The Warren County School Board approved the appointment of a new assistant superintendent for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and a new principal for non-traditional education, as well as the WCPS Virtual Academy Handbook and Guidelines during its Wednesday, June 16 meeting and work session.
George “Buck” Smith, Jr., the current WCPS personnel director, has been appointed the new assistant superintendent for administration for the school division. Smith replaces Melody Sheppard, who is leaving WCPS to become the new superintendent for Shenandoah County Public Schools.
Smith, who earned a master’s degree from James Madison University, has more than 28 years of professional experience in public education and has served as a teacher, athletic director, director of activities, director of administrative support, and for the last 11 years has been personnel director for WCPS.
“Mr. Smith is a dedicated professional and has been a proud member of the Warren County Public Schools community for the last 20 years,” WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the School Board members. “He believes in the motto: Service to Others.”
The board voted unanimously to accept Smith’s recommended promotion with all members present, including Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Kristen Pence, Ralph Rinaldi, and James Wells.
“Twenty-some years ago when I came here with all these different ideas about what I wanted to see happen out on the fields and in the classrooms… I really didn’t envision this part of the journey,” Smith said after the board’s approval. “But somewhere along the way, I really fell in love with this community and school division, and it’s been a privilege to serve here over the last 20 years.”
Smith added that he hopes to continue to have an impact on the community, “but I think perhaps the impact has been the greatest upon myself,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to serve.”
Randa Vernazza, who is currently an assistant principal at Warren County High School, has been appointed the new principal of non-traditional education for WCPS.
Ballenger said Vernazza has a wealth of experience and has served as a teacher, dean of students, and assistant principal during her 17 years in education. Vernazza has served in her current role for the last six years.
“Her extensive preparation throughout her career makes her the best choice for this position,” Ballenger told School Board members, who voted unanimously to accept the appointment.
Vernazza intends to provide a rigorous, engaging academic program structured to respond to the social, emotional, and academic needs of every student added Ballenger.
“I look forward to working with the staff, students, and their families to provide opportunities and the supports that this special population of students needs to be successful,” said Vernzza after the board’s vote. “I would also like to thank my mentor, Dr. Ernestine Jordan. For the past nine years, I’ve had the privilege of learning from her and gaining the skills necessary to help me be successful in my new position.”
Both Smith and Vernazza start their new positions on July 1.
In other action, the Warren County School Board unanimously approved the WCPS Virtual Academy Handbook and Guidelines, which establishes how the WCPS new online academy will be operated.
Specifically, the WCPS 2021-2022 Virtual Academy will focus on students in grades 3 through 12. Students must meet residency requirements, as well as eligibility requirements, and must go through an application process, said Ballenger. Classes will be limited to 20 students per grade at the elementary level, and classes at the secondary level will be based on student need and student enrollment. Career and Technical Education (CTE) and dual enrollment classes will also be available. Virtual students will be eligible for a high school diploma from one of the WCPS high schools.
Ballenger addressed some questions from the community during the board meeting, reiterating that there is an application process to participate in the Virtual Academy and there are a limited number of available slots. “This is not just open to everyone,” Ballenger said. “We will have a team to evaluate applications and make recommendations for placement in the Virtual Academy.”
Ballenger also said that students selected to attend the Virtual Academy will not be allowed, for instance, to take two online classes and two virtual classes during a semester. “We need to be able to manage this,” he said. “You are either virtual or you are in person.”
However, the superintendent noted that CTE students would be one of the exceptions and those classes will be offered in-person for virtual students. The same is true for students who would need to come in for a biology lab, as well as students who are band or chorus members. The newly approved handbook lists the classes designated as ‘in-person only,’ he added.
Now that the board has unanimously approved the handbook and guidelines, Ballenger said WCPS will move forward on the application process and begin making them available to students. To view the handbook and guidelines, go online to: https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/warren/Board.nsf/files/C3VSEU701E51/$file/Handbook%20Draft.pdf.
The Warren County School Board also unanimously approved the addition of a $5,000 stipend for the Elementary Virtual Academy coordinator and a $5,000 stipend for the Secondary Virtual Academy coordinator to the Grade 27 Salary Scale effective July 1. Each coordinator “will be necessary in order to organize and facilitate the delivery of this program,” said Ballenger. “This coordination will be in addition to the duties of the assigned individuals.”
Additionally, the School Board approved a WCPS plan to dedicate full-time elementary teachers to the Virtual Academy program. WCPS now will add one third-, one fourth-, and one fifth-grade teacher to provide full-time instruction as part of the elementary Virtual Academy.
The School Board also approved the purchase of new textbooks. Contingent upon the availability of funds, WCPS was approved to purchase Level 1,2,3,4 Spanish textbooks for a total of just more than $53,693; Latin textbooks totaling roughly $8,000; and science textbooks for middle school, earth science, astronomy, and AP environmental science that total almost $266,488.
Among items discussed during the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, Dr. Ballenger discussed, as part of a WCPS central office restructuring plan, that he will be absorbing two central office staff positions — one administrator and one instructional resource teacher — as the school division moves into the 2021-2022 school year.
“The responsibilities of the instructional resource teacher position will be disbursed throughout the current staff,” he said. “As part of the restructuring plan, I request that the board approve a stipend of $2,500 to be given to those positions that will be included as part of that restructuring plan.”
