Does it seem a little noisy? Politics, work, the stock market, family. The cacophony of modern life sometimes seems overwhelming.
Thanksgiving is a kind of simple refuge from all that. We can enjoy a great meal, a football game, reminiscing with friends and relatives, and we can make our own, more pleasant din.
That alone should be enough to make us grateful.
Gratitude was almost certainly an element of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in 1621. The event — now both criticized and beloved, steeped in myth both bad and good — was a festive break from hardship. They didn’t know yet their harvest would be disappointing. They didn’t yet know they would reject their ideas of holding goods common. There was dissension and strife over food and work.
The Pilgrim’s story rings with gratitude, but also desperation. In England, they were imprisoned and impoverished because they wished to worship their own way. They went to Holland, where they could worship, but perhaps no longer remain English: It was their identity and pride. So they traveled 66 days to the New World in a leaky ship, over angry waves, stuffed into a ship’s hold, seasick, and frightened. They landed in what was the wilderness of Cape Cod in November. Whatever comfort could be found, they would have to make it themselves. Half of the pilgrims died in the winter of 1621, leaving just 52 to carry on.
They suffered all this just to be true to themselves: To worship as they pleased, own their work, speak their own language, and govern themselves.
On Thanksgiving, let us be grateful that we have these freedoms.
Skyline High School continues to fight chronic absences
FRONT ROYAL— With schoolwide chronic absences reaching almost 30 percent last year, the administrators at Skyline High School (SHS) have had to come up with some creative solutions.
One of the most effective practices currently being used at SHS has been an administrator’s knock on the door at the home of a regularly absent student.
“We have gone to several homes of students who don’t want to come to school after we’ve called the parents, who say they just can’t get them there. So I said, ‘Do you mind if I come to your house?’” SHS Principal Michael Smith explained to members of the Warren County School Board during the work session portion of their January 15 regular meeting.
“It’s been pretty effective because the principal is standing there at the front door, almost at their bedroom door, opening it up and asking, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ The parents get a good kick out of it and it works for the kids; they don’t want us coming back to their house,” said Dr. Smith.
“Whatever works,” he added. “All of my administrative staff has had to do that, so we’re doing everything we can to get them to school.”
During his presentation to the School Board, Smith said that SHS had an academic review on November 6, 2019. The overall findings and problem identified during the review was that chronic absenteeism at SHS received a Level III performance standing, meaning accredited with conditions, he said.
Melody Sheppard, interim superintendent for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), told School Board members on Wednesday night that SHS is one of the school district’s two schools dubbed accredited with conditions, and the board next month will hear from Principal Shane Goodwin about similar efforts under way at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School to curb chronic absenteeism.
Following the academic review, Smith said the subsequent SHS corrective action plan was submitted to the Virginia Department of Education on November 18, 2019, while essential actions to improve the chronic absenteeism rate have been added to the SHS school plan for the 2019-2020 school year.
Additionally, attendance expectations for accurate reporting of attendance were added to the staff handbook; an annual staff training was conducted on the attendance protocol; and attendance data will be reviewed monthly to identify students on track to be chronically absent and to prioritize students requiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of support, he said.
Tier 2 level students are those who have missed nine days at the mid-school year point, while Tier 3 level students are chronically absent from school, said Sheppard, who noted that students are allowed a total of 18 excused absences in a school year.
And according to WCPS attendance policy, absences are excused for a funeral, illness, injury, legal obligations, medical procedures, suspensions, expulsions, religious observances, and military obligations that parents are aware of and support.
In addition to the impromptu at-home visits, Smith said another current practice is to assign teacher mentors to Tier 2 and Tier 3 level students for daily and weekly contact. “It’s usually their first block teacher or another teacher they’re comfortable with,” he said, adding that the goal is for the teacher mentor to get information from the student about why he or she isn’t attending school.
The subsequent data that the teacher mentors put into an online Google form describes when they met with students, what they talked about, and what they determined were some possible solutions. Smith said this data also provides useful evidence for future decision-making around making individualized attendance plans, for example.
Smith outlined several other current practices that are ongoing at SHS to stem the chronic absenteeism problem.
Every Sunday, for instance, Smith sends out a weekly phone blast to relay pre-recorded information about the upcoming week, as well as the importance of regular attendance.
