On Tuesday, October 6, 2020, citizens throughout Front Royal are invited to join forces with thousands of communities nationwide for the “37th Anniversary of National Night Out” (NNO) crime and drug prevention event. National Night Out, is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) and co-sponsored locally by the Front Royal Police Department and the Front Royal Police Foundation.
“We look forward to hosting this great event every year, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns, we have had to cancel the “block party” style event that we usually hold on the Town Commons,” said Front Royal Chief of Police Kahle Magalis. “This year we are going to take National Night Out mobile and caravan to different locations throughout the town and meet up with our citizens in smaller groups in areas where we can practice social distancing.”
We will host neighborhood visits throughout the Town with police officers, foundation members, and our other law enforcement partners. The evening will begin at the Front Royal Police Department with opening remarks starting at 5:00pm and the start of the parade at 5:20pm. The route will continue through town and will utilize 5 stopping points along the route and conclude at the Town Gazebo at 8:00pm.
National Night Out showcases the vital importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight to build a safer nation. “Events like National Night Out are necessary to help strengthen the partnerships between the community and law enforcement,” said Brendan Murphy, Front Royal Police Foundation Vice Chair. This is the police department’s fourteenth year hosting NNO and without this partnership, law enforcement’s battle against crime would be limited.
Please watch for more information about times and locations on our numerous social media outlets.
Lastly, stop by the Front Royal Police Department and pick up blue lightbulbs and thin blue line flags, while supplies last, to help show your support during the parade!
Parade Route Stops
|5:00 – 5:20||Front Royal Police Department|
|5:30 – 5:50||Warren County Skate Park|
|6:00 – 6:20||Ressie Jeffries Elementary School|
|6:30 – 6:50||Warren County High School|
|7:15 – 7:35||Marlow Heights Baptist Church|
|7:45 – 8:15||Town Gazebo|
FRPD, R on Virginia Ave, L on 1st, R on Union, R on W. Main, SKATE PARK, R on Kerfoot to W. Criser to E. Criser, L into RESSIE JEFFRIES, R on Beeden, L on Hill, R on South St., L on Westminster to WCHS, L on Westminster, R on Walker, L on John Marshall, L on Leach Run, L on Oden, L on Ewell, R on Imboden, R on Happy Ridge, L on Goodview, L on Meadow Court, R on Lewis, L on Happy Creek, L on Manassas Ave to MARLOW HEIGHTS BAPTIST CHURCH, L on Happy Creek to Laura Virginia Hale into TOWN GAZEBO.
Town Planning Commission considers short-term tourist rentals, zoning for possible data center, asserts responsibility for Comp Plan
The Front Royal Planning Commission, at its regular meeting on May 18th, voted to authorize advertisement for public hearings for its first two special use permits for short-term tourist rentals.
The Commissioners previously reviewed the two applications as the Planning Department continued to iron out the procedures.
In February, the Planning Commission had considered and recommended approval of a draft ordinance that included a clause requiring short-term rental properties in residentially-zoned areas to be owner-occupied. On the way to Town Council enactment on February 28, that requirement disappeared. It remains to be seen whether the cautionary comments by the Planning Commission and also by now-former Councilman Scott Lloyd prior to the Council’s vote to adopt the ordinance as amended play out in the future.
Not surprisingly, one of the first two short-term tourist rental permit requests subject to the new ordinance language was made by a D.C. area investor, Bridget Scanlan of Alexandria, VA. That property is at 108 Virginia Avenue and is zoned residential. The other request was made by a local contractor, Aaron Hike, for the former Trout Drug building at 201 E. Main St. That property is zoned commercial and is in the downtown Historic District.
The consent agenda for the meeting included authorizations to advertise public hearings for those two special use permit requests and an interesting proposed change to the Town’s zoning ordinance. The change adds and defines “Data Centers” as a by-right use of property in the I-2 Industrial Zone.
A use by-right is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. In the case of the I-2 zone, automobile garages (auto repair) would be considered as a use by-right. Proposed uses other than those listed in the ordinance would require a special use permit. The advantage of the special use permit is that it requires a public hearing before its issuance, so community members get to offer input publicly twice – once to the Planning Commission and once to the Town Council.
The proposed zoning change would allow this new use – a data center – in the Industrial Zone without that check and balance of a public hearing.
