The Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce will host Candidates Forums on Thursday, October 17, at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School and Thursday, October 24, at the Warren County Government Center, beginning at 7 p.m.
The October 17th forum will include candidates for Board of Supervisors, Clerk of Court, and Sheriff. The forum on October 24th will include candidates for Town of Front Royal Mayor, House of Delegates 15th, 18th and 29th Districts, and Senate of Virginia.
These forums offer community members an opportunity to listen to both local and state candidates answer issue-based questions and give voters insight of the candidate’s goals should they be elected. The public is encouraged to attend.
Candidates will answer questions posed by a moderator, as well as questions submitted by the public in advance or at the program. All submitted questions will be screened before giving them to the moderator. Only questions that are issue-based and are relevant to all candidates will be posed. Anyone wishing to submit questions for consideration prior to the event should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop them off to the Chamber office. For more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 540-635-3185.
Royal Examiner will be there with our camera to provide coverage of the events to our readers.
A Tale of Two Visions: Butler’s Achievements vs. Cline’s Commitments
Butler and Cline: Two Distinct Visions for a Safer Warren County.
In a riveting forum, Warren County citizens gathered to hear from two stalwart contenders, Mark Butler and Crystal Cline, both vying for the coveted position of Warren County Sheriff. With a term lasting four years, the stakes are high, and the commitment deeper.
Crystal Cline, having served the Front Royal Police Department for over two decades, began with a heartfelt thank-you to the chamber for facilitating the forum and the community for their presence. She reminisced about her deep roots in Warren County, highlighting her involvement ranging from the Mom’s Club to coaching the traveling volleyball team. Cline’s main thrust was the need to restore leadership and integrity to the role of sheriff. She voiced concerns over the dissolution of the Animal Control Division and the pressing need for dedicated School Resource Officers (SROs). Most poignantly, she discussed the department’s retention issue and the imperative of a full staff. Addressing Sheriff Butler’s claim about a massive drug bust, Cline firmly stated that such an incident hadn’t transpired in Warren County and stressed the significance of integrity in leadership.
On the flip side, Sheriff Mark Butler, the incumbent, recounted the tumultuous period four years ago when Warren County grappled with a major scandal. He emphasized the changes he had championed during his tenure, such as attaining the accreditation that was lost in 2019, introducing community policing, and enhancing safety – all while lessening the taxpayer’s burden. One of his crowning achievements, he mentioned, was the confiscation of 77,000 fentanyl pills last year, which he tied to a broader narrative on the devastating drug epidemic. Butler concluded by affirming the commitment of his department to the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to the citizens.
As November 7th approaches, the air in Warren County is thick with anticipation. With two distinctly passionate perspectives on the table, the choice voters make will significantly shape the future of the county’s law enforcement.
District 31’s Destiny: Foreman, Morrison, and Oates Lay Their Cards on the Table
A Night of Passionate Pitches: Who Will Lead the 31st District Forward?
The auditorium was thick with anticipation as three formidable candidates – Steve Foreman, Grace Morrison, and Delores Oates – took to the stage, each presenting their visions for District 31 in the House of Delegates.
Grace Morrison, a compelling independent contender, has deep ties to Warren County, having moved there in 2011. Living atop a picturesque hill with her family, Morrison is firmly grounded in the community. Underscoring her desire to provide genuine representation for District 31, she spoke about the importance of unfettered and unrestricted communication between delegates and the residents. A strong believer in the Virginia Constitution, she vowed to remain transparent and amenable, aiming to serve the people first and foremost.
Democratic hopeful Steve Foreman took the audience on a journey through history, recalling the legacy of America’s representative democracy birthed in the House of Burgesses. With a heart-centered on public education, Foreman is keen to recognize and champion the needs of teachers while also pushing for more competitive school funding. He emphasized the imperative for families to have a strong foundation, advocating for rights that range from fair wages to ensuring safety from gun violence. His commitment to unity, compromise, and the collective good was unmistakable.
Rounding out the trio was Republican nominee Delores Oates. Born and raised in the district, her profound connection to the community was palpable. Having served on the Board of Supervisors, she understands the intricacies of governance firsthand. Oates accentuated the importance of school choice and its potential to raise overall education standards. She also highlighted her commitment to preserving rural values, safeguarding elections, and defending the Second Amendment.
With such diverse perspectives and visions for the future of District 31, the citizens of Warren County face an important decision. As election day approaches, the anticipation grows, promising a pivotal moment for the district’s future.
