The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, June 1 meeting unanimously approved a new health insurance provider for employees of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), and the superintendent highlighted how the division continuously works to mitigate any incident that could jeopardize the safety of WCPS students, staff, and employees.
School Board Chair Kirsten Pence, Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins approved a health insurance provider switch from Aetna back to Anthem The Local Choice (TLC). As of September 30, the WCPS and Aetna health insurance contract will be terminated, with the new WCPS Anthem TLC contract becoming effective on October 1 for a term of 12 months.
Ed White, senior vice president at McGriff Insurance Services in Winchester, Va., the health insurance agent for WCPS, reminded School Board members that due to a contract impasse in 2020,
WCPS chose to move from Anthem TLC to a contract with Aetna effective February 1, 2021, that was guaranteed for 20 months. The Aetna contract, which ends on September 30, will have saved WCPS a total of $1.28 million over the previous contract with Anthem TLC, White said.
Now, though, Aetna has indicated to WCPS that because medical/dental/vision claims are not running well, the school division could expect a possible large renewal increase in October, said White.
With that in mind, White said WCPS once again decided to solicit quotes through an RFP for the upcoming year hoping to keep the current benefit structure intact. In addition to the Aetna renewal rates, four other health insurers provided quotes: Anthem Direct, Cigna, United Healthcare, and TLC (with Anthem and Delta administering). The quotes ranged in cost from a high with Aetna of 34 percent to a low with TLC of 6.2 percent.
“All of the quotes are close, but The Local Choice is the most competitive,” said White, who noted that the combined savings from making the move to Aetna and back to TLC will have saved WCPS and its employees almost $1.7 million over the 32 months.
Equally important is that WCPS employees will be held harmless under the new contract, said WCPS Personnel Director Shane Goodwin, explaining that their current health insurance rates will not change when the provider switch is completed.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said that the increased premium costs in health insurance will be covered by growth in the division’s health savings account, which is expected to total almost $1 million by the fall.
With the recent massacre last week at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas — where a lone gunman killed 19 students and two teachers and injured others — being top of mind, Ballenger said he wanted to take time to discuss what WCPS is doing to secure the safety of its facilities.
WCPS has a crisis management plan that gets developed and reviewed with input from the Front Royal Police Department, the County Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue, school administrators, and the local health department, among others. “There are a lot of entities involved in developing the plan,” he said, noting that the next meeting to review the plan for the upcoming school year is July 20.
“There are so many things we do when it comes to making sure our facilities are secure and a lot of that falls on the Warren County Sheriff’s Office,” Ballenger added.
For instance, Sgt. Burke directs the division’s School Resource Officers (SROs). “To be a School Resource Officer it takes a lot,” she told board members. “Not your normal Warren County Sheriff’s deputy can step into school resource. You have to have a love for kids.”
Burke and the SROs handle daily safety audits at each school in Warren County. Such audits, Burke said, include checking to make sure that windows, doors, and entry/exit points are secure.
“We’re constantly searching to make sure that there’s no way no one can get in,” she said.
SROs also check the outdoor areas around schools, as well as their camera systems, and each SRO also is issued a school radio to remain in constant contact with school administrators, she said.
“We stay pretty busy on a day-to-day basis checking the security of the schools,” said Burke.
At the same time, Ballenger said there are regular conversations between WCPS staff and SROs about what actions need to be taken to ensure WCPS facilities are safe.
One such conversation, for example, included discussions around the use of annual security grant monies, which help WCPS buy new or updated cameras and security systems, among other items.
Ballenger said that during one recent audit, he and the SRO decided that grant money might also go toward paying to expand the indoor intercom systems to the outside areas at schools. This would allow teachers and students to hear emergency announcements while they’re outdoors.
“We’re always improving and increasing the security of our buildings on a daily basis,” Ballenger said, pointing to lockdown drills that get conducted regularly, as well as updated policy for search and seizure (i.e. newly allowed canine searches), vehicle checks in the parking lots, and increased police presence during large events.
And prior to the incident in Texas, he said that training for school administrators had already been scheduled for this summer. Some of that training is going to include incident command, which is basically how to handle an emergency incident, as well as the roles and responsibilities of school personnel and first responders during an active shooter incident, for example. Specific SRO training also will be held, said Ballenger.
Additionally, Burke said there is an active shooter program held at the schools during the summertime or in the evenings twice a year “to keep our training fresh because we need to be ready.”
She added that there was “a huge shortage” this year with SROs. “But from my understanding, we will have a full house next year,” said Burke, “and there will be one SRO per school in the division.”
