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School Board Reviews Several Division-Wide Policies to Improve WCPS Practices



Several people attended the Warren County School Board’s September 20 work session/retreat to voice concerns about school discipline and other policy issues that the board is reviewing. Photos/Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County School Board, during an almost four-hour long work session held on Wednesday, September 20, reviewed several division-wide policies in an effort to either craft new policies or update others related to items including class video surveillance, student discipline, drugs and substance abuse, goals for school community relations, and threat assessment teams, among others.

Additionally, the board, during a closed session at the end of the work session/retreat, voted to accept the resignation of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Technology Director Timothy Grant, effective Sept. 30. Starting on Oct. 2, WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine will resume the additional duties Grant also held as the School Board Clerk, and Doug Stefnoski will take over as WCPS Interim Director of Technology, according to two personnel reports issued by WCPS and presented to the School Board.

Grant told the Royal Examiner that he has taken a job as the new tech director for Frederick County (Va.) Public Schools. “I will miss everyone here,” Grant texted, “but it’s an opportunity for me to grow as a technology administrator.”

During the work session, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and School Board members Andrea Lo, Antoinette Funk, and Melanie Salins discussed numerous policies, bylaws, and regulations. WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger was also present.

The group regularly exchanged ideas and answered questions posed by several parents and educators who attended the public meeting, which was held at Skyline Middle School, where a recent student assault on another student has stoked requests for improved parent notifications, student discipline, and video cameras, among others.

That incident follows the June 12 indictment of former WCPS preschool teacher Kayla Ann Bennett, who taught at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School. Bennett is charged with two felony counts of Cruelty/Injure a Child and four misdemeanor charges of assault and battery. Bennett’s defense has filed six not-guilty pleas to the charges, and she remains free on an own-recognizance bond.

Some work session particulars

The School Board members discussed how to improve communication with the public during their meetings, particularly for those parents, educators, or other citizens who may not want to speak openly about specific sensitive issues or topics.

For instance, Rinaldi suggested allowing parents, educators, or concerned citizens to sign up to speak to the board during a closed session that could be held at the end of a regular meeting or work session so that certain topics could be shared openly and honestly with the five board members. 

Because such a process would make those discussions non-public when School Board meetings are public meetings that get videotaped, other board members said the board would have to check with its attorney to make sure the process would be legal.

Depending on what the attorney says, the board decided it may or may not hold a separate meeting sometime before its Wednesday, October 4, regular meeting. It would be an open meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. that follows the normal community participation process, and then starting at 7 p.m., people who have signed up or who are in the audience and want to speak to board members privately could do so during a closed session. 

“I mean, we’ll try it, and we’ll figure out what’s wrong with the plan immediately and go from there,” Pence said.

Warren County School Board members from left: Salins, Pence, Rinaldi, Funk. Lo is off camera to Salins’ left.

The discussion about school discipline policy was prompted by resident Virginia Cram, whose son attends Skyline Middle School and was recently assaulted and had his jaw broken by another student during gym class.

Cram asked the board what they had done since she spoke to them about her son’s assault during the board’s September 6 meeting. Cram and others think that the principal should be fired for what they say was improper handling of the situation, but the School Board does not have that authority, the superintendent does. And WCPS personnel issues are private.

In response to Cram’s question, Pence said that for the past two weeks, the attorney has been looking through the policies that the board has in place to try to provide members with feedback on how to move forward with any changes or new policies.

Additionally, she said that several School Board members also visited Skyline Middle School to observe students and faculty and to have separate conversations with teachers and administrators “to try to get better background information” on what the discipline problems are at the school.

“But to be quite honest with you,” Pence told the small audience, “this is where our discussion is going to happen because we can’t have that discussion outside of the public.”

Pence and Rinaldi, who visited the school together earlier this week, reported that they saw good teacher coverage in the hallways to stop students from running or correct inappropriate behaviors. 

“Typical kids in the lunchroom, a little bit of handsy-ness with each other, same thing they would do at the food court in the mall. And they were corrected. I saw an assistant principal go up there and correct a couple of kids in the lunchroom,” added Rinaldi. “Typical middle school behavior. I walked into every bathroom, there was nothing going on in there.

“I saw some non-participation in PE, which I didn’t care for. I’m a former PE teacher,” he said. “So, with all that being said, I didn’t see kids sneaking under the bleachers. I looked under the bleachers. I didn’t see anything going on there. So my impression was, yeah, there’s a few things that need to be tightened up.”