School Board Reviews Several Division-Wide Policies to Improve WCPS Practices
The Warren County School Board, during an almost four-hour long work session held on Wednesday, September 20, reviewed several division-wide policies in an effort to either craft new policies or update others related to items including class video surveillance, student discipline, drugs and substance abuse, goals for school community relations, and threat assessment teams, among others.
Additionally, the board, during a closed session at the end of the work session/retreat, voted to accept the resignation of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Technology Director Timothy Grant, effective Sept. 30. Starting on Oct. 2, WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine will resume the additional duties Grant also held as the School Board Clerk, and Doug Stefnoski will take over as WCPS Interim Director of Technology, according to two personnel reports issued by WCPS and presented to the School Board.
Grant told the Royal Examiner that he has taken a job as the new tech director for Frederick County (Va.) Public Schools. “I will miss everyone here,” Grant texted, “but it’s an opportunity for me to grow as a technology administrator.”
During the work session, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and School Board members Andrea Lo, Antoinette Funk, and Melanie Salins discussed numerous policies, bylaws, and regulations. WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger was also present.
The group regularly exchanged ideas and answered questions posed by several parents and educators who attended the public meeting, which was held at Skyline Middle School, where a recent student assault on another student has stoked requests for improved parent notifications, student discipline, and video cameras, among others.
That incident follows the June 12 indictment of former WCPS preschool teacher Kayla Ann Bennett, who taught at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School. Bennett is charged with two felony counts of Cruelty/Injure a Child and four misdemeanor charges of assault and battery. Bennett’s defense has filed six not-guilty pleas to the charges, and she remains free on an own-recognizance bond.
Some work session particulars
The School Board members discussed how to improve communication with the public during their meetings, particularly for those parents, educators, or other citizens who may not want to speak openly about specific sensitive issues or topics.
For instance, Rinaldi suggested allowing parents, educators, or concerned citizens to sign up to speak to the board during a closed session that could be held at the end of a regular meeting or work session so that certain topics could be shared openly and honestly with the five board members.
Because such a process would make those discussions non-public when School Board meetings are public meetings that get videotaped, other board members said the board would have to check with its attorney to make sure the process would be legal.
Depending on what the attorney says, the board decided it may or may not hold a separate meeting sometime before its Wednesday, October 4, regular meeting. It would be an open meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. that follows the normal community participation process, and then starting at 7 p.m., people who have signed up or who are in the audience and want to speak to board members privately could do so during a closed session.
“I mean, we’ll try it, and we’ll figure out what’s wrong with the plan immediately and go from there,” Pence said.
The discussion about school discipline policy was prompted by resident Virginia Cram, whose son attends Skyline Middle School and was recently assaulted and had his jaw broken by another student during gym class.
Cram asked the board what they had done since she spoke to them about her son’s assault during the board’s September 6 meeting. Cram and others think that the principal should be fired for what they say was improper handling of the situation, but the School Board does not have that authority, the superintendent does. And WCPS personnel issues are private.
In response to Cram’s question, Pence said that for the past two weeks, the attorney has been looking through the policies that the board has in place to try to provide members with feedback on how to move forward with any changes or new policies.
Additionally, she said that several School Board members also visited Skyline Middle School to observe students and faculty and to have separate conversations with teachers and administrators “to try to get better background information” on what the discipline problems are at the school.
“But to be quite honest with you,” Pence told the small audience, “this is where our discussion is going to happen because we can’t have that discussion outside of the public.”
Pence and Rinaldi, who visited the school together earlier this week, reported that they saw good teacher coverage in the hallways to stop students from running or correct inappropriate behaviors.
“Typical kids in the lunchroom, a little bit of handsy-ness with each other, same thing they would do at the food court in the mall. And they were corrected. I saw an assistant principal go up there and correct a couple of kids in the lunchroom,” added Rinaldi. “Typical middle school behavior. I walked into every bathroom, there was nothing going on in there.
“I saw some non-participation in PE, which I didn’t care for. I’m a former PE teacher,” he said. “So, with all that being said, I didn’t see kids sneaking under the bleachers. I looked under the bleachers. I didn’t see anything going on there. So my impression was, yeah, there’s a few things that need to be tightened up.”
Lo also visited the school and said she basically saw the same things. Some of the poor behaviors she witnessed sparked questions for her, she said, such as: What are the next steps? Is there more that I’m not seeing? Should there be more that I’m not seeing?
