy-to-prepare food they need to get enough to eat on the weekends.

With the help of community partners, local business and churches, bags of food are assembled and then made available in every school in the county to be sent home with children at the end of each week.

Exemplars of Leadership:

  • Demonstrated alignment of programs to the needs of students.
  • Leadership in addressing food deprivation among students.


Adam L. Cheeseman, Superintendent, Doddridge County Schools, West Union, W.Va.




Adam Cheeseman (http://www.dcschools.us/SuperintendentMessage.aspx) has taken a student-centered ‘holistic child’ approach to education in his 1,133-student district by expanding feeding programs, counseling services and the hiring of a new mental health specialist that not only handles mental health crises and trauma, but also provides staff development and training in mental health areas.

There is a prevention resource office in each school. The PROs provide mentoring services as well as training at the building level. His district will be the first West Virginia district to implement a Strengthening Families program (which is an evidence-based family skills training program designed to improve parenting skills and family relationships, reduce problem behaviors, delinquency and alcohol and drug abuse in children and to improve social competencies and school performance.)

The district has also begun the process to become a Trauma Informed School. Cheeseman determined that graduates were lagging in some fundamental life-skills areas such as creating a resume, interviewing for a job, balancing a checkbook, as well as understanding how credit cards and debit cards work, what insurance is and how to open a bank account. Therefore, the district created a new required course designed to provide these skills and to help each high school senior discern their vocation. Students in the course will be able to job shadow, intern, or visit job locations with participating employers. These employers include gas-processing plants, engineering firms, local retail businesses, banks, government facilities, newspapers and many other businesses.

Cheeseman’s holistic child approach has permeated throughout the school district. His central office staff, principals and professional staff implement this approach district-wide daily. The elementary school purchased washing machines to make sure that its most vulnerable students were able to wear clean clothes and reduce stigma. The middle school has instituted a greenhouse-to-cafeteria program to demonstrate healthy eating. The high school provides additional feeding opportunities with nutritional snacks and an after-school dinner choice.

Perhaps the greatest change is a culture change. Although the benefit of staff interactions with students appears to be intangible, and difficult to quantify, discipline numbers at each school has dropped over the last three years. It is clear that a teacher trained to first think about a student’s life experience and to interact with the child in a holistic manner makes a difference both for the student and for the school.

Cheeseman’s leadership and commitment to excellence has made a difference in a rural West Virginia county.

Exemplars of Leadership:

  • Demonstrated leadership in impoverished rural school district with a focus on meeting the needs of children.
  • Created effective outreach to the community and families.
  • Instituted comprehensive staff development focused on the needs of students in rural setting.
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