Lo also visited the school and said she basically saw the same things. Some of the poor behaviors she witnessed sparked questions for her, she said, such as: What are the next steps? Is there more that I’m not seeing? Should there be more that I’m not seeing?

Lo also said that she talked to about ten teachers and five other people who were either administrators or office staff. 

“A couple of themes that I saw was that teachers have seen improvement since the start of the year. My guess would be since all eyes are on Skyline Middle School, perhaps some of that has even gone since our last meeting,” Lo said. “I did see administrators who told me that this was the second day that they were handling tardy passes in a different way and recording those differently. And the feedback that I received was that there were fewer people in the halls today than there had been last week.”

Salins, who homeschools her own children, said her experience was quite different when she visited the school last week.

“I saw very different things when I was here. I didn’t see the principal at all,” she said. “I saw teachers trying their very, very best to get what I will not consider as normal middle school behavior under control. I mean, I coached inside of middle schools, and I have a middle schooler. I don’t see a teacher being told that a student is going to F her up and then a whole host of other threats and then being just sent back to class. I don’t find that to be acceptable. I still didn’t see the principal during any of that. The random slapping, cussing teachers; the teachers were absolutely out in the halls doing their best, telling kids not to do this, not to do that. But I saw a lot of eye rolls” from students.

Pence said that “all eyes are on Skyline Middle School right now.”

“Everyone is painfully aware of the concerns that have been brought up here,” Pence said. “And so from a board standpoint, our job now is to, one, make sure that our policies are appropriate, are the policies that we need, and then from there, we need to make sure that they’re enforced because the policies are not going to be useful in having if we’re not going to follow them.”

Superintendent Ballenger (above) reiterated that stance in an email to the Royal Examiner.

“As a start, we know that we have discipline policies in place, and are they being enforced in our schools?  Are disciplines handed out according to the student code of conduct?” he wrote. 

Other important takeaways from the meeting, Ballenger said, were suggestions to look into possibly increasing the presence of adults at Skyline Middle with central office staff. He also said they will continue to look into and address concerns and provide support.

“We want to make sure that disciplines are handed out according to the student code of conduct at all schools and see if there are any teachers that would like to volunteer to have cameras installed in their classroom,” added Ballenger, noting that the board also reviewed updates to the camera policy and members were provided policy revisions and updates from Sands Anderson as part of the policy revision and update.  

Following the board’s closed session, he said members approved the personnel report, the personnel report addendum, the team leader supplements, and added a supplement for a technology supervisor to Grade 37.


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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Eastern Gray Squirrel



Cue the Jaws theme for a squirrel with a shark fin-shaped bandage! This young male Eastern Gray Squirrel was brought into care after the finder noticed him limping on the front right leg. Radiographs revealed a broken radius (one of the forearm bones) most likely due to a cat attack, given the cat-sized puncture wound over the fracture site.

Fractured limbs can be difficult to treat in most wild mammals, especially smaller ones with sharp teeth and claws to rip off bandages, their e-collars (“cones”), or even surgical hardware. It’s especially tough when the injury occurs in a species that is highly mobile and all about climbing.

To combat some of these factors, our vet team placed a sling to immobilize the affected limb (they had to get a bit creative and fashioned a padded “shark-fin” vest to prevent him from chewing it off). After recovering from anesthesia, we are happy to report that he wasted no time in figuring out how to continue his squirrely antics with the remaining three limbs.

We will be tracking his progress closely over the next few months as the bone heals by performing regular physical therapy and monitoring his bandage site for complications.

These creative solutions are common in wildlife medicine where you are dealing with hundreds of different species, all with different illnesses and injuries, and at every stage of life. Help us continue to create creative solutions and provide high-quality medical care to 3,500+ patients annually, covering over 165 different species, by donating to Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.

To learn more about the incredible work at BRWC, we invite you to watch this video:

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Virginia Colleges Launch Innovative Program to Address Teacher Shortage



Lab Schools to Train High School Students as Future Educators.

Virginia is taking a significant step towards addressing its teacher shortage with the launch of a groundbreaking partnership between Laurel Ridge Community College, Germanna Community College, and James Madison University. This initiative, part of the state’s broader College Partnership Laboratory Fund, is not just a solution to a critical issue but a beacon of hope for future educators.

