Investigation continues in the murder of Michael Echaniz, family to establish scholarship fund
San Antonio, TX police say there is no new information in the case of former Front Royal resident Michael Echaniz, a 23-year-old San Antonio teacher who was killed outside his apartment complex Thursday, March 10.
A 2020 graduate of Christendom College, Echaniz was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher at Great Hearts Forest Heights, a charter school in San Antonio.
San Antonio police officers responded to the Eckert Heights Apartments around 7 a.m. and found the victim lying dead near his car, according to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. A witness reported seeing someone in a blue hoodie running away from the apartment complex after the shooting.
Great Hearts Forest Heights school released a statement, saying, “We are shocked and deeply saddened to have lost a beloved member of our school community. In his two years with us, Michael Echaniz faithfully served our students in and out of the classroom. He was a skilled teacher and generous soul who poured his time, talent, and energy into our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and students. Counselors are available on campus to support students and staff as we process this news. Police are continuing to investigate, and any additional questions should be directed to SAPD. He will be deeply missed.”
While attending Christendom College, Echaniz was “known for his sweet nature and deep devotion as a friend,” the college said in a statement. “He participated in plays and musicals at the college, including the musical Anything Goes, in the college’s swing and waltz dance competitions, and in the college’s debate society as well.”
He grew up in Front Royal, Virginia, and was the son of Christendom alumni John and Sharon (née Alessandro) Echaniz, the college stated.
Christendom College also stated that the Echaniz family plans to establish a memorial scholarship in Michael’s name. Donations can be made here: In Memory of Michael Echaniz – Christendom College
San Antonio Police Department spokesman Nicolas Soliz wrote in an email Monday that the case is currently under investigation, but no additional information would be released at this time.
Shenandoah University, Valley Health partner to tackle region’s nursing shortage
Shenandoah University, in collaboration with Valley Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), is working to tackle the region’s nursing shortage through a program that will enhance the training of aspiring nurses and create a sustainable pipeline of new healthcare
NextGen Nurses program will draw upon the expertise of semi-retired and retiring nurses to help train the next generation of nurses before they leave the profession. The program, which is designed to provide a replicable model that can be used throughout the state, will create a reliable source of new nurses in the Shenandoah Valley by increasing regional opportunities to meet clinical training requirements through preceptorship and simulation.
This project was funded in part by GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that strengthens and diversifies Virginia’s economy and fosters the creation of higher-wage jobs in strategic industries.
The NextGen Nurses program is funded by a $496,000 GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant.
“Shenandoah University is grateful to have the support and financial backing of GO Virginia and the Department of Housing and Community Development for such a vital program during a critical period for health and nursing care in Virginia and across the country,” said Lisa Levinson, M.S.N, acting dean of the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing. “We’re proud to partner with Valley Health on such an important endeavor to facilitate an increased nursing workforce in the region. We aim to ultimately improve the quality of life in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and provide a model to be followed across the state to help address the nationwide nursing shortage.”
The pandemic exacerbated workforce shortages in the healthcare sector, including an exodus of nursing professionals and a shortage of clinical trainers for nursing students.
As part of the NextGen Nurses program, Shenandoah University’s highly skilled faculty in the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing – which boasted one of the state’s highest National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) first-time pass rates (97.47%) for the 2021-22 academic year – will develop a series of scalable, relevant and easy-to-use educational on-demand modules designed to accelerate training for retired nurses, and other eligible nurses, to become clinical preceptors.
“Clinical training is one of the most pressing concerns in contemporary nursing education, making this NextGen Nurses program all the more important,” said Shenandoah University Provost Cameron McCoy, Ph.D. “We are grateful for the continued partnership of Valley Health, GO Virginia, VHHA, and DHCD as we collectively improve nursing education in the Shenandoah Valley. At Shenandoah University, our nursing faculty are perpetual innovators and, as such, are exceptionally well positioned to lead and partner in the development of these essential modules.”
Valley Health, with the assistance of the Virginia Department of Health, will recruit and onboard nurses who no longer work full-time at the bedside to complete the SU-developed training modules before being employed as clinical preceptors.
