The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, November 4, approved requests from Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to spend more federal pandemic-relief funds awarded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act totaling more than $349,000.
School Board members also learned from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger that the school division on October 30 sent its termination letter for The Local Choice, the current health insurance provider through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is locked in contract negotiations with regional medical provider Valley Health.
WCPS also “is ready to have a request for proposal for other insurance providers to be posted by November 6,” Ballenger told School Board members during the meeting. “So, we will start moving through that process and see where it lands.”
During his superintendent report, Ballenger also provided “a clarification” regarding a potential random drug testing program being implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.
“There have been some questions about drug testing in the schools. Right now, Warren County Public Schools does not have a drug testing program. We do not have a policy in place. We do not have a program in place,” Ballenger said.
During the School Board’s previous meeting on October 21, Ballenger requested that two board members serve on a committee to evaluate and to develop a possible plan. School Board members Catherine Bower and Ralph Rinaldi volunteered to serve on the committee, and the board voted unanimously to accept their membership on the committee. Other members are also being sought, according to the superintendent.
“If there’s anything to come up from that committee, that would not be implemented until next year after the board would have to, of course, approve it and give time for public comment on such a policy,” said Ballenger. “I just wanted to clarify that we do not have a drug-testing policy in place, but we are going to review one and we can develop one for our school system.”
The School Board members acted on several items related to WCPS spending of CARES Act funds. The board — including School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, Bower, and Rinaldi — unanimously approved (contingent on available funds) all the requested expenditures, which included:
- $200,835.18 for K-5 math textbooks. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who made the WCPS request, said the pandemic has increased the school division’s need for virtual tools to best serve its students. Based on teacher and administrator feedback, she said WCPS opted to adopt the Go Math! series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for kindergarten through fifth grades.
- $72,775.64 to purchase a one-year digital add-on for AP Physics and Environmental Science and a seven-year digital license for Biology and Chemistry. “Due to the potential for additional funding through CARES, and increased emphasis on virtual instruction and virtual resources, we would like to add a digital component for students taking AP Physics and Environmental Science for one year,” said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox. “Additionally, we would like to purchase a seven-year digital license for Virginia Miller and Levine Biology and a seven-year digital license for Pearson Chemistry. The Biology and Chemistry purchase also include a class set of textbooks.”
- $75,468 to purchase network firewalls. “Warren County recently increased our network bandwidth to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps),” explained WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant. “In order for WCPS to make full use of the increased bandwidth, we need to purchase new firewalls for our network.” The purchase price includes a spare firewall, as well.
Ballenger also reported that newly ordered tablets for pre-K and kindergarten students are in and have been distributed so these students will have a technology reboot November 9-13. Chromebooks should arrive on Friday, November 6, and they will be distributed next week, so grades one through five will have a reboot November 16-20. Reboots are to get everyone up to speed on the new devices and Schoology program being used online.
The superintendent also said that the division is “moving quickly through” its coronavirus relief funds and has purchased virtual textbooks and hardcovers that are currently being distributed and has ordered temperature scanners and camera support.
Some sample scanners were onsite during the School Board meeting, with one located at the front door of the Government Center and another in the meeting room. The scanners may be used as a standalone item or on a bus. “These can help with allowing a lot of people to come in [the school buildings] at one time,” said Ballenger, noting that more temperatures can be scanned using these tools compared to using a hand-held thermometer. “And because it’s getting a little colder, standing outside and taking temperatures will not be any fun,” he said.
The Virginia High School Leagues (VHSL) released mitigation guidelines for return to participation, reported Ballenger, and schools are now working through them to develop a plan. “We had our first meeting today with athletic directors to discuss what we can and cannot do and they’re working with the other schools within our district to come up with some uniform guidelines that maybe they could all adhere to,” said Ballenger. “But it’s going to be different at each site, I can tell you that right now.” Final plans will be sent to parents as soon as possible, he added.
