BOONE COUNTY — Boone County Schools’ interim Superintendent Dr. Lisa Beck, Ed.D., took a trip down memory lane when she visited the school where it all started.
“Ramage Elementary School is where I started my teaching career in 1986,” she said as she entered the room where she once made her own second-grade lesson plans. “This is where my desk sat.”
The 1981 Scott High School graduate said that, as a student, she was always active and participated in as many activities as time would allow — which is something she believes helped mold her future.
“I’ve always been a Madison girl and I grew up in Madison,” she said. “I had two wonderful parents, and as a child, I was always out and active and they encouraged that.”
Her father, Gary Zickefoose, was a teacher and coach for Scott High School, and some of her most vivid memories of her youth involve visiting his classroom or standing on the sidelines of football practice.
“I guess I’ve always been an energetic and fun person who enjoyed the atmosphere of school and community,” she said. “I was always in camps and doing plays and skits and I loved Girls Scouts and singing whenever I got the chance.”
As her father did, her mother, Sue Ann Zickefoose, encouraged her educational and extra-curricular pursuits.
Earlier this year, her mother retired from her seat as Boone County Circuit Clerk during her third term.
Beck said her Aunt Mary Harless helped to shape her path into education. Harless spent time with her as a young child. In college, Beck belonged to a theater group that would visit schools and perform skits and sing for elementary-aged students. Her aunt asked her and the group to come to Madison Elementary and visit her second-grade students.
“She told me afterwards that she knew I was looking for a path and searching for what I wanted to major in, but she said that I needed to go into teaching and it was a pivotal moment for me and that is what I did,” she said.
Today, Beck says her new role transitioning from assistant superintendent to superintendent — which came upon the retirement of Jeff Huffman earlier this year — is one that feels natural after 35 years in education and 18 spent in the central office as an administrator.
“My role is to push the school system forward, and I always want the school system to shine in a positive light,” she said. “I think my new role is seeing that we have the very best for our school system. When times are hard, having a plan to navigate that is essential.”
Her contract as interim superintendent runs through June 30 of 2022.
Based on state code and the timing of Huffman’s departure, Beck has retained the terms of her three-year assistant superintendent contract while serving a dire one-year need for the school system and completing Huffman’s contract time.
According to board actions, Beck is on “leave of absence” as assistant superintendent.
Beck said that, while the rigors of navigating the waters of a pandemic last year taught us all a few lessons, she looks to the 2021-22 school year as a time to “hit the reset button.”
“I think there is no greater excitement than starting school,” she said. “When you are a new teacher, it is especially exciting. I think that real teachers carry that excitement throughout their careers. We are in the one profession that allows you to start anew every 12 months. Even for the central office, there is new learning strategies and initiatives to develop and implement. We have parking lots paved this summer so our schools look better and I think that energy as an educator comes from having something new to look forward to.”
Beck served as a math teacher at Sherman Junior High when she started working on her masters degree. She relishes that experience, because it helped her connect with the Big Coal River communities.
“Leadership studies was a natural fit for me,” she said. “As a teacher, it is a natural progression into leadership studies when you see how teachers step out and organize and plan.”
The educator’s late husband, Jim Beck, held supervisory positions in the mining industry and his work led them to stints in Kentucky and the Fairmont area of northern West Virginia — both of which were teaching opportunities in unfamiliar environments for Beck, which she says helped her grow.
She said her husband was very supportive of her desire to further her career through education.
Additionally, she spent time teaching adult education.
“My claim to fame in teaching includes teaching 5-year-olds up to 50-year-old adults in re-training.”
Beck said she wants every graduate from Boone County Schools to find a meaningful career after graduation, and there are multiple paths to achieving that goal.
“Each graduate should be able to make the choice to go to college and be prepared to go to college and be financially able to go to college, and then there are some who may say that college isn’t for them and they want to go into the workforce,” she said. “I want them to receive training and receive certification. We want all of our graduates to succeed and be able to support themselves and find meaningful work that they enjoy doing each day. There are many avenues when you leave high school. My No. 1 goal is for all of our students to have a choice when they graduate. When our students walk across that (graduation) stage with their choice in their hand, I want them to be prepared to make that choice.”
Beck said that, as school starts back up in-person, basic fundamentals must be a primary focus.
“Coming out of this pandemic, we must focus on reading, writing and arithmetic, and that is an old slogan, but it really applies this year as we get our students back on track.”
Boone County Schools began the school year in 2020 with approximately 600 students in remote learning and ended the school year with approximately 250.
“We must establish our normal school community,” she said.
Beck said many lessons were learned last year, but it was also a time to celebrate what the school system as a whole did right.
“What we need to work on most — and this is a national problem — is broadband access,” she said. “This is something that Boone County Schools cannot solve. We need connectivity in our area because that lack of connectivity was exposed. I knew today when I crossed the bridge at Low Gap that there was no cell service and when I drop down over Drawdy Mountain, I’ll lose cell service.”
Hot spots were provided and families who needed a device were provided them by the school system, according to Beck, but the major stumbling block was access to broadband.
“In some cases, providing devices wasn’t enough,” she added.
Providing meals for students was something Beck said professional and service personnel took pride in during the last school year, where many students may have gone without as in-person learning was interrupted.
“The efforts were made to make sure food was out and meal boxes were provided and 24 buses preparing to pull out of Brookview Elementary full of boxed meals and staff members working so diligently to make sure every detail was executed was something I am very proud of and our communities should be proud of,” she added. “It was a sight to behold.”
Currently, Boone County Schools is the largest employer in Boone County, encompassing approximately 450 employees.
Beck, 58, said she looks to retire at age 60 and that this is no secret.
“60 or 61 — I’d like to relax a little bit and do some traveling and spend time with my mother,” she said. “My mother has been my greatest supporter and has always held my feet to the fire and made sure I completed what I started. She’s a strong, independent lady, and I‘d like to think she raised a strong independent lady. She continues to be a great example for me.”
Beck said the three school superintendents that she worked with influenced her leadership style in unique ways.
Beyond Huffman — Steve Pauley and John Hudson left their mark.
The school system faced a financial crossroad in 2016 and staff were cut, resulting in a turbulent time.
“I think with Mr. Huffman, we had more problems to solve and in working with him, 2019 was our best school start as tough choices had been made and we were financially sound again,” she said. “Then in 2020, the pandemic came in and rocked our world.”
Having spent her youth and teenaged years as a cheerleader, Beck said there is a correlation between those days and where she is in 2021.
“I feel like I’m still a cheerleader for Boone County Schools,” she said. “That will never change.”
The first day of public school for Boone County is set for Aug. 19. Professional and service personnel return on Aug. 16.