“This academic-practice partnership with Shenandoah University is an important element in our broader workforce development strategy,” said Theresa Trivette, DNP, Valley Health chief nurse executive. “It is critically important that we draw upon the knowledge of our most experienced nurses in the region to help train and support our newest nurses to assure we are able to continue providing the highest quality of care for our community.”
Additionally, NextGen Nurses will increase opportunities to use simulation as a supplemental option in clinical preceptorships. Shenandoah has hired a director of the clinical simulation and obtained the necessary equipment to create a simulation lab capable of fulfilling up to 25% of the 500 clinical hours required for aspiring nurses. The simulation lab will reduce the need for SU’s School of Nursing preceptorships by 25%, relieving some of the burden on local healthcare providers to serve as preceptors and/or clinical sites, a role that has become more challenging due to the growing workforce shortages.
The NextGen Nurses program aims to hire 35 retired or retiring nurses as clinical preceptors by June 2024.
“GO Virginia Region 8 is thrilled to provide funding for the NextGen Nurses project, addressing critical workforce shortages exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Chris Kyle, GO Virginia Region 8 chair. “Region 8 will benefit from this project, which will help rebuild capacity in the health care system as we continue to focus on this critical health care shortage in our region. We embrace the opportunity for replicable projects in the region, knowing economic prosperity will expand from high-paying career pathways. Everyone should celebrate this win!”
About Shenandoah University
Shenandoah University was established in 1875 and is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, with additional educational sites in Clarke, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties. Shenandoah is a private, nationally recognized university that blends professional career experiences with wide-ranging education. With approximately 4,200 students in more than 200 areas of study in six different schools, Shenandoah promotes a close-knit community rich in creative energy and intellectual challenge. Shenandoah students collaborate with accomplished professors who provide focused, individual attention, all the while leading several programs to be highly nationally ranked. Through innovative partnerships and programs at both the local and global level, there are exceptional opportunities for students to learn in and out of the classroom. Shenandoah empowers its students to improve the human condition and to be principled professionals and leaders wherever they go. For more information, visit su.edu.
About Valley Health
Valley Health is a nonprofit health system serving a population of more than 500,000 in the Northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, and western Maryland. As a healthcare provider, employer, and community partner, Valley Health is committed to improving the health of the region. The system includes six hospitals, more than 70 medical practices and Urgent Care centers, outpatient rehabilitation and fitness, medical transport, long-term care, and home health. For more information, visit valleyhealthlink.com.
Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions to begin offering in-demand ITIL 4 certification from PeopleCert
Laurel Ridge will begin offering ITIL 4 Foundation, an internationally recognized in-demand IT management certification, beginning this June. Students taking the ITIL course will learn the skills they need to lead and manage an IT business service through every stage.
Additionally, the fast-paced, four-week online course will prepare students for the ITIL 4 Foundation exam. It is being offered by Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions with certification provided through PeopleCert, the global leader in assessing and certifying professional skills.
“Our college is the heartbeat of workforce development, and we are the direct line to providing the skilled workforce local employers need,” said Laurel Ridge Marketing Director Guy Curtis. “The IT realm in organizations, especially in a post-pandemic and hybrid working world, needs so many skilled people, and training in ITIL 4 will meet their needs while also creating long-term careers for our graduates – with average annual salaries for entry-level workers starting at almost $110,000.
“With the number of tough-to-fill jobs in the market, we are inviting more people to gain education and training and move forward in their working lives. And, with the need for IT service management skills on the rise across the nation, ITIL is a great foundation course to obtain management skills, which lay the foundation for other stackable credentials.”
ITIL was originally developed by the British government to improve performance in IT services and has been adopted by IT professionals and organizations in multiple industry sectors worldwide, helping to increase business value through digital and IT services.
“This program is ideal for students currently working as it enhances their current skills and can help them launch a new career and become more marketable in the workforce,” Curtis said. “One of our core values – a passion for lifelong learning – is about the need for individuals to keep pursuing new opportunities, to grow and keep pace with the in-demand skills of today.