Stipends are being recommended instead of moving individuals from the teacher pay scale to the Administrator I pay scale, said Ballenger, who noted that if it is determined that the instructional resource position needs to be replaced, then the stipends will be pulled along with the responsibilities and returned to the current position. No board action was required at this time on the item.
Children honor memory of local librarian
The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.
‘Tis the Season for Kindness
A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.
“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”
Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.
“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.
Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.
“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.
Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.
“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”
While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.
The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.
Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.
Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday
Today is Giving Tuesday!
What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.
It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!
- Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
- Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)
That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!
We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.
We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!
Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!
Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges
Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.
By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.
After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.
While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.
Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.
The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.
The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.
While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.
He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.
She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”
Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.
“Thank you,” Crouch replied.
Celebrating three DECA alumni during “DECA Month”
November is “DECA Month” and to cap several activities that WCHS DECA has conducted this month, the chapter would like to promote the accomplishments of three DECA alumni.
Alexandra “Lexi” Davis (2019) is currently a senior at James Madison University. Lexi not only is a WCHS DECA alumna, but a past Chapter Historian officer as well. When asked how her past experiences in DECA have impacted her personal life, she replied, “DECA has taught me how to present formally, talk to people, and knowing how to sell myself to clients and employers”. As to what advice she would give to a 1st year DECA member, Lexi stated, “put yourself out there as in getting involved in the community, compete in as many DECA events as you can, and try new things.” Her favorite memory of DECA? Going to Orlando Florida to compete in the DECA International Career Development Conference, being around her friends throughout all her years in DECA, and managing the school store, Wildcats Corner. Lexi was instrumental in having Wildcats Corner receive its initial Gold Level Certification as a school-based enterprise. Although she is an engineering major at JMU, Lexi attributes her ability to present engineering project ideas to potential clients due to her involvement and success with DECA projects.
Dr. Leonard F. “Len” Maiden (1950) was the 1st Chapter President of the Warren County High School DECA chapter. In 1949, Len was elected as the 1st High School President of National DECA. After graduating from WCHS, he earned degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, and the University of South Carolina. He was a veteran of the United States Army. In 1965 he joined the University of South Carolina faculty where he retired as Professor Emeritus of the College of Education. Before joining the faculty at USC, he served as a Virginia State Supervisor for Marketing (Distributive) Education where he mentored marketing teachers and DECA chapter advisors in the Front Royal/Winchester/Northern Virginia region. Throughout his career, Dr. Maiden never lost his love for DECA. He volunteered for many years as a judge in DECA state conferences in both Virginia and South Carolina. He mentored students learning to become teachers and teachers learning to improve their craft for many years. In 2021, the WCHS DECA Chapter established an annual scholarship to be awarded to a graduating WCHS DECA senior in his honor.
Sarah Gardner is a 2016 high school graduate and alumna of James Madison University (2020). She is also a professional member of the WCHS DECA chapter. While in high school, Sarah was a member of her high school DECA chapter and served as the chapter’s president her senior year. She was also a district winner, 3-time state winner, and competed in DECA’s International Career Development Conference three times. She has served Virginia DECA as a State Leadership Conference judge for three years. Currently, Sarah is a Senior Marketing Coordinator with Carahsoft Technology Corp. in Reston, VA. When asked how her high school DECA experiences helped to prepare her for life after high school, she responded, “DECA taught me how to present myself in a professional setting.” “DECA also taught me time management skills – mentoring other people, planning and executing projects, and writing research papers – and how to apply constructive criticism in order to improve as a marketing professional”, she added. When asked what advice she would offer a first-year DECA member, Sarah stated, “Don’t be afraid to fall short or fail. Just put forth your best effort and learn from the results!”
The Wildlife Center of Virginia to provide Thanksgiving meals for 100+ wild animals
Staff at The Wildlife Center of Virginia are getting ready for a Thanksgiving feast for over 100 “guests”. Species on the “guest list” include Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Screech-Owls, Bald Eagles, Black Bears, Deer Mice, and reptiles including Eastern Box Turtles, Eastern Ratsnakes, and a Snapping Turtle.
On November 25, the Center anticipates to be caring for approximately 90 patients and 20 resident education animals. Wildlife rehabilitators will be preparing and delivering meals, cleaning enclosures, and updating patient records.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce aren’t on the Wildlife Center menus – instead of a traditional family-style Thanksgiving meal, the Wildlife Center crew will make dozens of species-specific diets, which cater to each species’ needs and each patient’s particular preferences based on observations during their time as patients at the Center.
“The animals that we will be caring for this year include over 30 reptiles, over 20 birds of prey, and almost 20 squirrels” said Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor Kelsey Pleasants. “Most of these patients have been admitted after being hit by cars or caught by domestic pets. Many of them require weeks of intensive care and rehabilitation.”
While the rehabilitation staff are busy in the kitchen, Center veterinarians will provide medical care for patients in need – distributing and administering medications, cleaning wounds and changing bandages, completing daily checks, and other medical procedures – and remain ready for any new patients that might arrive. New patient admissions are always a possibility, any day of the year. By the time the staff go home to their Thanksgiving dinners, all 110 animals will be fed, watered, and cared for.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia is a non-profit hospital that is able to provide quality healthcare to wild animals in need through the generosity and support of caring individuals. “We’re so appreciative of the support of our donors that helps us to feed and care for each bird, mammal, and reptile,” said Pleasants.
To find out more about ways to support the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s work, the public can visit www.wildlifecenter.org.