In other action
The School Board members at their June 1 meeting also unanimously approved:
1. A resolution authorizing the superintendent to reassign any teacher, assistant principal, or principal within the school division for the 2022-2023 school year.
2. A $55,430.59 contract award to OpenRDA for finance software support for the 2022-2023 fiscal year (FY); the contract is contingent upon the appropriation of sufficient funds once the FY 2023 budget is approved.
3. Title I, II, III, and IV grant applications, which now will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education.
4. An $18,010 contract award to School Insites to build, migrate, and maintain a new website for WCPS. The cost of the project will be $18,010 for the 2022-2023 school year for setup, migration, and training, and then $12,960 for hosting, monitoring, and support every year thereafter, according to WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant.
Click here to watch the School Board meeting in its entirety. The School Board will hold its work session on Wednesday, June 15.
Randolph-Macon Academy’s English 7 Students Dive Deep into Myths
Unraveling Myths: From Ancient Tales to Modern Interpretations.
Last week, the main hall of the Middle School building at Randolph-Macon Academy transformed into an arena of tales, legends, and myths, thanks to Mr. Malinconico’s English 7 class. With enthusiasm, creativity, and a profound sense of inquisitiveness, the young students set out on a journey to unravel the mysteries of myths from across the globe.
At the heart of this “Mythology Showcase!” were essential questions carefully crafted to guide students into a deeper understanding of myths. Questions such as “What are myths?” and “How can myths assist people in making sense of the world?” sparked the flame of curiosity. The age-old practice of telling and preserving myths was delved into, along with exploring the essential lessons and morals these stories might impart to their listeners.
The physical manifestation of this study was a series of tri-fold display boards, each carefully created by the students. The center panel offered a definition of myths, their purpose, and a retelling of an assigned myth. The left invited onlookers into a realm of imagination with students’ original myths. Meanwhile, the right panel provided an analytical touch, contrasting the assigned myth with its Greek or Roman counterpart.
Beyond academic insights, this showcase was a stepping stone for students to hone their public speaking and leadership skills. The act of crafting an original myth, juxtaposed against the backdrop of time-tested legends, allowed these young minds to exercise their creativity. Such endeavors speak volumes about R-MA’s ethos. Both educators and learners here don’t merely focus on traditional learning. They seize every day as an opportunity to mold excellence nurturing academic and life skills.
In the heart of this mythology tapestry lies a bigger narrative. It underscores that myths, ancient or new, not only entertain but also foster understanding, build bridges, and inspire excellence in multiple dimensions of life. It reminds us all to keep stories alive and, in doing so, keep the vibrant spark of humanity glowing.
Learn more about Randolph-Macon Academy https://rma.edu/
Warren County Builder’s Association Hosts Candidate Forum – Wednesday, September 27, 2023
An Insightful Gathering for the Upcoming Elections.
On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, Warren County will be abuzz with political fervor as the Warren County Builders Association (WCBA) takes center stage at the Government Center on Commerce Ave. Scheduled for 6:00 p.m., the forum promises to be an informative evening dedicated to presenting the visions and policies of candidates for the forthcoming local and state elections.
As election season heats up, the need to create platforms where the public can gain insight into the thinking of their potential representatives becomes ever-crucial. A candidate forum, like the one being organized by the WCBA, provides an essential space for candidates to articulate their positions on a gamut of issues, ranging from infrastructural development to educational reforms.
For the upcoming elections, several local and state office positions are being contested, attracting a myriad of candidates. The Front Royal Town Council has Glenn Wood, Skip Rogers, Melissa DeDomenico-Payne, and Connie Marshner vying for positions. The Warren County Board of Supervisors will see Rich Jamison, John Stanmeyer, Cheryl Cullers, and Nicole Wanzer making their cases to the public. Additionally, the Warren County School Board has Kristen Pence, Leslie Mathews, Amber Mabie, and Melanie Salins on its candidate list. Other significant roles up for election include the Clerk of the Court with Angie Moore, the Warren County Treasurer with Janice Shank and Allison Ross, VA Delegate District 31 with Steve Foreman, Delores Oates, and Grace Morrison, and the Warren County Sheriff’s position, for which Crystal Cline is running.
With such a diverse pool of candidates, the community eagerly anticipates an evening full of engaging discourse, insightful discussions, and a clearer vision of the future that each candidate brings to the table. To ensure that those unable to attend won’t miss out, the Royal Examiner’s camera crew will be present to capture every moment of this pivotal forum.