The Virginia General Assembly established the College Partnership Laboratory Fund in 2022, committing $100 million to this cause. Following the success of the first lab school associated with Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Board of Education recently approved two more lab schools, including the Future Educators Academy.

Dr. Kim Blosser, President of Laurel Ridge, expressed excitement about collaborating with Germanna to operate the lab school at the Middletown and Fauquier campuses. “Our public school divisions, especially rural areas, face acute teacher shortages. This program is a step towards addressing that need, focusing on educating high school students who will eventually serve their local communities,” said Dr. Blosser.

The Future Educators Academy is a unique approach designed to bridge the gap in the teaching workforce. Students enrolled in this program will simultaneously work towards an associate degree and a high school advanced studies diploma. Moreover, they will receive guaranteed admission into JMU’s College of Education, potentially earning their bachelor’s degree in education within two years.

This accelerated and rigorous program is inclusive, targeting all students with a passion for teaching, including at-risk groups and those who have experienced pandemic-related learning setbacks. Governor Glenn Youngkin, who prioritizes establishing lab schools, highlights the program’s accessibility and commitment to educational recovery.

Dr. Janet Gullickson, president of Germanna, explained the vision behind the Future Educators Academy. “Our goal is to create a no-cost, accelerated path for students to fill teaching positions quickly. The idea is to nurture our K-12 teachers who will contribute to their home communities,” she stated.

The initiative is timely, considering the current challenges in the education sector. It offers a sustainable solution by empowering young aspirants to step into the teaching profession equipped with early training and a sense of community responsibility.

Germanna’s lab school students will begin in fall 2023, while Laurel Ridge will welcome its first cohort in fall 2025. This strategic timeline ensures a steady flow of trained educators into Virginia’s school system in the coming years.

The Future Educators Academy is a testament to Virginia’s commitment to resolving the immediate teacher shortage and fostering a new generation of educators equipped to face the challenges of modern education.

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Cub Scouts Bring Joy to Pediatric Patients with Jared Boxes



Local Scouts Offer Comfort and Fun to Hospitalized Children.

Warrenton, VA – In a heartwarming act of community service, the young members of Cub Scout Pack 1166 Wolf Den from Warrenton, VA, have brought smiles and comfort to pediatric patients at Fauquier Hospital. During October, these spirited youngsters crafted and delivered handmade Jared Boxes, transforming a potentially intimidating hospital experience into joy and playfulness.

For more than two decades, over a million Jared Boxes have been distributed by various groups nationwide. Brimming with activities such as fidget toys and coloring pages, these boxes have been a beacon of happiness for young patients. The Cub Scouts of Pack 1166 have joined this noble effort, contributing their energy and creativity to this cause.

Cub Scout Pack 1166 Wolf Den at Fauquier Hospital Reception during Jared Box delivery.

Sarah Shilling, a Cub Scout Leader, inspired her troop with the idea of this impactful service project. Her vision was to involve young children in community service in a meaningful and relatable way. The Jared Box Project perfectly aligned with this goal, empowering children to support their peers through thoughtful gifts. “I always encourage them to look for the helpers. It is empowering to have them be the helpers in this case,” Sarah remarked, highlighting the project’s positive impact on both givers and receivers.

Matthew Martinez, another dedicated leader and volunteer at Little Fork Volunteer Fire and Rescue, has witnessed firsthand the anxiety children face during medical emergencies. His involvement in the Jared Box initiative stems from his desire to alleviate these fears. “I see many kids upset and scared during transport. I wanted to do something to brighten their day and get the Cub Scouts involved,” he shared.

Scouts, Wesley, and Colton gave Jared Boxes to Emergency Department Nurse, Tammy Adams.

The effectiveness of Jared Boxes is not just theoretical. Jess Laurent, a fellow Cub Scout Leader, shared a personal story. “My son was one of the first surgical cases to be done during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Masks and COVID testing were scary, but he received a Jared Box. That act provided him comfort and helped ease his nerves,” Jess recalled, emphasizing the boxes’ reassuring presence during stressful times.

The successful delivery of these Jared Boxes in October has endowed Fauquier Health with a valuable resource. These boxes offer a sense of normalcy and fun to children facing medical challenges, thus fostering a deeper sense of community and empathy within the hospital environment.

The Cub Scouts of Pack 1166 have demonstrated that age is no barrier to making a significant impact. Through their efforts, they have brightened the days of many young patients and set an inspiring example of community service and compassion.

