School Board OKs grant to buy Chromebooks; discusses field marking robot, substitutes
The Warren County School Board accepted a federal grant that will be used to buy new student laptops and gathered information on purchasing a robot to paint lines on the school division’s athletic fields and what it would cost for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to have an in-house process for hiring and retaining substitutes.
During their roughly two-hour meeting and work session held on Wednesday, January 18, School Board Chair Kristen Pence and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted 4-0 to accept an almost $165,661 grant award from the Federal Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program, a grant that will be used to purchase Chromebooks for WCPS students. School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi was absent this week.
The ECF is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which says the nearly $7.2 billion program is designed to help schools and libraries provide the tools and services needed by communities to provide remote learning during the COVID-19 public health emergency period.
For eligible schools and libraries, the ECF Program covers “reasonable costs” of laptop and tablet computers; Wi-Fi hotspots; modems; routers; and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons, according to the FCC.
The board-accepted award must be used to buy the Chromebooks, according to WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant, and no local match is required. The School Board also agreed to purchase those laptops from Vernon Hills, Ill.-headquartered CDW Corp., contingent upon action by the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
During the Work Session portion of the meeting, board members received information about WCPS potentially purchasing a robot field painter. Bill Hall, athletic director at Warren County High School (above left), and Bill Cupp, athletic director at Skyline High School (above right), would like to buy a robot painter for the WCPS athletic fields.
During their presentation to the School Board, the athletic directors said using the robot would be a collaborative effort between their high schools and the WCPS Facilities Management Department, which all would share the costs. They addressed key points such as the cost analysis of purchase and pointed out that the robot painter would be a huge time saver for their departments.
Dubbed an accurate and user-friendly robot for easier sports line marking, the TinyLineMarker robot model featured in a video shown to the board allows a user to control the robot via a tablet that reportedly requires minimum training and setup. There are more than 25 sports field templates already saved on the tablet.
Cupp said the TinyLineMarker robot would cost $7,513 a year for six years, totaling $45,080. The total cost would be a three-way split, with the high schools and the WCPS Facilities Management Department each paying $2,504.
Currently, both WCPS high schools spend about $15,000 a year on paint to mark the fields. Using a robot would lower that cost to $6,000 a year, and “the money spent on paint would be diverted to paying for the robot,” explained Hall.
Hall said the TinyLineMarker model was the preferred choice and the lowest of the four quotes they received. Cupp added that all of the nearby localities are using similar technology already because it saves time and labor costs for the athletic directors, coaches, and maintenance/grounds employees, who would be able to multitask while the robot works. The robot works faster said Hill and Cupp, and it can also paint words on the grass once programmed into the tablet.
Cupp added that the robot could also be used as an educational tool for students involved or interested in robotics. WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said the robot would be used year-round, not just for football fields.
In another Work Session item, the School Board heard more about the WCPS Right Turn Program, receiving information from Kyle Kuzmick, a WCPS school social worker (above left), and Rachel DeArmitt, the counselor in charge (above right).
The School Board, during its November 16, 2022, work session, approved an instructor’s fee for the WCPS drugs and alcohol education program, and the superintendent wanted to provide members with additional information from the staff who run the program.
Kuzmick and DeArmitt presented a brief overview of the Right Turn Program, created over a decade ago as an alternative to mandatory expulsion for students possessing drugs or alcohol on school grounds. The program is an educational model that consists of six modules to be completed with the student and parent, with the primary focus on discussing risk factors related to substance abuse and developing protective factors to prevent further use.
An additional goal of the program, according to Kuzmick and DeArmitt, is to enhance the communication between students and parents to enrich their relationships further.
“It’s for parents and kids, and that’s a hard group to get together in one room,” Kuzmick said.
DeArmitt outlined what’s discussed by participants during meetings, including the stages of addiction, such as experimentation, risky usage, crisis treatment, addiction, and relapse. More groups have been added to the program to accommodate increased participants, Kuzmick said.