Other practices include what Smith called “simple things,” such as teachers greeting students as they enter the classrooms and administrators greeting students in the morning as they enter the school building. These are county-wide policies aimed at fostering positive relationships across an entire school, he said.
“I actually have two assistant principals at the entrances to the school,” Smith told School Board members. “They open doors and greet every single kid who comes into the school.”
There also has been an attendance committee with parents developed at SHS that already has met twice. “Parents were surprised at the number of students who miss substantial amounts of classroom time,” said Smith.
During the attendance committee meetings that Smith holds with students and their parents, they develop an Attendance Success Plan for each student. He’s so far held 66 meetings.
Second attendance meetings also are held between Smith, the parents, students, and the SHS truancy officer, with 15 having been held thus far. “It’s nothing punitive, it’s just about getting students to realize the importance of what they’re missing when they’re not in the classroom,” said Smith.
Smith also sent out 890 letters to every SHS household asking parents to come in and discuss the chronic absenteeism situation. The parents who did respond to the letter, he said, were the ones whose kids regularly attend school, but who said they wanted to learn how to share the value of coming to school with other families and students.
Additional current practices include a Principal’s Cabinet that consists of class officers who discuss the atmosphere of the school and what incentives might help improve attendance.
During the last meeting, Smith said cabinet members commented that for those students who regularly miss school, they likely wouldn’t attend “no matter what incentive we have.”
The SHS attendance secretary also notifies parents every day to determine why students are absent.
Going forward, Smith told School Board members that SHS will continue to: run the teacher mentor program; meet with students and parents; and send the Sunday phone blasts.
Warren County School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower asked what the most common reasons are for the chronic absences. Smith said there’s a wide array of excuses.
For instance, many students say they just don’t want to get out of bed or that they’re bored at school, which essentially relates to instruction, said Smith.
Sheppard pointed out that all the current practices at SHS to fight chronic absenteeism are evidence-based practices. “It’s all about building positive relationships with kids,” she said. “Whenever a student comes to school, they have somebody there that they can have a conversation with and not feel uncomfortable.”
“It is about the relationships, the rapport and the trust,” agreed School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., who told Smith to “keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving forward. I know you can get there.”
“We will,” Smith told him, noting that last year, SHS was at 29 percent chronic absenteeism and this year’s goal is to reduce that mark to 24 percent. “If we can get there, that would be a huge decrease.”
Watch the latest Warren County School Board work session where SHS Principal Michael Smith discusses this problem with the board:
Front Royal Christian School Lady Warriors score high
Front Royal Christian High School Lady Warriors hosted Eukarya Christian Academy Lions in girls high school basketball. The final score was 63-10, with leading scorer Nichole Hillaert at 20 points, an all-time career high for Hillaert. Emma Tutton surpassed her record on rebounds. This brings the Lady Warrior season record of 3 wins and 1 loss. Additional scorers were seniors Baily Coughenour with 12 points and Hannah Johnson with 8 points. Senior Hannah Fletcher scored 7 points and freshman Audrey Moya scored 8 points. Next FRCS Varsity Girls home game is January 29th at 4:30 p.m. The Lady warriors will face off against Virginia Academy.
Front Royal Christian School is a Pre-K through 12th-grade school in Front Royal, Virginia, that fosters your student’s innate learning potential. From special needs to gifted, FRCS is committed to the spiritual, moral, and intellectual development of its students and mediates a sense of competence, confidence, and belonging. FRCS provides the 21st-century learner, exceptional and challenging educational experiences, including college preparatory courses with a dual enrollment program with LFCC, performing arts, life skills, and athletics. For more information, call the school at 540-635-6799 or visit www.FrontRoyalChristianSchool.com.
Wagner Animal Shelter counts noses – ‘No Kill’ status retained in 2019
The year 2019 at Front Royal’s Julia Wagner Animal Shelter was a busy one in terms of intake – 1,216 animals from dogs and cats to rabbits, horses and a couple of pigs – and fundraising, more than $200,000 including $22,000 from the revived Waggin’ for Dragons boat race last August, and $80,500 from its annual donation program, the Save the Paws Alliance.
Shelter Manager Kayla Wines also reported 887 adoptions completed and 200 lost animals returned to their owners in her Community Impact Report at year’s end – though the shelter’s two big ol’ pigs are still there, she noted.