The timing of the mystery zoning ordinance change is odd, given that one of the outcomes of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan rewrite is new zoning and subdivision ordinances. According to the Town’s $115,000 contract with Summit Design and Engineering Services, the contractor will begin the rewrite of the existing ordinances in July with the effort, described as the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part, over the next eight months. Making a significant change to the current ordinance before the rewrite leads to the question of why? The Planning Commission has so far not been given a town council resolution asking for the ordinance change, and a review of the Town Council’s public activities doesn’t provide a clue, but the Town’s Planning staff has produced one.
The recruitment of prospective businesses always raises the issue of government transparency (or lack thereof), and the newly-formed Front Royal Economic Development Authority will likely play its cards close to its vest as it negotiates the risky waters of matchmaking with prospective employers. But there is a reason for the processes established by law to provide accountability to the taxpayer. If the community learned one thing from the debacle a few years ago with the Front Royal-Warren County EDA, it is that oversight and consistent adherence to established policy is essential.
The Regular meeting was exceedingly short – six minutes (a new record!) since there were neither citizen comments nor public hearings, and the Commissioners held a short work session afterward, their second for the month. In the work session, Chairman Merchant distributed the Draft Future Land Use section of the Comprehensive Plan to the commissioners. Merchant reiterated his earlier concerns about “who does what” in the process of rebuilding the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
While the town has a contractual relationship with the contractor, since the Code of Virginia clearly states that the Planning Commission shall act in an advisory role to the governmental body (Town Council), it would make sense for the commissioners to be consulted about the necessary elements of the plan. Yet so far, the commission has had a relatively minor role in providing edits to parts of the plan, getting some updates on progress, and providing previously completed sections to the contractor. A notable absence from the process has been the establishment of a citizen advisory committee, which the contract statement of work identifies as a component of the process. Previous rewrites of the plan have relied on the advisory committee to keep the final product aligned with community needs. Chairman Merchant said, “It’s sometimes messy, but it works!”
Planning Director Lauryn Kopishke, who was absent from the May 18 meetings, told the Commission in its May 4 work session that a Community Input session is planned for May 20 from 12 noon-2 p.m. in the community room at the Sheriff’s Office, 200 Skyline Vista Drive, and a second event on May 21 at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall lobby, during the annual Wine and Craft Festival held downtown. The planning director has emphasized that maximum exposure to this planning process by the public is the objective of the community input sessions. See separate story here. The finished plan ultimately will then be subject to two public hearings, one provided by the Planning Commission and the other by Town Council.
The next regular Planning Commission Meeting will be held on June 15 at 7 pm.
Town Talk: A conversation with Sgts Terry Fritts and Cindy Burke – WCSO Community Events
In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Sgts Terry Fritts and Cindy Burke from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office about D.A.R.E. Day. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office first presented D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instruction to Warren County public school students in 1987.
Each year the Warren County Sheriff’s Office sets aside a day of fun activities for our middle school 5th graders. This year D.A.R.E. Day will be May 24th at Bing Crosby Stadium in Front Royal.
D.A.R.E. provides training for local police officers instructing students in school classrooms with a series of drug and violence prevention lessons. These lessons are designed for grades K –12. Currently, in the United States and around the world, there are over 50,000 trained deputy sheriffs, town and city police officers, state police officers, military police officers, and defense department police serving as D.A.R.E. Officers.
The D.A.R.E. curriculum at the fifth-grade level includes nine lessons based on substance abuse prevention education, learning the skills needed to recognize and resist the subtle and overt pressures that may cause young people to experiment with drugs, gangs, and violent activities. Students are taught positive decision-making techniques, which result in good and healthy outcomes.
On July 21st, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office will host a fun day event again this year. This date may be subject to change, weather permitting. Applications can be downloaded below or picked up at your child’s school or at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. All applications must be returned to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office no later than 7/1/22. There is NO CHARGE to participate in Fun Day. Participants must be between the ages of 11–13 and be a resident of Warren County. Fun Day is fully operated by donations.
This year, the Warren County Sheriff’s office elected not to host a Sheriff’s Youth Summer Camp but instead will host a Fun Day Event. If you would like more information on the Sheriff’s Youth Fun Day or how you can contribute, contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at (540) 635‑4128.
School Board approves pending $1.9M in bonuses for WCPS employees
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, May 18 meeting, unanimously approved more than $1.9 million to be used to pay a one-time bonus to all full-time and part-time employees of Warren County Public School (WCPS). The Warren County Board of Supervisors also must weigh in on the request.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted yea to the recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger to approve giving full-time employees a net payment of $1,500 and part-time employees a net payment of $750. Employees hired on or after January 1, will receive a net payment of one-half of the approved amount, Ballenger said.