The WCBA, as a non-profit trade association network, has always been at the forefront of community-building initiatives. Their commitment is seen in their efforts to bring together builders, professionals, suppliers, and trade employees with a shared dream of sculpting a better community. Through such events, they further their objectives of promoting responsible growth, updating members about crucial industry developments, and influencing policy and regulation at the local and state levels.
In the whirlwind of election season, having informed choices is imperative. Thanks to endeavors like the candidate forum by WCBA, residents of Warren County will have a better understanding of the individuals who wish to represent them and shape their community’s future.
Safety First: ACES Drives Initiative to Protect Pedestrians on West Criser Road
Push for High-Visibility Flex-Stakes Aims to Secure Prominent Front Royal Routes.
In Front Royal, the ever-busy West Criser Road plays a pivotal role for pedestrians, cyclists, and students. Recognizing the road’s prominence and inherent dangers, the Advisory Committee for Environmental Sustainability (ACES) is spearheading a crucial fundraising campaign. Their objective? To install high-visibility flex-stakes, enhancing the road’s safety and ensuring a secure passage for all.
West Criser isn’t just any road in Front Royal; it forms an integral connection between Eastham Park and the esteemed Skyline High School, creating a widely frequented loop. Cyclists, joggers, and walkers often use this scenic route to revel in the town’s natural beauty or engage in daily exercises. Moreover, the pathway is indispensable for students traveling to and from Skyline High and Skyline Middle School.
However, the increasing foot and vehicular traffic warrants a closer examination of the road’s safety features. The proposed flex-stakes, with their high-visibility feature, are specifically designed to draw attention to the pedestrian shoulder, offering a clear and safe boundary. This installation is not only expected to shield pedestrians and cyclists but also act as a reminder for drivers to slow down, particularly in this densely populated zone.
ACES’s commitment to environmental sustainability has always been evident in its various initiatives. With this campaign, they extend their dedication towards ensuring that Front Royal’s natural beauty can be enjoyed safely by all its residents. This fundraiser isn’t just about installing stakes; it’s about building a more secure community, one flex-stake at a time.
As ACES pushes forward with its mission, community support becomes paramount. Donations, both big and small, can play a part in safeguarding the residents of Front Royal and enhancing the overall safety of West Criser Road. With collective effort and community backing, these high-visibility flex-stakes will soon become a reality, offering peace of mind to many.
Please consider donating to help make this section of roadway safer for everyone to use.
Adverse Weather Can’t Dampen Spirits at Celebrate Kids Day
As dark clouds loomed and Tropical Storm Ophelia made its presence felt on September 24th, the Warren Coalition’s 10th annual Celebrate Kids Day proceeded with a vigor and energy that the storm couldn’t dampen. A change in venue to the Health & Human Services Complex did little to deter hundreds of families from partaking in this beloved event.<br><br>
The popular inflatable rides found a new home at the 15th Street Gym, thanks to a quick-thinking reorganization plan. Nearby, Diversified Minds from Warren County Public Schools offered their conference room for local agencies to set up shop. The sheer number of attendees highlighted the event’s significance: rooms brimming with activities, face painting sessions in the “band room,” and games galore.
Though the pony ride vendor had to cancel, the rest of the outdoor activities, like the pitch burst and petting zoo, stood their ground. Nearly a thousand visitors, both young and old, made their way through the attractions, enjoying everything from a T-ball challenge to inflatable rock walls.
Inside, organizations like the Salvation Army, St. Luke’s Community Clinic, and the Department of Social Services, to name a few, had tables set up, offering a range of activities and information. As children flitted between buildings, taking in all the fun, some were drawn to the pitch burst. There, brave volunteers sat poised for a splashy surprise, all in good fun and for a charitable cause, raising over $6,000.
Thanks to generous sponsors like Front Royal Dental Care, Fraternal Order of Police, and City National Bank (which covered the entire petting zoo’s expenses), the event’s price remained a mere dollar per child. Local businesses, from Horton’s Nursery and Garden Center to Martin’s, also chipped in, showcasing a heartwarming communal spirit.
Reflecting on the day, Christa Shifflett, Executive Director of the Warren Coalition, remarked, “This is a testament to our community’s resilience and togetherness. Everyone, from sponsors to parents, played their part, ensuring that Celebrate Kids Day was a roaring success, even in the face of unpredictable weather.” The Warren Coalition, a beacon for health care and substance abuse awareness since 1994, remains dedicated to fostering a safe and nurturing environment in Warren County.
Shenandoah Rail Trail: An Ambitious Vision On Track
Stitching Towns and Nature Together with a 50-Mile Thread.