A highlight of her report, although relegated to the penultimate paragraph, was the shelter’s protection of its “no kill” status in 2019, a milestone emphasized by Humane Society of Warren County Executive Director Meghan Bowers at a recent “Yappy Hour” event. Also, Bowers said registrations for the shelter’s major fundraiser, the August boat race, are already being taken (wagginfordragons.com/team-registration) and sponsorships are well in hand for the upcoming Polar Plunge into Culpeper Lake February 1 at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Harmony Hollow (contact the shelter at 635-4734, area code 540, for sponsorship information).
Bowers, who completed her first year on the job in December, also reported a joint partnership with the Middleburg Humane Foundation and the “For the Cats’ Sake” group in Front Royal to address Warren County’s cat over-population issue.
Meanwhile, a leap into the 21st century by the shelter was reported by Wines. The shelter on January 1 opened an online store through a website called Bonfire. The store features one of a kind HSWC merchandise including shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs and so on.
Wines took a practice shot with Bonfire towards the end of last year. “I believe there is a little something for everyone (at the store),” she said. “Each product has a different slogan or quote on it, some funny, some more serious… to include the importance of spay and neuter, fostering, or volunteering.”
The return of the weekly “Yappy Hour” at East Main Street’s ViNoVa last September has also resulted in $1,615 being donated to shelter operations, Bowers said. The event is held each Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
I-81 Lane closures and slow rolls will be part Crossover Blvd bridge work
WINCHESTER – Frederick County is proceeding with the construction of the Crossover Boulevard bridge over Interstate 81. The construction site is located south of I-81 exit 313.
During late January and early February, crews will be installing bridge beams, which will require some lane closures and slow roll operations.
· Monday, Jan 27 – Beam placement operations. From 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. northbound and southbound left lanes closed. Bridge beams will be staged in the left lanes. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. four slow rolls conducted by Virginia State Police from I-81 exit 310 to exit 315. All I-81 northbound and southbound lanes will be closed simultaneously in the slow roll area. I-81 exit ramps 310, 313 and 315 will be closed as the slow roll passes by. Ramps will reopen after slow roll is clear of the ramp area. Beams over I-81 left lanes will be placed.
· Tuesday, Jan 28 – No lane closures. Crews working in median.
· Wednesday, Jan 29 – Beam placement operations. Northbound and southbound left lanes closed 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Bridge beams will be staged in the left lanes. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. four slow rolls conducted by Virginia State Police from I-81 exit 310 to exit 315. All I-81 northbound and southbound lanes will be closed simultaneously in the slow roll area. I-81 exit ramps 310, 313 and 315 will be closed as the slow roll passes by. Ramps will reopen after slow roll is clear of the ramp area.
· Thursday, Jan 30 – Southbound right lane closure at bridge site south of I-81 exit 313. State trooper posted at lane closure. Lane closures will be 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Beams over I-81 right lanes will be placed. No slow roll closures.
· Monday, Feb 3 – Southbound right lane closure at bridge site south of I-81 exit 313. State trooper posted at lane closure. Lane closures will be 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Beams over I-81 right lanes will be placed. No slow roll closures.
· Tuesday, Feb 4 – Northbound right lane closure at bridge site south of I-81 exit 313. State trooper posted at lane closure. Lane closures will be 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Beams over I-81 right lanes will be placed. No slow roll closures.
· Wednesday, Feb. 5 – Northbound right lane closure at bridge site south of I-81 exit 313. State trooper posted at lane closure. Lane closures will be 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Beams over I-81 right lanes will be placed. No slow roll closures.
· Thursday, Feb 6 – No work
In case of inclement weather on Jan. 27 or on Feb. 3 the entire operation will be moved back a week. In the case of inclement weather on Jan. 29 the work will be done on Jan. 30. Inclement weather on Feb. 5 will move the work to Feb. 6
Changeable message boards will be posted along I-81 with messages announcing the lane closures. These boards will be displayed beginning on Jan. 20.
All work is weather permitting.
In March 2019 a contract valued at $17.6 million was awarded to Perry Engineering Inc. of Winchester, Virginia for construction of Crossover Boulevard.
Frederick County is constructing a new roadway and bridge over I-81: Construction began in March 2019 on the $20 million Crossover Boulevard project, which includes revenue sharing funds. Frederick County is administering the project. Perry Engineering, Inc. is the contractor. The project includes a new four-lane roadway and bridge over I-81 connecting Route 522 at the Airport Road intersection to Crossover Boulevard in the City of Winchester. This project will include a roundabout for future intersecting roadways and upgrades to the Route 522/Airport Road intersection to accommodate the new roadway at that location.
