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‘The British are Coming’ as R-MA prepares for 125th anniversary



Randolph-Macon Academy announced details of its year-long 125th anniversary celebration, beginning next month, at a recent Rotary Club of Front Royal meeting where Public Relations Director Celeste Brooks highlighted a free public on-campus, three-day event April 28-30.

The Brits are coming to R-MA as school prepares for 125th anniversary celebration. Photo/Roger Bianchini

Described as “Founder’s Weekend,” the local party to which all are invited is preceded by a formal dinner – the 125th anniversary gala – at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Va., the idea being that the out-of-town location would be more accessible to alumni from the metropolitan area, Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Richmond.

Meanwhile, R-MA is preparing to welcome this weekend, for a 10-day stay, a group of eight British 9th-grade-equivalent students from the historic (circa 1585)  Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 130 miles north of London.

Long time R-MA British Exchange Coordinator and Director of Student Life Michael Williams, with wife Sherry, on earlier school trip. Courtesy Photo

A similar team of R-MA students will go to England on their exchange visit in June.  The exchange between the two schools began in the year 2000, was interrupted by 9/11, and then began a decade of exchange trips until 2013.  The British Exchange recommenced this year under a new R-MA president, Brig. Gen. David Wesley, and a new Queen Elizabeth’s principal, Ann Martin.

Exchange organizer Michael Williams has included on the children’s 10-day schedule official visits to the White House and Capitol Hill.

Two R-MA students with then trip-chaperone Brian Barbour in front of Tower Bridge, London, several years ago. Courtesy Photo

Each of the British students will be accompanied by an R-MA cadet and, on campus, will audit classes.

Brooks said the rest of the anniversary year will include not only a “Community Celebration” in April, but a special 125th graduation ceremony in May; a community service day in September; and 125th homecoming ceremonies October 6-8.

The April 28-30 public event will feature a day of home sports events, including soccer, baseball, lacrosse and tennis; a 5K run; an on-campus appearance of Amazing Grace, the area’s movie star celebrity mule; Turbo, the flying dog; hay rides, face painting and music.  A public chapel service will be held Sunday, April 30, followed by refreshments, and, at 4 p.m. the R-MA band, chorus and hand bell players will present a Spring Concert. The public is invited to all events.

R-MA is seeking sponsors for some of the planned events and for booths. Contact is Jay Smith at or call (540) 636-5343.

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Governor Northam allocates CARES Act dollars to help free clinics



Governor Ralph Northam announced, October 23, 2020, that the Commonwealth will use $3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to reimburse members of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) for clinics’ COVID-19 expenses, including personal protective equipment, sanitation measures, telehealth, and hiring new staff.

“Our free clinics are a critical part of our health safety net, providing care for those with no insurance,” said Governor Northam. “Thousands of Virginians access health care through free clinics, and I am glad we can help support those clinics’ needs at this time. This global health crisis truly demonstrates how important it is that everyone has access to health care.”

Virginia’s free clinics serve an essential role in Virginia’s health care safety net, providing care for free or on a sliding scale to uninsured patients. An estimated 226,000 Virginians with incomes between 139 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level had no health coverage prior to the onset of the pandemic, according to a recent report by the Virginia Health Care Foundation/Urban Institute.

In addition to existing patients, free clinics have seen demand for their services rise, as more Virginians lose jobs and, thus, employer-sponsored health care.

“Virginia’s free clinics are a vital resource for Virginians who lack health insurance,” said Rufus Phillips, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. “Clinics are filling the increasing need for their services created by the pandemic, but that comes with a cost—at a time when donations are down. We’re happy for our clinics to receive this additional state assistance to help them provide the essential health care every Virginian deserves.”