The superintendent pointed out that the School Board’s approval is contingent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the necessary transfer of funds between categories for the School Board to execute the payments.
The estimated cost of the bonus ($1,908,452) would be paid with approved fiscal year 2022 budget savings primarily generated from the inability of the school division to fill several positions during the school year, lag pay savings from when an employee leaves and their replacement is hired, and staff turnover savings said Ballenger.
The School Board also, on Wednesday evening, unanimously approved other purchases contingent on the appropriation of funding from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
For instance, board members voted to approve a $343,600 contract award to Black Stone Roofing LLC, which will replace the membrane roof at the Blue Ridge Technical Center.
WCPS Director of Maintenance Greg Livesay told the board that the existing membrane roof has developed multiple leaks over the years, with previous repair attempts being unsuccessful. He said WCPS staff posted bid invitations online at the end of March, and a pre-bid meeting was conducted on April 13 that brought in eight contractors.
Livesay said five bids were received on April 29, with Black Stone Roofing “being the lowest, most-responsive bidder at $343,600.” The project could to ready to start in early to mid-June and completed within a four-to-six-weeks timeframe, depending on the weather, he said, adding that the contractor has the needed materials in hand, “so there are no lead time issues getting this project started.”
The board also approved the $96,117 purchase of additional Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) kits for all elementary schools and Brighter Futures. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, said LLI was implemented this school year at all elementary schools to help address the reading gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning.
The Fountas & Pinnell LLI System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading a challenge, Rudacille said, adding that the goal of LLI is to lift the literacy achievement of students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading.
“Schools have requested the purchase of additional LLI kits to support more students in the coming school year and, in the case of Hilda J. Barbour, which has used the program for many years, to also update and replace worn materials,” said Rudacille.
Additionally, the School Board approved a contract to New Virginia Tractor of Winchester, Va., in the amount of $27,903.26 to purchase two John Deere Zero Turn Mowers.
“In order to assume responsibility for the grounds maintenance for both high schools effective July 1, the Facilities Maintenance Department will need to purchase two zero-turn mowers,” said Livesay. “The existing equipment that was provided to Warren County when they assumed responsibility will remain in use by the County as they are responsible for the grounds maintenance at the middle and elementary school until April 2023.”
The board also approved a WCPS recommendation that the superintendent is authorized to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors approve several fiscal year 2022 Operating Fund category transfers.
“It’s an evening up of the money. A bookkeeping move to move money into the right categories so that we don’t overspend,” said Ballentine.
Additionally, the School Board approved, with gratitude, two new scholarships.
The Limeton United Methodist Church Scholarship will offer $2,500 to one graduating senior at both Warren County High School (WCHS) and Skyline High School (SHS) to attend Lord Fairfax Community College, which soon takes on its new name, Laurel Ridge Community College. According to Ballenger, additional criteria is that one scholarship will be awarded at each school; students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school, and awards will go to students in need due to financial hardship.
Reaching Out Now (RON) will provide $500 scholarship awards through the creation of its new Harlee Anne Hire Scholarship Program to support and encourage student-athletes at WCPS. Two awards of $500 each will be made during the 2021-2022 academic school year through the RON Endowment Program to a student-athlete at WCHS and at SHS, said Ballenger. The program’s main goal is to offer financial support to a current senior athlete at WCHS and SHS and “to encourage serious and deserving students to continue their studies after graduation,” he said.
The new scholarship program is named for Hire, 16, who died earlier this month. She would have been a 2024 SHS graduate. Ballenger said she played right field and was a catcher for the SHS Varsity Softball team. “Harlee loved sports” and “also had a servant’s heart,” said Ballenger, noting that Hire had earned the most service hours volunteering for the RON Girls of Destiny Program.
For next time
The School Board tabled action on the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) revised policy GCL Professional Staff Development.
Every employee holding a license issued by the Board of Education is required to complete cultural competency training, in accordance with guidance issued by the Board of Education, at least every two years, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith.
Each employee required to complete cultural competency training also must complete at least one such training no later than the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Smith told School Board members, noting that this was a July 2021 policy revision of the approved May 2021 GCL policy.