About Fauquier Health

Fauquier Health, located at 500 Hospital Drive, Warrenton, VA, is a community-focused health system emphasizing high-quality, individualized patient care. Serving Fauquier and neighboring counties, it includes a 97-bed accredited hospital, a 113-bed rehabilitation and nursing center, an assisted living facility, a wound health center, and a wellness center offering various health programs. Additionally, Fauquier Health operates multiple specialized physician’s offices. For more information, visit or call 540-316-5000.

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Winchester SPCA Thrift Shop Ready to Show Off Its New Look at Grand Reopening, Sat. Dec. 2



The Winchester Area SPCA has expressed excitement in announcing the grand re-opening of its thrift shop on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Winchester-area community is invited to join a day of celebration and shopping at the newly renovated and revitalized thrift store located at 1944 Abrams Creek Drive, Winchester, VA.

“We are extremely grateful to the Winchester business community for supporting this endeavor,” said Lavenda Denney, Executive Director of the Winchester Area SPCA, in a recent press release. “The thrift shop is the lifeblood of our animal shelter and clinic. This revitalized space offers an improved shopping experience and directly supports the Winchester Area SPCA’s mission of providing care and compassion to needy animals in our community.”

It was noted that a grassroots effort has given the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop a total transformation over the last few months. Winchester area businesses have generously funded the entire project, which includes the installation of new lighting, new display furniture, relocating the front entrance, the addition of dressing rooms, fresh paint throughout, reconfigured floor space, a coffee bar, several new merchandise sections, and new landscaping that incorporates native plants. Additionally, the exterior features a mural created by Winchester artist Sarah Gallahan.

New outside mural by Sarah Gallahan; below, the Thrift Shop/Homewares Section is taking on a post-Thanksgiving seasonal look. – Courtesy Photos/Winchester Area SPCA

The release acknowledged local businesses that contributed to the renovation, including Four Square Architects, BAC Dumpsters, Sunbelt Rentals, Vulcan Materials, Blue Ridge Glass and Metal, United Rentals, Sherwin-Williams in Stephens City and Winchester, Winchester Printers, Frogale Lumber, Glass Doctor, Hunter’s Head Tavern, and Ayrshire Farm. Sharon Phipps of Boyce generously donated the funds for the coffee bar, and Airynee Damewood of Upperville provided landscaping services.

Some parts of the renovation still need sponsors, however, and the Winchester Area SPCA asks other businesses and individuals interested in donating to contact Lavenda Denney for more information.

“We still have several naming opportunities available,” she added.

The grand reopening event will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by exclusive in-store promotions, live music, photos with Santa and his sleigh, face painting for children, exciting raffles throughout the day, and refreshments, including hot cider, popcorn, and cookies.

“We are thrilled to invite the community to join us in celebrating the grand reopening of the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop,” said Nicole Seal, the thrift shop’s manager. “If you haven’t visited us recently, you’ll find it so much easier to discover what you need and, of course, unexpected treasures!”

Shoppers can expect a wide array of merchandise, including clothing, accessories, home goods, vintage finds, pet supplies, tools, technology, and more. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the store benefit the Winchester Area SPCA’s programs and services, so each purchase involves a meaningful contribution to the welfare of animals in our community.

The men’s and women’s Departments with some divine modeling displays.

Save the date for Saturday, Dec. 2, and join the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop for a day of festivities, community engagement, and fantastic finds – all aimed at making a difference in the lives of animals in need.

And don’t forget that our Warren County community now has its own Humane Society and Julia Wagner Animal Shelter-supporting “Pick of the Litter Thrift Store” in the southern commercial area of downtown Front Royal off Commerce Avenue at 450 South Commerce Avenue, Suite E. That location is not far from the Humane Society’s Discount Spay and Neuter Clinic on the John Marshall Highway side of that commercial area. In fact, the Pick of the Litter Thrift Store celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month, on November 4.

But for more information about the Winchester Area SPCA and its Thrift Shop re-opening, visit

(Information from a release by the Winchester SPCA)

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VIDEO: Occupant Fatality Confirmed in Friday Morning Blue Ridge Ave. Residential Structure Fire in Front Royal



On the afternoon of Friday, November 24, Warren County Assistant Fire Chief Gerry Maiatico confirmed a fatality in the residential structure fire reported that morning at 240 Blue Ridge Avenue. Maiatico said the department received reports of one occupant likely trapped inside and that remains of one human victim had been discovered inside the structure once first responders were able to access the interior of the building. Maiatico said initial efforts to suppress the fire to the point where entry and extraction could be accomplished were thwarted by the intensity of the fire.