Ballenger also recognized three Warren County School Board members with awards from the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA), which annually recognizes school board members for their dedication, time, and hard work through the VSBA School Academy. He recognized and presented the VSBA awards to Vice Chairwoman Bower and member Wells, who earned the Certificate of Recognition, and to Chairman Williams, who earned a Certificate of Achievement.
Additionally, Ballenger highlighted two national awards presented by The College Board to local student Gabriel Smith, a Skyline High School senior who received both the 2021 African American Scholar Award for Excellence in Academic Achievement and the 2020-2021 Rural and Small Town Scholar Award for Excellence in Academic Achievement. Smith received both awards at SHS on October 23, said Ballenger, who added, “This is an outstanding accomplishment for Gabe and for Skyline High School.”
In other news, WCPS Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard presented the proposed 2021-2022 school year calendar for the board’s consideration. “The assumption for next year is that school will be normal,” Sheppard said. “We are hoping that is going to be the case — the power of positive thinking.”
Developed by committee with at least one representative from each school, key information regarding the proposed calendar is listed below.
- July 27, new teachers arrive, while veteran teachers would return on August 3, 2021.
- August 10, 2021 – First Day of School
- September 6, 2021 – Labor Day holiday
- October 8, 2021 – End of 1st Advisory
- October 11, 2021 – Professional Development Day
- November 2, 2021 – Professional Development Day on Election Day
- November 11, 2021 – Holiday Veterans Day
- November 22 – 26, 2021 – Fall Break – This would be new because attendance on that Tuesday and Wednesday drops off significantly, Sheppard said. However, employees working a 250-day calendar still would be required to work or request vacation time off for those days.
- December 21, 2021 – End of 2nd Advisory/1st Semester (87 days in 1st semester)
- December 22, 2021 – January 4, 2022– Winter Break for Students
- December 22, 2021 – January 2, 2022 – Winter Break for Staff
- January 17, 2022 – Holiday
- February 7 and 8, 2022 – Professional Development Days
- February 21, 2022 – Holiday
- March 14, 2022 – End of 3rd Advisory
- March 21 – March 25, 2022 – Spring Break
- April 15 – April 18, 2022 – Holiday
- April 29, 2022 – Professional Development Day
- May 30, 2022 – Holiday
- June 9, 2022 – Last Day of School
- June 10, 2022 – Professional Development Day
In total, the proposed calendar has six built-in weather make-up days, Sheppard said, and students would not be in school for more than 180 days. “If we do not miss six days due to weather, the days will be taken from the end of the school year,” she added.
Wednesday night was the first reading of the proposed 2021-2022 school calendar. The second reading and discussion will be during the School Board’s November 17 meeting and the recommendation for approval will be at the December 2 meeting. The board meets next this month on a Tuesday because of a conflicting conference that falls on its regularly scheduled Wednesday night meetings.
Watch the rest of the meeting to hear from principals at Diversified Minds/Brighter Futures and the Blue Ridge Technical Center, who reported on some of the events happening at their WCPS centers during this first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year.
Randolph-Macon Academy 7th grader wins Mathcounts Chapter Invitational, 2nd place
Randolph-Macon Academy (RMA) student Angelina Vincent, a seventh grader, won second place for the Mathcounts Chapter this year. This will be the second time that Angelina has participated, where she advanced to the state competition in Richmond, Virginia, twice!
Angelina credits her family, the RMA students and faculty, and mentor Coach Mackey for all of their support. When asked for parting words, she shared, “Continue to take intellectual risk, and go beyond your comfort zone. Failure is a part of life, and it is important to learn and grow from it.”
Outside of school, Angelina is an avid runner, swimmer and volleyball player. Prior to RMA, Angelina was a student at Stanford Online High School last semester. She is very happy to return to RMA and see all of her teachers and friends again.
Physical therapist assistant program will be offered at Luray-Page County Center this fall
LFCC is excited to announce a new degree being offered at the Luray-Page County Center this fall – Associate of Applied Science, Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA), pending accreditation in coming weeks.