Clinics operate with small budgets, and the pandemic curtailed regular fundraising events. Expenses that the pandemic made necessary—such as additional personal protective equipment, increased use of telehealth, hiring additional staff to meet demand, and other health modifications—have put a burden on clinics’ budgets. The VAFCC estimates free clinics have incurred an average of $40,000 each in unbudgeted expenses for needs related to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has required us to change how we serve our patients while increasing the number of patients who need our services,” said Anne-Lise Quinn, Executive Director of Culmore Clinic in Falls Church. “The cost of COVID supplies, like PPE and increased telehealth, has had a large impact on the small budgets of free clinics like ours. This support will help us continue to fulfill our mission of ensuring that everyone has access to health care.”

Free clinics have also provided COVID-19 testing and often are seen as a trusted resource for health information to vulnerable populations.

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Stephens City Martins have flown south, but will begin returning from Brazil in March



The approximately 60 nesting pairs of Purple Martins leave the Autumn Glen HOA in Stephens City by mid-August and migrate to their winter quarters in Brazil.

Every October, the Autumn Glen volunteer Bird Management Team removes the 10 bird condominiums from their 15-foot aluminum poles on the HOA’s beautifully landscaped 52 acres and the houses are meticulously cleaned, tarped, and stored for the winter.

Bird poles are disassembled, cleaned, and stored away for winter. Photos courtesy Mark Gunderman

Martins breed in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and then winter in Brazil. Most adults do not seek new breeding sites but will return to the exact same site from the previous year. Yearling Martins will typically colonize new breeding sites. The older adult Martins (called scouts) will begin to return to their Stephens City nesting sites in late March.

Bird condominiums are inventoried, cleaned, and tarped.

The Martins eat moths, flying beetles, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and squash bugs, just to name a few. They will also keep away blackbirds and crows and are welcomed in backyards across the United States. Martins as all swallows, are aerial insectivores, feeding on insects in flight.

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School district considering backup health insurance plan



Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is poised to start a new health insurance provider search as a backup plan to a potential contract flop between regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

“Both parties continue to work toward a solution, but at this point, a resolution may not be inevitable prior to the contract expiration on December 31,” WCPS Personnel Director George “Bucky” Smith told Warren County School Board members during their Wednesday, October 21 work session. “The longer the two parties take to find a solution, the more difficult it becomes to wait and see.”

Winchester, Va.-based Valley Health and Anthem are locked in ongoing negotiations over costs associated with renewing their contract. The Warren County School Board, the Front Royal Town Council, and the Warren County Board of Supervisors are closely monitoring the situation as thousands of area school- and government-employed residents carry Anthem health insurance and receive services at Valley Health facilities.

In fact, the Town Council on October 19 voted 5-0 to pass a resolution urging Valley Health and Anthem to continue negotiating toward an acceptable contract. The council’s resolution states that if the contract lapses, then roughly 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional healthcare region, including those who use Warren Memorial Hospital in town, could be impacted.

At the same time, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital off Leach Run Parkway in Front Royal, supported by a Town and County-approved, $60-million loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority.

WCPS Personnel Director George “Bucky” Smith and Ed White, a consultant and senior vice president at McGriff Insurance Services Inc., detailed the current situation for School Board members to spur some proactiveness by the board should contract negotiations fail. 

On Wednesday, Smith and Ed White, a consultant and senior vice president at McGriff Insurance Services Inc., detailed the current situation for School Board members to spur some proactiveness by the board should contract negotiations fail.

White said that McGriff and WCPS staff — who have been in discussions with representatives at both Anthem and Valley Health — have devised a preliminary plan, which he and Smith presented to the School Board.

If accepted, the plan timeline would direct WCPS to submit a notice of termination for the Local Choice program on October 29; to gather Census and Claims data November 1-6; to publish a request for proposals (RFPs) November 6-8 toward finding companies interested in providing insurance coverage to WCPS employees; to evaluate the RFPs on November 30; to receive presentations from the RFP finalists and to select a new provider December 2-5; to hold local meetings with WCPS employees on enrollment and begin the enrollment process December 9-13, and to submit data to the selected insurance provider December 18-26.