Among other Work Session items, the board received a substitute employee update from WCPS Personnel Director Shane Goodwin, who provided a comprehensive presentation on what it would cost WCPS to bring in-house a process for hiring, training, and retaining substitutes.
Currently, WCPS contracts with ESS, also known as Educational Staffing Services, which specializes in placing qualified staff in daily, long-term, and permanent K-12 school district positions, including substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school support staff. ESS, along with numerous school districts across the country, is finding it difficult to hire subs for a multitude of reasons. “We’re running very high with employee absences in Warren County,” Goodwin told the board.
For instance, on Monday, January 16, which was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, WCPS had 85 employees absent. On the Friday prior to the federal holiday, which was January 13, WCPS had 112 employees out, Goodwin said and counted 104 absent on Thursday, January 12.
ESS recruits an average of 55 subs per day for WCPS from a pool of 178. To grow the pool, ESS provides online training to get subs in the door faster and offers incentives, including money and gift cards. The company is also considering a reduced markup rate for WCPS if the school division would
increase hourly pay for subs, said Goodwin.
He said WCPS currently spends about $20,000 monthly with ESS for its services. In addition, WCPS also pays a block rate to teachers who cover absences that couldn’t be filled, an extra cost totaling another $10,000 a month to cover those positions, Goodwin said.
To let WCPS handle the work instead of ESS, Goodwin said an HR analyst/administrator for a substitute position would need to be created to oversee the process and day-to-day management of the sub-pool, among several other duties, including recruitment, hiring, training, and retention.
He said the estimated cost for such a person with at least 10 years of experience, including benefits, would be$139,225 annually.
WCPS also would need to hire additional support personnel for that administrator. Goodwin suggested that two secretaries would be needed to fill those roles, costing upwards of an estimated $115,898 a year.
Goodwin said it would cost WCPS almost $1 million a year to handle the sub-process once numerous other additional costs are factored in, such as benefits for the newly hired personnel; training, background checks, and other sub-related costs; and the purchase of a software system to handle the
process. In comparison, sticking with ESS is estimated to cost around the $700,000 mark.
Ballenger asked the board members to review the provided information and said that if they wanted to have additional conversations about the item, “we’ll accommodate you.” He said staff needs to know what direction the board is thinking about going so that WCPS can plan its upcoming budget.
Watch the Warren County School Board Work Session of January 18th in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
WCFR 10-A-Day smoke alarm challenge
The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has renewed our partnership with the American Red Cross – West Virginia Region, Central Appalachia and will participate in their “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” campaign. The department will conduct a “10-A-Day Campaign” to assist in their endeavor.
Our “10-A-Day Campaign” will challenge each of our staffed stations to complete the following activities for each day during the week of April 2 through April 8, 2023, with the focus on:
- Visiting a minimum of 10 homes each day.
- Providing lifesaving education on smoke alarms to a minimum of 10 people each day.
- Inspecting a minimum of 10 existing smoke alarms for their appropriate operating condition, placement, and adequate date.
- Replacing a minimum of 10 out-of-date alarms or installing new alarms where needed.
Warren County Fire and Rescue is proud to collaborate with the American Red Cross and to have been part of the success of the “Sound the Alarm, Save A Life” campaign. The American Red Cross and its partners have installed over 2.5 million free smoke alarms, making over 1 million homes safer. The department plans to continue to assist with their goal of 50,000 smoke alarm installs during April by challenging our staff to install 80 smoke alarms a day, every day, during the week campaign, for a total of 560 smoke alarm installs.
According to the American Red Cross, “Home fires claim seven lives every day, but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half.” Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue is committed to further reducing this number by partnering with the American Red Cross, educating the community, and providing free smoke alarm installs.
For a free fire and life safety home evaluation and to receive your free smoke alarms, please contact us at 540-636-3830 or visit www.warrencountyfire.com.
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!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
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).
Wind: 7mph SSW
UV index: 5