WCPS staff have communicated with representatives from the Virginia Department of Education for an update on the module that has been approved and revised by Gov. Youngkin’s administration, which Smith said is set to release the new module “within the next week or so.”
Board member Salins suggested tabling action on the item because the new module has not been released yet. “We would be voting on something that we can’t even read yet,” she said.
But board member Lo said that because teacher licensure is attached to the policy action, “it’s not up to us; we have to pass this.”
Board Chair Pence said that action on the item can be taken by the School Board during its work session in June when members should have a copy of the module.
What they’re saying on Youngkin’s Education Plan to raise standards, improve transparency, and empower parents and teachers
Governor Youngkin released the Department of Education report on May 19, 2022: Our Commitment To Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence For All Students. Leaders across the country sounded off on the findings in the report.
Commonwealth Executive Leadership
“We have wised up to the dangerous rhetoric others use to divide us when all parents want to do is decide where their children should go to school. The data is clear: our children are not learning and this is a national security crisis.” -Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears (former Vice President of the Virginia Board of Education)
“As the son of an immigrant from a socialist country, I understand the importance of an education that fosters free speech, independent thinking, and creates an environment where every child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams. The recommendations contained in this report will ensure our K-12 education system supports and prepares every child for success and empowers both parents and teachers.” -Attorney General Jason Miyares
“We can’t get back to having the best education unless we have the cooperation of everybody from the school superintendent, the school boards, and parent-teacher associations. I love what Governor Youngkin said, he is giving parents back the right opportunity to speak. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe in Governor Youngkin.” -Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder (1990-1994)
“A free high quality education is what the Virginia Constitution guarantees to the young people of the Commonwealth. It is the gift that creates equal access to the American Dream. Today Governor Glenn Youngkin and Education Secretary Amy Guidera presented a comprehensive, data analytics driven critique our current ability to deliver on that guarantee. The incontrovertible measurements show we are falling woefully short on both the expectations and performance. The governor and his team have set a seven-prong vision for correcting this systemic problem. His powerful combination of setting high expectations, empowering parents and teachers, demanding innovation and transparency, and evaluating individual student job and career readiness, will provide a new day of achievement for young Virginians. I thank Governor Youngkin for his servant leadership and relentless pursuit of providing the very best education for the future leaders of Virginia and America.” – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (2010 – 2014)
Leaders Across the Commonwealth
“While Petersburg is just miles away from Richmond, sometimes we feel like we are a world away given our challenges as a school division and community. I am grateful that the commitments made by state officials and the VDOE will shine a light on our students who do not always have the same access to opportunities in school as other students in Virginia.” – Superintendent of Petersburg City Public Schools Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin
“There is a misconception that superintendents and school systems don’t want data about student performance. This is not true. Now, more than ever, this information is critical in our plans to accelerate learning after the pandemic. As Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools, I rely on honest data to best serve more than 30,000 learners and more than 4,000 educators. Diminished data transparency makes my job harder. I am encouraged by efforts to recommit to high standards and excellence, and I look forward to working in partnership with our community and my colleagues across the Commonwealth as we prepare every learner for work and life.” – Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools Thomas Taylor
“The report released today emphasizes high expectations as we continue to support students, parents, and educators. And as we support our students, we must acknowledge that each one is unique and learns differently. That is why we must continue to evaluate our methods, recognize the growth our students make, and celebrate their achievements. At Louisa County Public Schools, I am surrounded by an incredible team of educators who inspire me with their determination, innovation, hard work, and positivity. I am confident that in Louisa County and across Virginia, educators, students, parents, and communities will continue to work diligently together to ensure that Virginia schools become the model for what public education should look like nationwide.” – Superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools Doug Straley
“Virginia is for lovers of liberty, learning, and opportunity. However, not all Virginians receive the quality education they deserve and that taxpayers should expect. To make matters worse, too many students we label as proficient will become frustrated when they have to face the brutal truth that we underprepared them for competitive jobs, salaries, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Thus, Virginia must also be for lovers of academic transparency. This report, sobering as it is, is a first step on a pathway towards a brighter future for all children and adult learners.”- Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson (2010-2011)
“When Virginia focuses on rigorous academic standards and provides support for meeting those standards, our students, teachers, principals, and administrators rise to meet the challenge. I am confident Virginia will regain its national ranking in education when students, educators, and schools are held accountable for achieving high standards and parents are included in policy decisions involving their children. Historically, the pendulum on educational policy tends to swing when student achievement spirals downward. Achievement data in Virginia suggests it is time to reverse the pendulum. Our students deserve no less.”- Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Patricia I. Wright (2008-2014)
