School Board gets its ducks in a row for 2023
The Warren County School Board, during its organizational meeting on Wednesday, January 4, re-elected leadership, made committee appointments and named several Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) staff to positions that will support the board this year.
School Board members Kristen Pence and Ralph Rinaldi will again serve as chair and vice chair, respectively, of the board for 2023.
Following a motion by Rinaldi and a second by board member Melanie Salins, the board voted 4-0 to re-elect Pence to lead them, with members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, Rinaldi, and Salins voting yea. Rinaldi was re-elected following a motion by Salins, a second by Funk, and another unanimous round of yes votes from Funk, Lo, Pence, and Salins.
“I’m looking forward to working with all of us again,” Rinaldi said during his report, adding that he hopes to get the school division’s budget “squared away” this year. “Wish us all a lot of luck on that one,” he said.
Regarding committee duties, Funk and Lo again were appointed as the 2023 Warren County School Board representatives on the Budget Committee; Rinaldi and Salins were appointed as the 2023 board representatives on the Building Committee; and Pence again will represent the School Board on the Mountain Vista Governor’s School Board for the calendar year 2023. All committee assignments received unanimous approval.
Additionally, three WCPS staff were recommended by WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and then unanimously appointed by board members to support the School Board this year.
They are WCPS Technology Director Tim Grant, who will serve as Clerk of the Warren County School Board; WCPS Instructional Technology Coordinator Douglas Stefnoski, who has been appointed as Deputy Clerk of the School Board; and WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction George “Buck” Smith, who serves as the designee of the superintendent to attend meetings of the School Board in the absence or inability of the superintendent to attend. Their terms expire on December 31.
In unanimously accepting the consent agenda, the School Board voted to authorize that an advertisement is posted announcing a public hearing on the fiscal year 2024 budget at the board’s February 1 meeting with the understanding that if this meeting must be canceled, then the public hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, at 6 p.m. in the Meeting Room at 465 West 15th Street in Front Royal, VA.
During the community participation segment of the board’s regular meeting, Ressie Jeffries Elementary School Principal Nina Helmick (above at podium) accepted the December 2022 Attendance Award from Ballenger. She brought along several students who had exemplary attendance, as well as Assistant Principal Megan Bradley and School Counselor Kristin Frankel, to accept the award.
Warren County Middle School also received an attendance award last month, while E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School received a Most Improved Attendance Award for December 2022.
“School attendance is essential to academic success,” Ballenger told the board. “Research shows that missing as little as two days every month, or 10 percent of the school year, can have a negative impact on students.”
The School Board, during each regularly scheduled monthly meeting this year, will continue to recognize schools that have the highest attendance rates at the elementary and secondary levels, and an attendance flag will be displayed at the selected schools each month in observance of their achievement.
Also, during the community participation segment, Warren County Middle School Principal Amy Gubler recognized science teacher Cynthia Rutherford for saving the life of a student who was choking during breakfast on December 2, 2022. Rutherford performed the abdominal thrust to clear the child’s throat. The student was later examined and found to be fine by the school nurse.
“As you can imagine, this entire episode was extremely scary for everyone involved,” Gubler told the School Board. “Thanks to Mrs. Rutherford’s quick actions, the student safely went on with his day.”
Principal Gubler said she shared the story for two reasons: to thank Rutherford and to remind all staff that each is vitally important in students’ lives. “Please don’t ever forget how important the work is that you do every day,” Gubler said.
The School Board voted on several items during its Wednesday meeting, including unanimously adopting the board’s 2023 meeting calendar, which posts regular meetings for the first Wednesday of each month beginning at 6:30 p.m. rather than at 7 p.m. Work sessions will be held on the third Wednesday of each month, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Among other actions, the board also unanimously approved: the fiscal year 2024 budget calendar, a resolution authorizing that bills are paid in emergency situations and during months with only one School Board meeting; another resolution authorizing the superintendent to issue contracts; and a $94,320 contract award to Document Solutions Inc. for the lease of the copiers at Warren County High School.
Another unanimous decision by the board authorizes WCPS to accept the School Improvement Grant in the amount of $150,000 to pay for services detailed in the American Institutes for Research proposal to support Skyline Middle School with improving the academic outcomes for students with disabilities. The superintendent is also authorized to request an additional appropriation of $150,000 from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
The School Board’s next meeting is on Wednesday, January 18, at 5:30 p.m. for a work session.
Click here to view the board’s January 4 meeting in its entirety.
McDonald criminal cases change of venue motion denied – Front Royal, Warren County residents will be excluded from federal jury pool
On Monday, March 20th, United States District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon entered an order denying Jennifer McDonald’s motion for a change of venue to Charlottesville for her criminal trial slated for Harrisonburg in a federal court in the 10th Western District of Virginia. That trial, on 34 criminal indictments related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority “financial scandal,” is scheduled for over a month from May 15 into June.