Lo also said that she talked to about ten teachers and five other people who were either administrators or office staff.
“A couple of themes that I saw was that teachers have seen improvement since the start of the year. My guess would be since all eyes are on Skyline Middle School, perhaps some of that has even gone since our last meeting,” Lo said. “I did see administrators who told me that this was the second day that they were handling tardy passes in a different way and recording those differently. And the feedback that I received was that there were fewer people in the halls today than there had been last week.”
Salins, who homeschools her own children, said her experience was quite different when she visited the school last week.
“I saw very different things when I was here. I didn’t see the principal at all,” she said. “I saw teachers trying their very, very best to get what I will not consider as normal middle school behavior under control. I mean, I coached inside of middle schools, and I have a middle schooler. I don’t see a teacher being told that a student is going to F her up and then a whole host of other threats and then being just sent back to class. I don’t find that to be acceptable. I still didn’t see the principal during any of that. The random slapping, cussing teachers; the teachers were absolutely out in the halls doing their best, telling kids not to do this, not to do that. But I saw a lot of eye rolls” from students.
Pence said that “all eyes are on Skyline Middle School right now.”
“Everyone is painfully aware of the concerns that have been brought up here,” Pence said. “And so from a board standpoint, our job now is to, one, make sure that our policies are appropriate, are the policies that we need, and then from there, we need to make sure that they’re enforced because the policies are not going to be useful in having if we’re not going to follow them.”
“As a start, we know that we have discipline policies in place, and are they being enforced in our schools? Are disciplines handed out according to the student code of conduct?” he wrote.
Other important takeaways from the meeting, Ballenger said, were suggestions to look into possibly increasing the presence of adults at Skyline Middle with central office staff. He also said they will continue to look into and address concerns and provide support.
“We want to make sure that disciplines are handed out according to the student code of conduct at all schools and see if there are any teachers that would like to volunteer to have cameras installed in their classroom,” added Ballenger, noting that the board also reviewed updates to the camera policy and members were provided policy revisions and updates from Sands Anderson as part of the policy revision and update.
Following the board’s closed session, he said members approved the personnel report, the personnel report addendum, the team leader supplements, and added a supplement for a technology supervisor to Grade 37.
Rising Above the Norm: Two Visionaries Battle for South River’s Educational Future
Meeting Passion with Dedication: A Glimpse into South River’s School Board Forum.
South River District’s School Board Forum, held Thursday evening, offered an eye-opening perspective into the future of Warren County’s educational framework. The two candidates vying for a place on the board, Leslie Matthews and Kristen Pence, shared compelling narratives and aspirations for the district’s student populace.
Leslie Mathews opened the forum, emphasizing her deep ties to Warren County. A product of its schools, she took pride in her education, immediately stepping into the workforce post-graduation. In her words, she is a “straight shooter” and a “down-to-earth go-getter.”
On the other side, Kristen Pence, an incumbent, spoke about her track record since 2020. Highlighting her unwavering dedication, Pence reaffirmed her commitment to creating a safe, inclusive learning environment and focusing on issues like teacher retention, discipline enforcement, and the elimination of drugs from schools.
The evening’s discourse tackled contentious subjects such as disciplinary measures in schools. While Pence highlighted the need for uniform consequences and community involvement, Mathews, viewing things from a parent’s perspective, called for stronger rules and heightened accountability.
Improving school attendance was another hot topic. Pence emphasized reducing bullying and fostering a positive school culture, while Mathews advocated for creating a welcoming and encouraging academic atmosphere.
Addressing the significant teacher turnover problem, Matthews spotlighted the importance of valuing and listening to teachers. In contrast, Pence talked about mentorship programs and leveraging the “Grow Your Own” initiative.
Mathews closed her remarks by envisioning a fully-funded school system, stressing parental involvement, discipline, and the essential role of leadership in navigating challenges. Pence concluded by detailing her rich history of community service, showing her vast experience and ongoing dedication to South River’s student community.
South River District stands at a crossroads, with two capable women bringing unique perspectives and solutions. It’s a testament to the importance of educational leadership and the community’s investment in shaping the future.
Front Royal Candidates Discuss Pressing Issues and Affordable Housing
Four contenders vie for two Town Council seats, offering perspectives on Front Royal’s future.