“And, with ITIL recognized by both the G3 and the FastForward grant programs as a training course resulting in industry credentials for high-demand professions in the region, this makes it more affordable for students to subsidize their next career move.”
FastForward grant funding covers two-thirds of the tuition costs for Virginia residents, and the G3 program pays for costs not already covered by grants and other financial aid for qualified students. Learn more at laurelridgeworkforce.com/ITIL.
New school division facilities director approved
Among several action agenda items, the Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, March 29 meeting, unanimously approved the appointment of a new facilities director for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).
Following a recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted 5-0 to approve the appointment of Bryan Helmick, who on July 1 will officially replace Greg Livesay, who has retired as the WCPS maintenance director.
Bryan Helmick and his wife, Nina Helmick, who is the principal at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, raised two sons and one daughter, all graduates of Skyline High School. They currently have six grandchildren attending Ressie Jeffries, Ballenger said.
Mr. Helmick had a successful career of more than 30 years as a mechanical contractor with the Steamfitters Local 602 out of Washington, D.C., performing duties such as journeyman HVAC, mechanic field facility supervisor, service manager, and construction manager, said Ballenger.
Helmick, who also coached football and baseball for years at Warren County High School and Skyline High School, was hired by WCPS in the summer of 2021 to serve as the facility supervisor. He currently serves as the interim facilities director.
“I always knew I wanted to be an employee of Warren County Public Schools, but I never knew in what capacity,” Helmick said. “In June of 2021, the opportunity to become the facility supervisor… was offered, and I knew at that time it was the right move.
“The goal from day one was always to excel and work my way to facilities director,” he added. “I will take this position very seriously and work hard every day to succeed in this new challenge.”
Also, during its meeting, the School Board paid special recognition to the Skyline High School Boys’ Basketball team on Wednesday evening. Head Coach Harold Chunn (above at podium) and Assistant Coach Stephen Rinker (above far right) received the recognition with three of the Hawks’ players: sophomore Dwayne Tucker (above far left) and seniors Elias Carter (second from left) and Zack Diggs (second from right). The Hawks team made it to the state semifinals with a final record of 26 wins and one loss. The team was 14-0 in its Northwestern District division.
“That record is astonishing,” said Rinaldi. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a record that good. It takes a lot of work to get there.
“You guys are leaders of your school; don’t take that for granted because other kids look up to you,” he told the student athletes.
More board action
The School Board also unanimously approved eight other action agenda items during its meeting:
1.) A contract totaling $68,832 over four years was awarded to Document Solutions Inc. for the lease of copiers at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, which is updating the copiers in the building, according to WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant. The budgeted item will cost $1,434 a month.
2.) The 2023-2024 Special Education Annual Plan, which includes an application for federal funding in the amount of almost $1.28 million for 611 part-B and $33,545 for 619 part-B for total funding of just more than $1.31 million to be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education.
3.) A Memorandum of Agreement between WCPS and the Warren County Community Health Coalition establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and the coalition and supports eligible students experiencing trauma in middle and high school. For example, the Warren Coalition, which supports a drug-free county, will provide supervision to the behavioral health coach and anxiety/depression specialist at WCPS, which will provide office space and a computer for the health coach.
4.) A Cooperative Agreement between the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired and WCPS establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and the department and provides support to eligible WCPS students.
5.) An expenditure of over $15,000 for purchasing the Grand Canyon University Grow Your Own Participant coursework costs $27,740. WCPS Personnel Director Shane Goodwin told board members that growing and retaining the school division’s current workforce is imperative to its mission to keep an exceptional teacher in front of every student every day. “To accomplish this mission, Grand Canyon University provides academic counseling, coursework, and content to nine current WCPS employees in both teacher and instructional assistant roles,” he explained. “These employees will earn licensure through completed coursework in the areas of elementary education, special education, and secondary education, with an emphasis in humanities.”