“This report opens the door for an honest and long-overdue discussion on what is reasonable and appropriate regarding testing and accountability at the local and state level. Historically, this has not been a partisan issue, and it should not be today. There are no easy solutions. Success has always depended on bringing people together to understand these issues and to agree on the appropriate path. In the past, Virginia was recognized nationally as a leader in student achievement and progress. Unfortunately, over the past decade, we’ve gone backwards. This is painfully clear in the data from every state and national measure of student progress and achievement. This report is a good first step for Governor Youngkin and his administration to provide critical leadership to help Virginia’s students, parents and educators. The state Board of Education, school division leaders, and other stakeholders have a golden opportunity for conversations that can address important needs and refocus state policy on students and their readiness for today’s world.” -President of the Virginia Board of Education Dr. Kirk T. Schroder (1998-2002)
“There is no path to a more inclusive Virginia that doesn’t involve dramatic improvements to our education system. This report pulls back the curtain to lay bare just how far we have to go to provide a consistently high standard of excellence for all students across the commonwealth – especially for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students. It’s uncomfortable but vital reading for all Virginians and tees up a long-overdue conversation about our schools that should be bipartisan, forward-looking, and solution-oriented.” – Member of the Virginia Board of Education Andrew Rotherham (2005-2009), Co-Founder and Partner of Bellwether Education
“The Commonwealth of Virginia is known for having a well-trained and highly educated workforce. Our economy requires a strong educational system to assist every individual. This report identifies challenges in our K-12 system. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce looks forward to partnering with Governor Youngkin and Secretary Guidera to address the challenges pointed out by this report.” – President of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Barry DuVal
“At Virginia Learns we envision a day when all Virginia students receive an education that prepares them for the world and workforce, including learning experiences and environments that empower them to thrive in childhood and become positive contributors in their communities. To achieve this we share Superintendent Balow’s commitment that we must all work together to ensure high expectations and excellence for all learners. Our pledge is to bring together business and education leaders around these shared interests in education and a common agenda to modernize Virginia public schools so that all students gain the knowledge, durable skills, and experiences to be successful now and in the future. All children, regardless of where they live, deserve this from the adults and the data are clear that the most effective way to ensure this occurs is by giving educators the respect and support they need and deserve.”- President and CEO of Virginia Learns Robert Nomberg
Leaders Across the Nation
“This report and detailed gameplan is spot on. The starting point must be honesty about where we stand, and not brushing under the rug the seriousness of the learning loss our kids have suffered. Governor Youngkin’s call for full transparency with parents, aggressive interventions when needed, and higher standards throughout are exactly where all Governors should be leading their states. I especially salute the call for unbiased, robust history and civics education and to support teachers with the training they need. With its high standards, vision, and thoughtfulness, it is reminiscent of other great Virginians–the founders of our Great Republic.” -U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. William J. Bennett (1985-1988)
“The Youngkin Administration’s students-first approach to education is a welcomed change, not only for our students and families, but for our state’s economic future. By prioritizing parental control, college and career readiness, early literacy, and ensuring the education system is held accountable, all of our students will have an opportunity to flourish throughout their K-12 journey. I applaud the Governor and his Administration for prioritizing education and releasing this important plan.”-U.S. House Majority Leader (2011-2014) and U.S. Representative Eric Cantor (2001-2014)
“Governor Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays out an important agenda that serves the interests of all Virginia students by empowering parents, focusing on early literacy, improving college and career pathways, setting high expectations, and making Virginia’s education system more transparent and accountable to parents.” -Florida Governor Jeb Bush (1999-2007)
“The extent of learning losses in Virginia during the pandemic, and their disproportionate impact on more vulnerable groups, are hugely concerning. A commitment to remedying these differential losses is extremely important for children.” -Brown University Economics Professor Dr. Emily Oster
“Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays a foundation for improvement by focusing on the fundamentals: Putting students first, providing families with microgrants, raising expectations, strengthened accountability measures, and implementing the recently passed Virginia Literacy Act. ExcelinEd looks forward to working with the Administration’s efforts to make this vision and plan a reality for the benefit of Virginia’s students.” -CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Patricia Levesque
Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services: 10-A-Day Smoke Alarm Challenge
The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has renewed our partnership with the American Red Cross – Virginia Region and will participate in their “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” campaign. The Department will be conducting a “10-A-Day Campaign” to assist their endeavor.