In the Candidiate Forum, Front Royal’s Town Council candidates shared their perspectives and answered key questions about the community’s future. Running for two available seats are Melissa DeDomenico-Payne, Connie Marshner, Skip Rogers, and Glenn Wood. Each brought unique insights from their diverse experiences.
Skip Rogers, a non-partisan incumbent, has long dedicated himself to community service and business. Emphasizing his commitment to improving town-county relations and addressing dilapidated vacant buildings, Rogers represents a voice for proactive change.
Melissa DeDomenico-Payne, appointed to the council in January 2023, holds advanced degrees and decades of leadership experience. With strong ties to Warren County and Front Royal, she champions public safety, fiscal conservatism, and town preservation.
Glenn Wood, with strong roots in the town and a vast career in the manufacturing sector, has actively volunteered across various community organizations. He currently serves on the Town’s Planning Commission and brings expertise from there to his campaign.
Connie Marshner, having lived in multiple places due to her Navy background, has settled and contributed to Front Royal since 1995. From her experience on the Planning Commission, Marschner highlights transportation and beautification as her focus areas.
A burning question posed was regarding the town’s most pressing needs. DeDomenico-Paine emphasized economic sustainability and public safety. Wood highlighted affordable housing and health and safety. Marschner stressed an imminent issue at Shenandoah Shores and transportation, while Rogers discussed the broader challenges with development, infrastructure, and long-term planning.
On the topic of affordable housing, all candidates acknowledged the urgency. Wood proposed changes to zoning ordinances and the construction of smaller homes. Marschner emphasized the role of the private sector, while Rogers pointed out the issue of dilapidated buildings. DeDomenico-Payne highlighted the struggles of the “working poor” and their significant presence in the town.
The diversity of thought and experience each candidate brings highlights the town’s potential for growth and change. As Front Royal heads to the polls, the future of the town hangs in the balance, with pressing issues like affordable housing and community development taking center stage.
United Way NSV Day of Caring
This year, Day of Caring, presented by First Bank, will cover 71 projects by 27 local teams of volunteers on September 22nd. The annual event was established to promote the spirit and value of volunteerism, and is the largest community service day in the Shenandoah Valley.
As the community is resetting itself in a post pandemic world and as government funding has shrunk in response to the waning pandemic, more and more people are seeking help to make ends meet. United Way NSV has seen a huge increase in the requests for help throughout the region and believes that volunteers can make a huge difference.
“Day of Caring is a prime example of the great things that we as a community can accomplish when we band together and pool our talents, time and resources,” said Day of Caring Chairwoman Beth Falu. “It is also a wonderful opportunity for us to thank and celebrate United Way of the Shenandoah Valley and the other nonprofit agencies and for-profit companies in our valley for always stepping up in difficult times or when disaster hits. The last few years have been particularly challenging and people all around us continue to struggle which makes us so grateful that we have been able to keep Day of Caring as a constant in the lives of everyone in the Valley and come together to effect change.”
Some of the projects occurring this year including refreshing the spaces children learn and play, helping residents of a seven story assisted living center, sorting food donations, and helping with maintenance and landscaping around nonprofit facilities.
The traditional large group morning kick-off continues this year, returning to the in-person format. On Day of Caring from 8:00am-9:00am, participants are encouraged to participate in the Day of Caring Kickoff at Shenandoah University’s Wilkins Athletic Center, (1188 Ralph Shockey Dr, Winchester, VA 22602). Participants will enjoy a “grab-n-go” breakfast, music, selfie station, and giveaways from sponsors.
“Our 2023 Campaign theme for Unite Way NSV is Be The Change: Empowering with Passion to Make the Impossible Happen! What better way to Be the Change than Day of Caring! This year we have had a phenomenal response for volunteers to go out into the community and Be the Change — over 800 volunteers have stepped up with their combined time and talents to make the impossible happen on Friday September 22 on 71 projects throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley, from Winchester City to Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties.” said Kaycee Childress, President and CEO of United Way NSV.
For more information on the Day of Caring visit the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley website unitedwaynsv.org/day-caring or contact the United Way office at 540-536-1610.
About United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley: Since 1946 the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley has worked to impact the community human care needs that matter most to the people of Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah Counties and the City of Winchester. United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley convenes the people and organizations necessary to create solutions to our region’s most pressing challenges and collaborates with effective partners. United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley seeks to serve as the catalyst for community change by supporting over 45 partner agencies in the area on Income, Health and Education. For more information visit our website www.unitedwaynsv.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @UWNSV