WCPS will pay for a portion of the coursework (the target is 80 percent), with the employee paying the rest, said Goodwin, noting that the agreement stipulates that employees must work for WCPS for a minimum of two years beyond completion of the licensure eligibility or pay back the amount invested by WCPS on a prorated basis as specified in the related Memorandum of Understanding.
“Our belief is that by investing in our current workforce in this unique way, we can better ensure the workforce we need for our future,” Goodwin said.
“This is a good way to keep teachers in our system,” agreed Rinaldi. “Seems like we’re training facilities for places east of here. Teacher retention is critical for us.”
6.) Renewed contract with Sodexo America LLC as the WCPS food management services company for the period of July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024, and to accept any administrative (non-material) changes as required by the Virginia Department of Education. There is an 8.4 percent proposed cost increase for the 2023-2024 school year, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration George “Buck” Smith.
7.) Authorization for the superintendent to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors appropriates $28,000 from the amount withheld for the 2023 Operational Budget of $1,215,459 to the school division’s capital improvement fund for the A&E fees that are needed to turn the existing auditorium into a multi-purpose room at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary.
8.) Request that an additional $241,346 in budgeted state funding be appropriated to Category 63000-Pupil Transportation to cover greater-than-anticipated fuel costs for buses and vehicles and that $25,000 be appropriated to the 64000-Facilities budget category. According to WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine, the amended state budget for FY 2023 that was adopted on February 25 provides $241,346 in greater than originally budgeted state funding. The increase primarily comes from technical adjustments and membership adjustments. Ballentine also said that WCPS projects that reimbursements for HVAC repair parts purchased for Warren County facilities and reimbursed by the County will total approximately $25,000.
Click here to watch the School Board’s March 29 meeting.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Spotted Salamander
This handsome Spotted Salamander came in to us after they were found walking inside a barn, dried out and looking lethargic. The finder was kind enough to drive them to us for evaluation.
Salamanders are known to walk miles during breeding season between wetland locations, and it is possible a cold snap got in the way of this one’s trek.
Thankfully, this salamander had no obvious wounds or injuries on exam. We did treat them with antibiotics for any potential cat attack wounds as that may have been why the salamander was found in the barn to begin with, though a cat interaction was not witnessed.
Thankfully, after just a few days of treatment and rest and relaxation, this salamander was cleared for release and returned home!
Thanks so much to the finder who spotted this critter and cared enough to get them evaluated. We couldn’t give wildlife a second chance without caring finders and supporters like you!
Did you know?
The Spotted Salamander is great at eluding predators!
They spend the majority of their time hiding under rocks, fallen trees, or leaf litter to avoid being seen. Plus, the bright, contrasting spots along their neck, back, and tail serve as a warning to predators that they secrete a toxin, which makes them taste bitter.
So even when spotted, they don’t look like a tasty treat!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Michal Ashby, children’s librarian receives the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award
On March 15, 2023, Michal Ashby, children’s librarian at Samuel’s Public Library, received the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award. “For Outstanding and Meritorious Service to Humanity,” the award was presented by Lodge 2382 of Front Royal.
“The award from Elks Club was the most significant professional honor of my life,” Ashby said. “The people I have met in that group have been some of the sweetest people I have ever met. Their selection of me for the award has positively impacted my life for years to come. Their generosity humbles me.”
This honor does not come out of the blue. Ashby has been instrumental in helping the library maintain a partnership with the local Elks Club for some time. “They are passionate about literacy and have been contributing to our programs for years,” she said. “Like other civic organizations such as Kiwanis Club and Rotary, they make a huge difference in our community.”
To anyone who knows her, it is obvious that Michal Ashby is a passionate human being driven by many goals. One of her greatest passions is the adult and teen volunteer base that serves the library. “Without a foundation,” she said, “a house wouldn’t stand.” She sees her volunteers as being that foundation. “They help us with everything from weeding our children’s garden, cutting out crafts for story-time, shifting books, shelving movies, and doing light cleaning. Sometimes they even offer to dress up in a costume for a special program!”
As Ashby talked about her passion for the library and the community in which it stands, it became evident why she received the award. “Every day, I am reminded why I serve this community,” she said. “Every day, I see parents who thank us for what we do, children who ask us about good books, and teens who tell us how much the library means to them. Our community drives my passion for our department and the library.”