Applications are being accepted from now until May 15. The college is hosting a virtual information session on the degree at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 27.
Physical therapist assistants provide hands-on care and treatment under the direction of a physical therapist, who conducts the patient evaluation and writes the treatment plan.
“There are four times the number of assistants needed as there are physical therapists,” says Dr. Rekha Parameswaran, the PTA program’s site coordinator and a doctor of physical therapy. “It is a challenging degree program, but leads to a very rewarding and lucrative career in healthcare.”
The median salary for PTAs is more than $60,000 a year. PTAs work with patients of all ages in hospitals, long-term care facilities, patients’ homes, outpatient clinics and schools.
The college is partnering with Germanna Community College to offer the PTA degree. Lectures will be distance taught from GCC with Dr. Parameswaran serving as a hands-on instructor with LFCC students the entire time. She will also lead labs for the students multiple times a week at Page Memorial Hospital.
Among the classes students will take are anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, psychological aspects of therapy, musculoskeletal structure and function, therapeutic procedures, medical reporting and pathological conditions.
The number of jobs for PTAs is expected to increase by 26 percent between 2018 and 2028. Medicare will start providing PTAs to at-home patients, said LFCC Director of Health Professions Kristina Simpson.
“There is definitely a push for getting more PTAs on the ground,” Director Simpson said. “Page Memorial Hospital has indicated there is a need for physical rehabilitation in this region.”
While PTAs can go right into the workforce upon receiving their associate degree, to become a physical therapist requires seven years of higher education, according to Dr. Parameswaran, and up to 10 years to reach the doctoral level.
Students’ degrees will be awarded by GCC, which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). LFCC’s program is currently awaiting approval by CAPTE in spring 2021.
For more information about the program and to get a link to the April 27th information session, visit lfcc.edu/PTA.
June opening of downtown spay/neuter clinic announced; Humane Society of Warren County sets financial records despite pandemic
The Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC) will open its new downtown clinic in early June, ahead, way ahead, of its original schedule, it was announced at the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday, April 13.
With re-modeling construction well underway at its 840-B John Marshall Highway location on the town’s southeast side headed toward Linden, and hiring Martinsburg, West Virginia veterinarian Dr. Alicia Pownall that same afternoon, HSWC Executive Director Meghan Bowers said the clinic should be a “go” by June, offering low cost spay/neuter services for local dog and cat owners with difficulty affording the procedures.
“I’m aiming at June 1, but it may be a little later,” Bowers said in a telephone interview Wednesday. She said Pownall was currently working at the Inwood Animal Center, W. Va., and was a 2019 graduate in veterinary medicine from Mississippi State University. Other staff members would include a veterinary technician and office manager.
At an initial cost of $125,000 the Linda R. Lorber Campus Clinic is named for a principal donor. Linda Lorber came to live in Front Royal in 2004, “departing for the beach (in Delaware)” eight years later with her now 29-year-old cat Louie. She jump-started the fundraising for the clinic with a $70,000 donation, explaining that as a pet owner – she also owned a dog named Grizzle while living in Front Royal – she realized there were many pet lovers who found it difficult to pay the animals’ upkeep and that the clinic would help those out who needed it.
Bowers also sees the clinic as being vital in the HSWC’s efforts to curtail the numbers of stray and feral cats, an increasing problem in Warren County.
At the meeting, Treasurer Michelle Kosiorek reported “a fantastic year,” marked by a record gross income of $865,355 and expenses amounting to $670,851, carrying forward a net income of $194,503.
Detailing the past year’s income – the total includes a $352,000 grant from Warren County – HSWC president Ellen Aders said corporate sponsorships totaling $71,900 were the “best of all years despite the pandemic” as she read off other major details including grants, mostly from foundations, totaling $126,200; more than $189,000 in mostly individual donations (“Save the Paws Alliance”), and $71,927 from fundraising events such as the recent “Polar Plunge” ($13,116);” Holiday Appeal” ($23,065); “Barks & Bags” ($20,546); and a summer “yard sale” ($6,539).
