Credit: WV News. Original Article Here.
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — One might think that following one of Harrison County’s most popular school superintendents would prove challenging enough.
Add in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the worries of teachers, students, parents and staff and the challenges of remote learning, and if you’re the person in charge, you may be questioning your reasoning, if not your sanity.
Not so with Harrison County Schools Superintendent Dora Stutler, who knows exactly why she’s glad she was chosen June 10, 2020, to replace Dr. Mark Manchin, who was moving on to his current role as Glenville State College president.
“I love what I do,” said Stutler, WV News’ Educator of the Year. “You have to love it to do it well.”
And Stutler obviously is pleasing the majority of people, especially the Harrison County Board of Education, which voted unanimously on Feb. 2 to extend her contract an additional three years, with pay raises each year.
At the time, board member Kristin Messenger praised Stutler while making the motion for the contract extension, which was quickly seconded by board Vice President Frank Devono.
“I am very, very happy with our new superintendent for three years,” Messenger said. “I think you have done a wonderful job, considering everything that we’ve been through with COVID and the fact that you’re also doing your previous job — you have just been outstanding. Now I am just looking forward to the next three years.”
That praise is shared by Board President Gary Hamrick and Devono.
Hamrick told WV News for this story that they see Stutler as a tremendous leader focused on what’s best for the students.
“Dora is the perfect combination of common sense and compassion,” Hamrick said. “She is a strong advocate for our students and staff, but also understands we have a duty to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.
“Harrison County is getting their money’s worth from Dora. She works tirelessly on behalf of our school system.”
Devono agreed, saying that Stutler has managed the school system at a difficult time, when the rigors of COVID-induced remote learning, then mask mandates and vaccination efforts, have served to add stress to the already difficult tasks involved with public education.
“It’s been a challenging time, and Dora has handled it extremely well,” Devono said. “She’s taken care of a number of issues and done so in outstanding fashion.”
Devono mentioned with pride that Gov. Jim Justice noted on his recent visit that Harrison County was always an educational leader and was once again doing so by being part of the Game Changers Program.
Designed to help address addiction through education and treatment, the program, which has teamed with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, will provide three pilot programs in Harrison County for the 2022-23 school year.
Stutler serves on the Game Changers board of directors and will be helping to design the educational components of the programming.
“To have Dora involved with that program, which has Gov. Justice’s [support] and many other major leaders and businesses behind it, speaks of the respect many people have for her and the talents she brings,” Devono said.
“Having Harrison County as the pilot county for the program speaks well of the entire system which she leads.”
Stutler is quick to credit those around her, citing “the strong team” at the central office, as well as at each school in the system.
She also credits her mentors, including Manchin for showing her effective leadership skills. Prior to moving to the central office, first as personnel director and now as superintendent, Stutler was a classroom teacher and then an administrator for about 20 years.
“All of that experience was beneficial,” Stutler said. “Having run a school, having worked with people in a leadership role. But I’ve been blessed with great mentors.”
She especially singled out Manchin, saying, “I watched how he handled people. How he would listen and how he treated people.”
Stutler also credited the way she grew up, with nine brothers and a sister living in Taylor County. Then her father passed away when she was 16.
“I was kind of on my own,” Stutler said. “How you are raised, having to deal with life’s circumstances, influences you.
“Growing up, having to shoulder things early on, you learn to work through the problems. It gives you perspective and a pathway to get to the other side.”
Life’s circumstances took her away from teaching after she finished her degree in education. A hiring freeze was in place, so Stutler could only land substitute work. But she needed a full-time job.
Her first job out of college was actually in health care as the assistant to the safety director at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, where she helped train staff on safety protocols and implemented the facility’s first safety manual.
Stutler said her experience there helped her, first as an administrator and now as superintendent.
“I think it made me aware of how things can affect people and the employees in the building, of the need for proper training and communication,” she said.
Stutler said she has benefited from many experiences because “I’ve always been really learning as much as I can, of learning everything about anything.”
And she continues to approach each day the same: Learning, treating people with respect and keeping the focus on making the Harrison County School System even better.
“We should be proud to work in Harrison County,” she said. “It’s where I’ve always wanted to work, where I wanted to raise a family.
“There are a lot of wonderful things happening in the county, and it was certainly nice to have the governor say that,” she said.
“But we must remain focused on making it even better, and it all comes down to the people. Having the best people and focusing on our children. That’s what we are here for.”