No identity was being released, and a cause of death had yet to be determined. The remains were being sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office to attempt to confirm a cause of death. Neighbors said a lone older woman lived in the residence at the northeast corner of the intersection of Blue Ridge Avenue and Prospect Street with some pet cats, which had outside access through a pet door.

A neighbors photos at the scene of the response to the residential structure fire at 240 Blue Ridge Ave. reported at 7:20 a.m. Friday morning, Nov. 24. Courtesy Photos Elizabeth Vaughan

The structure fire was reported at 7:20 a.m., Assistant Fire Chief Maiatico said. The Front Royal Police Department and Loudoun County Fire Marshall’s Office assisted at the scene.

Thanks to Michael Hasty for the video footage.


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Local Edward Jones Senior Branch Office Administrator Earns Professional Designation



Ginny Musil has taken a step in her development recently by obtaining the Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional(TM), or FPQP(TM), designation through the College for Financial Planning®.

“At Edward Jones, we are committed to continuous learning as we help our clients achieve the things that matter most to them,” Bret Hrbek. Ginny has worked hard to earn this designation, and I have no doubt that this additional education will benefit our clients and our branch.”

Musil has been with Edward Jones for five years. Hrbek and Musil can be reached at 540-635-8229. You may also visit their website at

Edward Jones is a leading financial services firm in the U.S. and through its affiliate in Canada. The firm’s more than 19,000 financial advisors serve more than 8 million clients with a total of $1.8 trillion in client assets under care at the end of June 2023. Edward Jones’ purpose is to partner for positive impact to improve the lives of its clients and colleagues, and together, better our communities and society. Through the dedication of the firm’s approximately 52,000 associates and our branch presence in 68% of U.S. counties, the firm is committed to helping more people achieve financially what is most important to them. The Edward Jones website is at, and its recruiting website is Member SIPC.

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Upcoming Events

10:00 am A Tree-mendous Hike @ Sky Meadows State Park
A Tree-mendous Hike @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 2 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
A Tree-mendous Hike @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sensory Explorers’ Trail. Explore the rich natural history of trees guided by a Virginia Master Naturalist. Discover the tips and tricks of basic tree identification and the tree-mendous roles that trees play in our environment.[...]
10:00 am Kris Kringle Market @ Trinity Lutheran Church
Kris Kringle Market @ Trinity Lutheran Church
Dec 2 @ 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Kris Kringle Market @ Trinity Lutheran Church
The Trinity Lutheran Church Kringle Market will take place on Saturday, December 2, 2023 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The Kringle Market is centrally located in the Newtown–Stephensburg Historic District in the Trinity Lutheran[...]
10:00 am SPCA Thrift Shop Grand Reopening @ WASPCA Thrift Shop
SPCA Thrift Shop Grand Reopening @ WASPCA Thrift Shop
Dec 2 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
SPCA Thrift Shop Grand Reopening @ WASPCA Thrift Shop
After months of renovations and hard work, the Winchester Area SPCA is thrilled to welcome you back to its thrift store, where every purchase supports the mission of caring for and finding loving homes for[...]
1:00 pm Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Dec 2 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
New Bluegrass and traditional music jam the first Saturday of each month starting Feb. 4th, from 1pm till 4pm. All levels of playing invited to attend.
3:00 pm Valley Chorale “Once Upon a Chri... @ Calvary Episcopal Church
Valley Chorale “Once Upon a Chri... @ Calvary Episcopal Church
Dec 3 @ 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Valley Chorale "Once Upon a Christmas" Concert @ Calvary Episcopal Church
Join The Valley Chorale for a family-friendly concert featuring favorite carols, hymns and songs of the Christmas season!
5:30 pm Free Holiday Meal @ Trinity Lutheran Church
Free Holiday Meal @ Trinity Lutheran Church
Dec 6 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Free Holiday Meal @ Trinity Lutheran Church
If one has read the Surgeon General’s 2023 report on America’s epidemic of loneliness and crisis of disconnection, one can then understand the significance that a Holiday Meal can have on the community at large. [...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 6 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]