Other monies to benefit the occupants of the Julia Wagner Animal Shelter came from the HSWC Calendar sales ($1,320); Tales & Ales ($5,899); Paws for a Cause ($1,439); and Yappy Hour donations at ViNoVa restaurant on Main Street amounted to $4,549 during the year. Animal bank collection boxes seen on store and other business counters around town collected $3,295 last year.
Bowers paid tribute to the work of volunteers, singling out Frank Maggiore, and complimenting the work of her “leadership team”, Wagner Shelter Manager Kayla Wines, Office Manager Susan Jeffery; Kennel Manager Marie Butler; Volunteer Coordinator Sue Wagoner; and Tiffany Rothgeb, who handles guest relations.
Between them and shelter staff, 487 adoptions were successfully completed and 22 foster families helped 148 cats and 11 dogs. Also, staff worked two free drive-thru food distributions for 194 pets. At a cost of $11,650, the shelter provided veterinary services for pets suffering maladies from dental care, diabetes, ear and eye surgery, cancer, and a leg amputation.
Eighty-five cats were spayed or neutered in 2020.
Most importantly, HSWC retained its coveted “no kill” status last year!
Also at the annual meeting, board members Katrina Meade, Amy Cavalier and Michelle Kosiorek were re-elected by acclamation.
Four members of cocaine trafficking organization arrested following investigation
Four members of a cocaine trafficking organization were arrested on Thursday, April 15, 2021, following a yearlong investigation by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Last April, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified members of a cocaine trafficking organization operating in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Through the course of the investigation, task force officers completed numerous controlled purchases of cocaine from multiple suspects within the organization. As a result, approximately 203 grams of cocaine with a street value of $9,100.00 was seized by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force over the last year. On April, 15, 2021, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed search warrants at four of the suspect’s residences located in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Approximately 308 grams of cocaine with a street value of $14,300.00, 29 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $1,300.00, 9 firearms, and $5,578.00 in currency was seized from the suspect’s residences.
Samuel Resendiz Hernandez, 24, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Norberto Bautista Robles, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, two counts of possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by a person wo is not a citizen of the United States.
Charles Arthur Perkins, Jr, 68, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Rafael Velazquez-Bautista, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance.
Additional charges against the suspects and other co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Virginia State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during Thursday’s operation.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.
Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards break with Town
On Wednesday, the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards issued a press release announcing a break in the 24-year relationship with the Town of Front Royal municipal government and documenting the string of events leading to that organizational decision. Following is that press release in its entirety:
Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal, VA – In a March 24 press release announcing its 2021 Tree City USA award, the Town of Front Royal quotes Dan Lambe, President of the Arbor Day Foundation: “Residents of Front Royal should be proud to live in a community that makes the planting and care of trees a priority.” As their partnership with the Town of Front Royal disintegrates, Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards beg to disagree.
Over 24 years, the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards forged an enduring partnership with the Town of Front Royal. Guided by the Town’s staff horticulturalist, Tree Stewards planted, pruned, and maintained the “urban canopy” – i.e., trees located on publicly owned parks, easements, and building grounds. Each year, the Tree Stewards donated 1400-1800 hours of free labor, supplementing a Public Works Department short on horticultural expertise and seasonal manpower. Even in the face of COVID disruption, Tree Stewards managed to contribute 900 volunteer hours to the Town in 2020. Today this partnership of nearly a quarter century lies in ruins.
The Town’s horticulturalist retired in December 2019, a position that has since remained vacant. With that vacancy a critical link was severed in the partnership, weakening communication between the Town, the Tree Stewards, and a third partner, the Beautification of Front Royal Committee, a community service organization representing the county’s garden clubs.