Health insurance ID cards then would be delivered on January 15, 2021, with new insurance coverage scheduled to begin on February 1, 2021, according to the plan timeline.

School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. asked what other carriers Valley Health currently takes and White said that in addition to Anthem, the major providers are Aetna, Cigna, and United, among some smaller Medicare supplement companies, for example.

In reviewing the plan details, Williams noted that if a WCPS employee opted to stay with Anthem, then the closest facilities they would be able to go to if the Anthem-Valley Health contract lapsed, would be Warrenton, Va., or Haymarket, Va. White answered yes, but said that Anthem would make allowances for emergencies.

“I wish I knew the numbers; I wish I knew the difference between Anthem and Valley Health, how far apart are they” in dollars, Williams said. “We didn’t cause this problem. We’re just the poor folks trying to have health insurance for all of our employees.”

Williams also said that he felt like the school division was “being forced to have to do something and I don’t know what the right decision is.”

Nevertheless, Smith asked the board for “some guidance, some sense of direction” on what to do about the situation going forward. “Is it fair to ask that we start an RFP to at least find out what else is out there,” he asked School Board members. “We have to have a plan B. We need to be able to have something else to fall back on. If not now, when?”

Williams said he did not “have a problem with a resolution” being introduced during the board’s Wednesday night meeting, while WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger asked if a termination letter should be drawn up as recommended in the McGriff plan.

The School Board members — Williams, Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi — all seemed agreeable to Ballenger’s idea. Wells summed it up by saying that while he hoped Anthem and Valley Health would make a decision soon that benefits the population they serve, he thinks the School Board “still has to move forward.”

When Williams asked board members about taking action regarding a termination letter, Smith interjected and told board members that their discussion was the start of a process and that the board was not bound to end WCPS’s relationship with Anthem. The discussion, he said, was more about putting a plan B in place.

“And we are in control of when and if we need to send a letter,” Smith said.

The Warren County School Board’s next regular meeting is on Wednesday, November 4.

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Random drug testing slated for WCPS students



Random drug testing is on the horizon for students attending Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger detailed the formation of a new drug testing committee to the Warren County School Board during its October 21 work session and solicited membership by two board members.

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger detailed the formation of a new drug testing committee to the Warren County School Board during its October 21 work session and solicited membership by two board members.

Over the last several decades, Ballenger said that WCPS has implemented numerous programs to help raise student awareness about the dangers of alcohol and illegal drug use, as well as to provide incentives for them to avoid using such substances.

“The programs provide information to help our students understand the immediate and long-term impacts of alcohol and drug abuse,” said Ballenger.

Nevertheless, “even with this intervention, drug and alcohol incidents persist,” he said.

As a supplement to such educational initiatives, Ballenger said that many Virginia public school divisions have gone further and implemented random student drug testing “as a condition of student participation in specific privileges offered at school.”

The WCPS drug testing committee will involve parents, business leaders, school administrators, and board members, said Ballenger, who requested that two Warren County School Board members serve on the committee.

School Board members Catherine Bower and Ralph Rinaldi volunteered to serve on the committee, and a motion was made to accept their membership by School Board member James Wells, with a second by Kristen Pence. The motion carried with yeas from all members, including School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., and members Kristen J Pence, Wells, Bower, and Rinaldi.

Ballenger said he is working to gather other committee members now and plans soon to hold a meeting, either virtual or in-person, to discuss the process of review, development, and implementation of a drug-testing policy for WCPS students.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard already has compiled the drug-testing policies of seven other school districts, said Ballenger, “so, we will, as a group, review those policies and look at what would be in the best interest of Warren County Public Schools and look at what would best suit our needs.”

The superintendent said the committee will work to implement a random student drug testing policy to start during the 2021-2022 school year.

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Early morning explosion reported in Linden



On Friday, October 23, 2020, at approximately 3:44 AM, the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services and Warren County Sheriff’s Office responded to an explosion at a single-family home on Northern Spy Drive, in Linden, Virginia.