Federal court-appointed defense counsel for McDonald, Eric Trodden, filed the change of venue for trial in February. He asserted that his client is not likely to get an unbiased jury in Harrisonburg due to Shenandoah Valley regional media reporting about McDonald and other related civil cases in which she was a witness or topic of legal arguments pointing a finger at her alleged role as the central figure in the estimated $26-million financial embezzlement and misappropriation of FR-WC EDA and municipal funds scandal.
However, after a detailed review of applicable law and circumstances of the press coverage by local and regional media, specifically citing Royal Examiner coverage dating back to 2018, the judge ruled the coverage as essentially non-biased and factually based. The judge did rule that residents of the Town of Front Royal and Warren County would be excluded from the federal jury pool.
“It is HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion to transfer venue (Dkt. No. 45) is DENIED, but the court will exclude residents of the Town of Front Royal and Warren County. Warren County has no cities, and only one recognized town, Front Royal, from the jury pool. The clerk of court is directed to transmit a copy of this order to all counsel of record,” Judge Dillon wrote in concluding her review of the issues surrounding the defense motion.
In examining the circumstance of media coverage, Judge Dillon wrote: “Press coverage of this matter has been primarily from the Royal Examiner and the Northern Virginia Daily. (Dkt. No. 47.) Both papers are local to the Strasburg/Front Royal Area. The majority of the press coverage is from 2019, two years before the indictment in this case, although the media covered this case and related civil lawsuits into 2021. Defendant herself initiated the press coverage in 2018 when she reached out to a local reporter (yours truly) with an allegedly false story about winning money at a casino.
EDA Director Jennifer McDonald parlays casino winnings into real estate investments
In her analysis of the McDonald defense motion, Judge Dillon observed: “Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs the appropriate place for trial. ‘Unless a statute or these rules permit otherwise, the government must prosecute an offense in a district where the offense was committed. The court must set the place of trial within the district with due regard for the convenience of the defendant, any victim, and the witnesses, and the prompt administration of justice.”
And Judge Dillon ruled that with the exclusion of residents of Front Royal and Warren County, about an hour north of Harrisonburg, who have been most exposed to media coverage going on five years, McDonald can get that fair trial from jurors further south in the Federal 10th Western District of Virginia, in a City of Harrisonburg federal courtroom.
McDonald faces 16 counts of money laundering, 10 counts of bank fraud, 7 counts of wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft, the latter related to the Truc “Curt” Tran/ITFederal case.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Golden Eagle
This immature Golden Eagle was found down in a field last week, very close to the Center. Staff followed the property owner to the found location and easily contained the extremely weak bird.
The intake exam revealed no obvious fractures or trauma, yet the eagle was very thin and covered in mites and lice.
In-house testing ruled out lead as the cause of the signs, though there was some lead in this bird’s system, but revealed a heavy burden of blood parasites, anemia (low red blood cell count), and an extremely high white blood cell count indicating infection. While we awaited results from additional laboratory testing, we supported this eagle with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Shortly after placing an intravenous catheter and starting fluids, this patient perked up a bit. We were hopeful they would continue to improve.
After hours of receiving fluids, this eagle attempted to stand, though you can see the bird was still too weak to lift their head.
Sadly, this eagle passed away within about 24 hours of care despite treatment.
While some diagnostics are still pending, we have since learned that this eagle was negative for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). The patient did have mildly elevated levels of lead and mercury, but both were too low to be the cause of the signs we noted. In addition to the extremely high white cell count, indicating infection, the liver values were also astronomically high.
Based on the liver biopsy we obtained and a minimally-invasive examination of the surrounding tissues, we believe that this eagle died from coelomitis, an infection in the body cavity likely caused, in this case, by liver trauma and necrosis. This eagle was simply too far gone to recover by the time they were admitted.
Often mistaken for immature Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles can be identified by a few key characteristics.
Golden Eagles have smaller heads than our more common Bald Eagles, with more proportional beaks, golden feathers on the nape that do not change with age, and a bright yellow cere (base of upper beak).
Golden’s have feathers all the way down to their feet (unlike Balds that have naked legs). They are also more closely related to hawks than Balds, who are classified as “fishing eagles”. Check out the insane talons on this bird – no surprise they are a fierce hunter and predator!
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Former FRPD Chief Richard Furr remembered fondly
A Celebration of Life and Memorial Service for former Front Royal Police Chief Richard Furr was held Sunday afternoon, March 19th on the eve of the Spring Equinox, at Riverton United Methodist Church. Friends and colleagues – often both – and family bid a fond farewell to a friend and servant to his community and his family. Furr passed away February 27 at the age of 66.