Ashby has served the library since 2006. In that time, the children’s staff and the teen volunteer program have grown. The library has achieved many goals, adding regular art, gardening, and science programs to complement its literacy-based programs. It now maintains a children’s garden, a Storywalk at Eastham Park, and a variety of community partnerships. “I am proud that these things have happened during my ‘stewardship’ of the children’s department,” Ashby said. She also said that her current goal “is to increase our presence and our impact in the community,” chiefly through partnerships with organizations that choose to do programming with the library.
The passion of Michal Ashby extends to every part of her life. Her hobbies include gem mining, rock hounding, history, genealogy, and reading. “I am an avid reader,” she said. “Recently, I have been enjoying our non-fiction. I love to read about space, geology, and Egyptology. Children’s books are quick reads in comparison to adult non-fiction. I also recently have been re-reading the classics such as 1,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.”
Bringing the community every interest imaginable with a built-in mechanism for reaching out to other libraries, Samuel’s is truly a product of evolution in the eyes of those who remember presenting their selection of loans to a librarian, as they can now handle the check-out process themselves with the assistance of cutting-edge computer technology. Despite such improvements, the library continues to be a friendly place where magical things can happen, protected by the stewardship of people like Michal Ashby.
Laurel Ridge celebrates expansion of manufacturing and trades lab space on Middletown Campus
Laurel Ridge Community College leaders, employees, and instructors were joined by elected officials, industry partners, economic development representatives, chamber of commerce members, and private donors Friday morning to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the newly-expanded Alson H. Smith Hall on the college’s Middletown Campus.
A 3,500-square-foot addition has recently been completed at the facility, which also houses the college’s dental hygiene clinic, a black box theater, and a nursing simulation lab. Now, it has plenty of space for three mechatronics (advanced manufacturing) labs and labs for welding, HVAC, electrical, and heavy equipment operator programs.
An $800,000 GO Virginia grant helped provide the state-of-the-art equipment needed for the mechatronics program, Laurel Ridge President Kim Blosser said prior to the ribbon cutting.
“When you take a tour of the labs, you will see a lot of impressive equipment with sleek robotics and controls,” she said. “This is the kind of high-tech resource and training that will help make the Northern Shenandoah Valley an attractive location for new businesses or for current business expansion.”
Manufacturing is the second-largest industry sector in the region, said Jeanian Clark, vice president of Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education. The more than 90,000 manufacturing jobs in the region have average salaries above $50,000, she said. Still, about 3,100 more positions need to be filled, and if they were, according to Clark, they would bring an additional $1.4 billion in economic output.
She shared the following statistics about the increasing need for trades specialists within the Laurel Ridge service region:
- There are 40 jobs posted for the HVAC industry. HVAC techs have an average annual salary above $55,000.
- More than 30 additional electricians, with an average salary above $60,000, are needed.
- Nearly two dozen welding jobs are open. Those positions average more than $50,000 annually.
- Just shy of 100 construction trades positions are open, with an average pay of nearly $50,000 a year.
“We are fully committed and passionate about supporting the current and future growth of our community and the workforce,” said Vice President Clark.
Del. Bill Wiley was one of several speakers at Friday’s event. Wiley is a real estate broker and is the business development manager for Howard Shockey and Sons Inc.
“I can’t say enough in terms of the need for this,” he said. “Our area is all about this type of work.”
Mike Powell, senior manager of maintenance at Trex Co. Inc., said many of his employees received training through Laurel Ridge Workforce Solutions.
“Laurel Ridge is a critical part of our region’s workforce development,” he said. “I have firsthand knowledge of the experience they gained here. That has really refined our team’s technical abilities.”
There is grant funding available through programs such as FastForward and G3 to cover much of the costs of the trade programs for qualified Virginia residents. Learn more at LaurelRidgeWorkforce.com/funding. Visit LaurelRidgeWorkforce.com for more information on trades programming.
Wind: 2mph NNE
UV index: 2