A broad coalition of elected officials, economic development leaders, business owners, nonprofit partners, and state legislators gathered last week in Front Royal to discuss progress on the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail. This ambitious 50-mile multi-use trail would convert an abandoned railroad corridor into a shared-use path connecting nine towns and three counties along the Shenandoah Valley.
The meeting provided an opportunity to update Senator Tim Kaine on the status of the project and emerging funding opportunities. Kaine has been a longtime supporter of the trail, noting during the discussion that he’s an avid cyclist familiar with the region’s trails. “When I first heard about plans for the Shenandoah Rail Trail, I thought it would work great, and it’s exciting to see the progress made,” he said.
Kaine emphasized the value of demonstrating successful trails to gain local buy-in, saying, “The more model trails are up and running, the more small towns can see the benefits and want to get on board.”
The diverse group highlighted how their coordinated efforts are building momentum for the project. Natasha Skelton of The Conservation Fund, which is negotiating the acquisition of the corridor from Norfolk Southern, said: “We have strong localized support up and down the corridor, with all nine towns and three counties in agreement that this is what they want to do with the vacant rail line.”
The newly formed Friends of the Shenandoah Rail Trail will spearhead private fundraising efforts. The trail partnership is also pursuing federal funding through a $25 million RAISE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. At the state level, $35 million has been allocated so far from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Proponents emphasized the potential economic benefits of the trail for tourism and small businesses focused on outdoor recreation. “We see this as an asset that businesses can build off of,” said Joe Petty, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Others highlighted community engagement progress, including a series of public meetings that collected input on trail preferences from over 700 residents. Outreach to diverse populations, such as non-English speaking poultry plant workers who could use the trail to commute, is also underway.
The scenic value of trail bridges slated to cross rivers and rail lines was noted as iconic attractions for visitors. Local connections via trails and greenways linking to the main corridor will also help residents access the amenities.
Senator Kaine’s visit gave the partners a high-profile platform to share their vision and progress. With strong local alignments, funding pursuits underway, and engagement efforts to spread awareness, the Shenandoah Rail Trail initiative appears to be building unstoppable momentum.
Behind the Badge: A Day in the Life of a Warren County Sheriff’s Animal Control Officer
Protecting the Animal Kingdom, One Day at a Time.
At first glance, Deputy Greg Long of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office may look like any other law enforcement officer. But, his daily encounters with animals of all kinds, from snakes to stray cats, set him apart.
Deputy Long serves as the county’s primary animal control officer. This role sees him overseeing the annual statistics of received animals, ensuring that the training requirements for the animal control division are up to par, and liaising with the general public about animal-related matters.
Not just limited to domesticated pets, Deputy Long’s responsibilities also extend to inspecting commercial kennels twice a year and managing the dangerous dog registry. These dogs, once identified as ‘dangerous,’ are subjected to yearly checks to guarantee public safety. Even hybrid animals, which surprisingly find their homes in the county, aren’t exempt from these periodic checks.
Despite what some might think, animal control isn’t a one-person job. The department also employs several animal control officers who aid in handling various situations. These situations range from dealing with livestock to answering calls about injured wildlife. Their collaboration with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ensures that injured wildlife, such as deer or birds of prey, receive the proper care they need.
When asked about the necessity of having deputies handle animal control, Deputy Long explained the intricate legal framework surrounding animal control. Officers go through rigorous training, amassing 120 hours of comprehensive learning. This training educates them on first aid for animals, recognizing different species and breeds, and even discerning potential rabies cases.
One of the many commendable initiatives under the purview of the department is its emergency sheltering plan. Echoing the challenges faced during hurricanes in states like Florida and Louisiana, where animals were left stranded due to inadequate shelter provisions, Warren County’s response involves a fully equipped trailer. This trailer, loaded with essentials like cages and ID tags, aims to ensure that no pet is left behind during natural or man-made disasters.
The vehicle that Deputy Long operates may appear ordinary, but it’s specially adapted for animal transport. Designed with the comfort and safety of the animals in mind, it boasts air-conditioned cages, ensuring animals aren’t exposed to extreme temperatures. From dogs to ducks, this vehicle can transport a variety of animals safely and comfortably.
One challenge that Deputy Long highlighted is the issue of stray cats. While many might think that animal control should handle these felines, the reality is more complex. The shelter’s policies allow them to accept cats only under specific conditions.
At the end of the day, whether it’s assisting a neighbor distressed by a barking dog or untangling a dog that’s gotten itself caught up, Deputy Long and his colleagues are committed to serving both the human and animal residents of Warren County.