Our “10-A-Day Campaign” will challenge our staffed stations to complete these activities each day during the week of May 23 thru May 30, 2022, with the focus on:
- Visit at least ten homes each day
- Provide lifesaving education on smoke alarms to a minimum of 10 people each day
- lnspect a minimum of 10 existing smoke alarms for appropriate working condition, appropriate placement, and adequate date
- Replace a minimum of 10 out of date alarms or install new alarms where needed
The Department plans to assist the “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” goal of 50,000 smoke alarm installs during May by challenging our staff to install 60 smoke alarms a day during the week campaign for 420 smoke alarms installed.
According to the Red Cross, “Home fires claim seven lives every day, but working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half.” Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue is committed to reducing the number even further by partnering with the Red Cross, educating the community, and providing free smoke alarm installs.
For a free fire and life safety home evaluation and to receive your free smoke alarms, please get in touch with 540-636-3830 or visit www.warrencountyfire.com
Youngkin Administration to raise standards, improve transparency, and empower parents and teachers
On May 19, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin received the Department of Education’s report “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.” The education report builds upon Governor Youngkin’s direction in Executive Order One, issued on his first day in office. The Governor affirmed his guiding principles to address troubling data trends and outlined policy recommendations to restore excellence in education in Virginia.
“Virginia’s public schools have long enjoyed a reputation for academic excellence,” said Governor Youngkin. “But the data in this report demonstrate that Virginia’s student achievement gaps are disturbing and cannot be ignored. This report documents a clear and sobering lesson on the consequences for students when state leaders lower academic standards and dismantle accountability.”
The 33-page report from the Department of Education details how state policy choices and priorities over the last decade have resulted in lower student achievement in reading and mathematics, wider achievement gaps, reduced transparency, and eroding parent confidence in the Commonwealth’s public schools.
“Virginians deserve to know the truth about how our children are doing,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera. “Under Governor Youngkin’s leadership, we aim to be the most transparent and accountable state in the nation while empowering parents and teachers with the knowledge and choices to do what’s best for each learner.”
Key findings in the report include the following:
• Virginia now has the lowest proficiency standards in reading and mathematics in the nation, resulting in the wide “honesty gaps” between the performance of students on state Standards of Learning tests and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
• Despite statistically significant declines in the reading performance of Virginia students on the 2019 NAEP and on state assessments, the Board of Education voted in 2020 to lower the proficiency standard on all elementary, middle school, and high school SOL reading tests.
• The Board of Education’s Standards of Accreditation — once an accountability model for other states — now de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics and mask wide achievement gaps.
• Pre-pandemic results from college entrance examinations taken by 2019 Virginia high graduates show wide disparities in college readiness, especially in mathematics.
• Last fall, 42% of Virginia second-graders scored below the benchmark on the Commonwealth’s early literacy screening assessment.
• Homeschooling increased by 56% in 2020-2021 as the parents of 59,638 school-age children chose not to send their children to public schools. Despite the return to in-person instruction this year, the parents of 55,769 students chose homeschooling over enrolling their children in a public school. In addition, 5,828 students have transferred from Virginia public schools to in-state private schools since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
“I want to stress that this report is not an indictment of our teachers, principals, and other school leaders. They have worked tirelessly over the last few years under extraordinary conditions and circumstances,” said Superintendent Jillian Balow. “But local decision-making inevitably reflects priorities and policy choices determined at the state level. I am committed to working with Governor Youngkin, the state Board of Education, and the General Assembly to reorder Virginia’s K-12 priorities, raise expectations for all of our students, and create an accreditation system that is transparent, honest, and prioritizes grade-level proficiency.”
The report also identifies Governor Youngkin’s guiding principles in education that will guide the work of his Administration in restoring excellence in education:
• Establish and maintain high expectations for students, schools, and ourselves.
• Advance parent and teacher empowerment to best serve students in partnership.
• Demand zero-tolerance for discrimination in education and beyond.
• Foster innovation in all education environments.
• Provide transparency and accountability so that each child is seen and receives what they need to succeed.
• Ensure post-secondary readiness so that all learners can succeed in life.
• Protect and nurture freedom of speech and inquiry to ensure every student is taught how to think, not what to think.
“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” said Governor Youngkin. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.”
The complete “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students” report is available here. Superintendent Balow’s presentation deck is available here.