Warren County School Board hires superintendent search firm
FRONT ROYAL—The Warren County School Board on January 15 approved an $11,000 contract award to Martinsville, Va.-based Real Synergy LLC for consulting services related to the board’s search for a new superintendent.
“I believe it’s the right people, at the right time, and it’s the right choice for us,” said School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., who agreed with several board members that Real Synergy would prioritize public input into the superintendent search.
In fact, board member James Wells said that Real Synergy “will very much want to hear what the public has to say” about potential superintendent candidates, a strategy that board member Ralph Rinaldi called “necessary” considering Warren County’s current contentious political climate.
Board member Kristen Pence agreed, noting that Real Synergy “seems passionate and interested” in the task at hand.
Under its contract, Real Synergy will provide numerous services for the Warren County School Board, including:
• Interviewing stakeholders to help develop a superintendent profile;
• Developing a superintendent profile;
• Facilitating a public forum to develop a superintendent profile;
• Creating a superintendent application;
• Recruiting and screening individuals;
• Suggesting and developing the interview process, including sample questions;
• Reviewing applications, preliminary background checks on potential candidates, and initial verification of credentials;
• Developing stakeholder surveys; and
• Providing on-site services during all interviews of potential candidates, among other services.
The Real Synergy contract award doesn’t cover the costs of administrative assistant support, national publication or print media advertising, finalist background checks, candidate travel, School Board member travel to a finalist’s district, postage, and printing, according to the consulting agreement.
The company was chosen following the Warren County School Board’s October 25, 2019 Request for Proposals for Consulting Services for the Superintendent Search. The board on November 15, 2019 received nine proposals for the contract.
Chairman Williams said that School Board members on January 6 interviewed two of the firms that submitted proposals during a closed session, and then selected one firm for the contract.
The tentative superintendent search schedule released by the School Board and Real Synergy is:
• January 21 – February 4: Online Survey
• January 21 & 22: Interviews with stakeholders
• February 5: Public hearing by School Board
• February 6 or 8: Special-called School Board meeting; profile development with School Board; and approval of announcement and application
• February 10 – March 20: Receipt of applications
• April 4: Special-called School Board meeting; meet with School Board on applications; and develop interview questions
• April 17 & 18: First round interviews
• April: Second round Interviews
• April/May: Special-called School Board meeting and School Board announcement
Board members Williams, Pence, Rinaldi, and Wells voted to approve the Real Synergy contract. Board member Catherine Bower, vice chairwoman of the School Board, was late to attend Tuesday’s regular meeting and work session, so was unable to vote.
Watch the budget work session here in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Medical condition explored as cause of truck-church building collision
A medical situation is being explored as the cause of the January 9 pickup truck crash into the First Assembly of God building on North Shenandoah Avenue. First responders indicated the driver of the pickup, Francesco “Frank” Amari, 48, is believed to have passed out at the wheel while southbound on North Shenandoah Avenue.
Front Royal Police indicated alcohol is not believed to have been a factor in the incident. As of Tuesday, January 14, Amari’s pickup truck remained embedded in the First Assembly of God building due to structural damage concerns.
The initial investigation indicated Amari’s vehicle crossed the center line, went over the curb first taking out a mailbox and street sign, then over another curb at 12th Street before crashing though bushes into the church parking lot and finally into the church facility near a basement kitchen.
Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie said he was first on the scene and found Amari “on the ground with obvious injuries”. Mabie said the driver was treated by medics from Station 1 and transported to Winchester Medical Center by ambulance.
Facebook posts indicate Amari is an owner of Anthony’s Pizza in Front Royal. A January 10 post on the “Anthony’s Pizza X” Facebook page informed visitors of the accident: “For those of you who may not know, Frank got into a car accident yesterday morning. It resulted in a broken leg and shattered wrist. He went into surgery for his leg and wrist this morning. We ask for your thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery on this long journey. Thank you to everyone who has reached out; we have felt the love and support from all across the community! We will try to keep everyone updated as time goes by.”
The post was followed by a stream of well wishes from friends, the Front Royal business community and Anthony’s customer base.
Royal Examiner adds its best wishes for Amari’s recovery and for successful repairs to the First Assembly of God building.