As stated by Tree Stewards President Melody Hotek, “Beginning in October 2020, channelization of Happy Creek and destruction of the volunteer-maintained riparian buffer along Front Street have communicated a lack of regard for our 24-year partnership. In violation of Town Code, the decision to eliminate a successful community-led model project was made without input from the Town’s Urban Forestry Advisory Commission (UFAC). Ultimately, this oversight resulted in the mass resignation of the UFAC board in December.”
Hoping to turn over a new leaf upon the arrival of newly appointed Town Manager Steven Hicks in December, Ms. Hotek and Lisa Schwartz, President of the Beautification of Front Royal Committee met with Mr. Hicks in January to bid him welcome and review their organizations’ history of community service to the Town. At that time, Mr. Hicks requested the Tree Stewards’ assistance with the Town’s renewal application for Tree City USA, traditionally completed by the now-defunct UFAC board. (It is due to the Tree Stewards’ efforts that the Virginia Department of Forestry first awarded Front Royal its Tree City USA status in 2000.)
In January, despite documented destruction of more than 300 trees along Front Street, and numerous permit violations during the channelization process, Front Royal’s Tree City USA status was renewed.
Ms. Hotek subsequently contacted Mr. Hicks about preparation for the Town’s Arbor Day event, annually planned and co-hosted by the Tree Stewards since 2000. Mr. Hicks then informed Ms. Hotek that the newly created Town-County Tourism Council had been tasked with the celebration and that he would contact her shortly to follow up. There was no follow-up call. Instead, an Arbor Day press release from the Town was issued on March 24, 2020 including event details determined without Tree Stewards participation.
In response to perceived disregard for their work, the Tree Steward membership has voted to forego its partnership with the Town for the coming year. This includes maintenance of the Town’s Happy Creek Arboretum, managed by the Tree Stewards for twenty years.
Ms. Hotek summarizes, “Had the Town followed its own precedents and Code, as well as the requirements of its permits, this impasse could have been avoided. In addition, town crews could have benefited from training and supervision by a qualified contractor or consultant, learning the specialized skills required for work in sensitive aquatic environments.
“The Tree Stewards sincerely grieve the loss of this relationship and remain hopeful that a more productive tone may be restored. In the meantime, we encourage the Town to hire a horticulturalist, replant the buffer zone along Happy Creek, reinstate a knowledgeable Urban Forestry Advisory Commission tree board, and seek the services of qualified professionals before proceeding with future projects in order to prevent further environmental damage to the town, its natural and scenic resources, and its citizens.”
(From a release by the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards)
LFCC offering cybersecurity engineering associate degree
An innovative, lucrative career pathway is now available for LFCC students with their eyes on the future and a knack for math.
The cybersecurity engineering degree is designed to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, with some students going for more advanced degrees.
“It’s unique to be able to offer an associate degree in cybersecurity engineering,” said IT Professor Henry Coffman. Dr. Coffman is the manager of LFCC’s cybersecurity program, which is a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security-designated Center of Academic Excellence.
He cited the Mars Rover project as a development that relied heavily on cybersecurity engineering through every phase of the process.
“The careers in this field are futurist-type jobs,” said Dr. Coffman.
Another unique aspect of LFCC’s cybersecurity engineering program is if the student maintains an A or B grade in the required calculus classes, they can co-enroll in cybersecurity engineering classes taught by faculty at George Mason University. They will still be paying LFCC tuition rates.
Not only will this save students money, but it also means they won’t have to re-apply to the program, according to Dr. Coffman.
The degree is designed to seamlessly transfer into GMU’s cybersecurity engineering bachelor degree program, although graduates can transfer to other universities. GMU has an accelerated master’s degree for the field, as well.
Because this new degree is highly specialized, Dr. Coffman and his counterpart at GMU will serve as advisors to students in the program.
“They’re going into a degree pathway that will serve as a good career move for the job market,” Dr. Coffman said. “I think they will have a great opportunity to be hired by a major employer possibly even before they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.”
The threat cyber-terrorism poses to industrial and municipal financial networks, utility systems and communication networks make this field especially relevant.
Learn more about the program at lfcc.edu/cyberengineering.