Firefighters and Warren County Deputies arrived on the scene to find the home destroyed by an apparent explosion. Firefighters determined that a middle-aged male, now found deceased, had occupied the home. The name of the deceased is withheld pending notification of family.

WCSO Deputies assisted Fire Marshal, Gerry R. Maiatico in securing the scene, and the cause of the explosion is currently under investigation by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Division and Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Unit joined the Warren County Fire Investigators in a joint investigation. Explosives trained Canine (K-9) were requested. The Medical Examiner’s Office has been notified and the exact cause of death has not been confirmed as of 8:00 AM.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation and anyone having additional information regarding this incident is asked to contact Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico at 540-636-3830 or WCSO Investigator Jeremy Seabright at 540-635-4128.

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Federal dollars approved to super-digitize Warren County Public Schools



The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, October 21 took several actions to help bring Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) further into the Digital Age.

The School Board unanimously approved a total of roughly $559,459 from its share of federally allocated pandemic-relief funds to be allocated to WCPS for advanced-technology temperature scanners and a new camera system for school system buses and cars, increased bandwidth and mobile hotspots for high-speed internet access, and new digital math and science textbooks.

WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell. During the meeting, Mitchell also requested $120,255.99 in CARES Act funds for the transportation department to purchase 45 bus camera systems and 15 car camera systems, also from Gatekeeper to replace the current WCPS video system purchased in 2013.

WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell requested $68,171.82 to purchase 50 new intelligent temperature sensing systems from Gatekeeper Systems Inc., that use infrared health monitoring panels to scan temperatures on a person’s forehead, not a wrist or arm like the competitors’ products, he said.

The cost also covers the installation of the 50 panels in bus stairwells, allowing for contactless operation using artificial intelligence for fast measurements of each rider within two feet.

The funds will come from federal dollars allocated to each state’s education department and then distributed to school districts under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, one of the economic-relief packages authorized by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WCPS has received three different CARES Act funding allotments through the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and each comes with varying stipulations, according to Robert Ballentine, WCPS finance director, and clerk of the School Board.

“The total amount is $1,970,364.29,” he wrote the Royal Examiner in an email today. “In addition to this amount, we have received $300,000 in CARES funding from the County for the purchase of tablets for our students. The $1,970,364.29 total includes $916,598.00, which just recently and unexpectedly was given to us by VDOE and must be spent and paid for by December 30, 2020.”

During the meeting, Mitchell also requested $120,255.99 in CARES Act funds for the transportation department to purchase 45 bus camera systems and 15 car camera systems, also from Gatekeeper to replace the current WCPS video system purchased in 2013.

“The current three-camera system is having repeated hard drive and viewing failures,” Mitchell explained to School Board members during their Wednesday meeting and work session. “The proposed system has five cameras and can be expanded to include additional technologies in the future.”

The Gatekeeper system also will allow for accurate data to be collected for contact tracing in case there’s a COVID-19 outbreak that occurs in a school system vehicle, said Mitchell, adding that the camera system will allow WCPS to determine where students are sitting and if mitigation strategies are in place.

“The viewing capabilities are far superior to our current abilities allowing for improved documentation of events that may occur on the bus,” Mitchell said. “This request also includes upgrading the camera systems in the County cars used for student transport.”

Warren County School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi voted to approve both requests.
School Board members also voted 5-0 to approve two requests from WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant. The first is a $38,400 contract with Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel) that will allow WCPS to increase network bandwidth to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps). Shentel currently provides internet access to WCPS at 1 Gbps. “Due to the current need of virtual learning for teachers and students, as well as the need to filter the internet through our network, we need to increase our bandwidth,” Grant said.

WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant receives grant approval.

The second request from Grant that received board approval was $92,349.45 for the technology department to purchase mobile hotspots from two separate mobile carriers — AT&T and T-Mobile — that will provide high-speed internet to students homes that do not currently have it. “It is recommended students should have 15 Mbps per student in any given household in order to effectively participate in online learning,” Grant said.