Scheduled speakers in order of appearance included Chaplain Jackie Thurston of the Virginia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chaplain Roger Vorous of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Captain, retired, Clint Keller formerly of the Front Royal Police Department, Sgt., retired, Jim Nicholson formerly of the Page County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Richard “Ricky” Furr Jr., son of the departed. A free, catered meal at the church, provided by employees of Samuels Public Library, awaited attendees following the ceremony.
As noted in his Obituary, the Page County born-and-raised Furr: “reached the pinnacle of his (law enforcement) career in 2009 when he was appointed Chief of Police (in Front Royal where he had served since 1982). Although Richard retired from duty in 2012, he remained active in law enforcement by continuing to serve in the Fraternal Order of Police at local and state levels. Richard is survived by his wife, Ruth; children, Richard “Ricky” Jr. (Amy) and Danielle; mother-in-love, Willie; sister-in-love, Robin (Gary); and half-siblings, Brenda (Larry), Christine (Jack), and David (Lori).”
The family has created a website for those who knew Richard to share stories and memories. It can be accessed at richardfurr.wixsite.com/memories.
Rest In Peace, Richard Harvey Furr Sr.
Warren County Public Schools Kindergarten registration information for the 2023-2024 school year
This is a reminder to parents with children that will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023.
- Children who will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023
*Register at the school in which you are zoned to attend
WHERE AND WHEN:
Starting March 27, 2023 – Register online @ www.wcpsva.org
- March 28, 2023
4:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Individual Elementary Schools – *Register at the school in which your child is zoned to attend
WHAT TO BRING:
- Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
- Parent/Guardian Photo ID
- Physical Form (physical must be within the last 12 months prior to the first day of school)
- Proof of Residence (utility bill, lease, mortgage statement)
- A notarized residency affidavit is required if living in another household
PLEASE REGISTER YOUR CHILD EVEN IF ALL OF THE ABOVE INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN OBTAINED.
If you have any questions, please call your child’s school:
A.S. Rhodes Elementary School 540-635-4556
E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School 540-635-4188
Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School 540-622-8090
Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School 540-635-3125
Ressie Jeffries Elementary School 540-636-6824
Amy Himes (540) 635-2171, extension 46125
Kendall Poe (540) 635-2171, extension 34230
Belle Grove Plantation opens for the 2023 season
On Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove Plantation will reopen daily to the public. Guided tours of the Manor House are offered Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. at 15 minutes past each hour. The Belle Grove grounds and the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center (including the Museum Shop and exhibits) are also open during these hours.
Manor House tours include touring the permanent exhibit, Unearthing Enslaved Lives at Belle Grove, which features the archaeology conducted at the Enslaved Quarter Site from 2015 to 2019. The 60,000 excavated artifacts and supporting archival research reveal details about the more than 270 men, women, and children the Hite family enslaved.
Also, on Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove will open a .75-mile walking trail that connects to existing trails on Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s property. Visitors may start the trail either at Belle Grove or the 128th New York Monument (on Route 11 near the intersection with Water Plant Road). The path is largely wooded and follows trenches dug by the US 19th Corps as they prepared for a possible attack. This ultimately happened in the initial stages of the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Hikers on the Belle Grove property should follow the yellow blazes along the trail. A map is posted at the trailhead and will be available in the Museum Shop.
In addition to offering daily tours, Belle Grove hosts school and group tours, event rentals, and special events. Belle Grove has a full schedule of events for 2023, including the “Of Ale and History” Beer Festival on May 13. Now in its 28th year, this festival is Virginia’s longest-running Beer Festival, and tickets will go on sale in April. For more information about Belle Grove events, visit www.bellegrove.org/calendar
As a partner in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Belle Grove is the site of free, 30-minute programs led by National Park Rangers. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove in a Box gives an overview of the Park at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays, March 18 and April 8, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, March 26 and April 2. Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah, which discusses the life of Judah, the enslaved cook of Belle Grove, will be presented on Sunday, March 19, and Saturday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. More information about the Park is at www.nps.gov/cebe.
About Belle Grove—Belle Grove Plantation is located off Route 11 at 336 Belle Grove Road just south of Middletown, Virginia, and is conveniently situated to I-81 (exit 302) and I-66. Belle Grove Plantation is a non-profit historic house museum, a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site (www.savingplaces.org). It is also one of the partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/cebe).
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for March 20 – 24, 2023
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile markers 6 to 13, eastbound and westbound – Single lane closures for maintenance to various bridges, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of April 27.
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Northbound and southbound overnight shoulder closures for vegetation management between Route 661 (Fairground Road) and Clarke County line, Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
No lane closures were reported.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Wind: 5mph S
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