Next up on its action agenda was a request from WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, who proposed the School Board approved $240,282.04 for WCPS to buy digital textbooks for Math 6, 7, 8, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Calculus, Science 6, Physical Science, Anatomy, and Physiology.

“We would like to provide digital textbook access and additional textbooks for our students,” Fox said. “Due to mitigation strategies, our former standard operating procedure of having classroom sets of textbooks is no longer an option.”

Fox said WCPS also has textbooks that do not have the digital access component, requiring the school district to buy additional textbooks. “Warren County Schools believes in equitable access to learning for all students and this will help us to ensure equity within the county,” he said.

The School Board voted 5-0 to authorize the purchase and in its final related action item, unanimously approved a request by Lisa Rudacille, WCPS director of elementary instruction, to accept a list of members to the proposed 2020 Math Textbook Review Committee.

“Because teachers’ instruction has had to change so drastically in recent months due to the impact of Covid-19, and the switch to hybrid and virtual instruction, it is the desire of our central office instructional staff and elementary administrators to review our adopted math textbook series prior to the normal adoption cycle to ensure our teachers have access to the most appropriate materials for math instruction for both in-person and virtual students,” Rudacille said. “According to our textbook adoption policy, the School Board must approve a committee to review potential textbooks.”

During the School Board’s work session portion of its meeting, members heard from WCPS elementary school students and principals, who reported on the start of the 2020-2021 school year during a pandemic. High school and middle school principals and students made their reports during the board’s October 7 meeting.

At A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, for example, Principal Lori Layman said there are two teachers who provide virtual specials four days a week for art, music, and Fun Fridays, which have included science experiments and virtual field trips. The teachers work virtually, and their classes are shown to students attending school in person and remotely, she said.

“I think our students are enjoying it,” Layman said, “because our teachers, in about a 30-minute break, are able to have the kids do something that is fun, enjoyable and adds a little bit of normalcy to their day.”

Shane Goodwin, principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, said staff has been unable to hold traditional recess or physical education classes due to the pandemic. So, Goodwin brought along 4th-grade student Brentley to explain “what we do instead,” he said.

The student explained that each day students get a 20-minute movement break. Goodwin called it a good way to get the kids outside and moving to exercise their bodies and brains since students are sitting a lot more due to COVID-19 health restrictions. He added that the teachers have been creative in incorporating PE requirements into the movement breaks.

Ressie Jeffries Elementary School Principal Nina Helmick also brought a 4th-grade student to the School Board meeting. The principal said that one of the hurdles that students have had to overcome, particularly the little ones, is to get them to social distance.

The student, who wore a green t-shirt emblazoned with a large white paw print of their school mascot, the Jaguar, said such symbols are placed around the school so students know where to go when they get off the bus or are headed to a classroom, and they’re placed six-feet apart to designate the correct amount of social distancing.

Nikki Taubenberger, principal at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, brought a 5th-grader with her to talk about what it’s like to spend his last year of elementary school at a middle school, which is where all WCPS 5th graders attend classes during the pandemic to allow more space at the lower-grade schools.

D.J. shared the pros and cons of his situation with the School Board members, telling them the middle school cafeteria food “is a little bit better,” but “missing out on traditional 5th-grade activities” at his elementary school is kind of a bummer.

Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School Principal Danelle Sperling had a slide presentation showing what a typical day is like for virtual students, who account for 40 percent of this year’s student population at the school. All teachers are using the Schoology learning platform for instruction, she said, showing examples of what the online classes look like, how instruction might be presented, and how students are engaged in course instruction.

Sperling also brought along Anthony, a 3rd-grade virtual student, who ran through the timeline of attending school online, which he said he likes.

“It sounds like you have to be pretty disciplined to do each step in your day,” School Board member Wells said to Anthony. “Do you find that hard to do or is that something that has become routine for you?”

“It’s something that has become routine for me,” the student answered.

Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video to catch the meeting in its entirety.

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