Active COVID-19 cases in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) currently stand at 10 students and 11 teachers, reported WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger during the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, February 3 regular meeting and work session.
Since Sept. 8, 2020, when school started, WCPS has had a total of 69 positive student cases and 47 positive staff cases, said Ballenger, while 491 students and over 113 staff members have been quarantined since that date.
“The spread has been low within the community,” he said, citing the success of the school division’s mitigation strategies and contract tracing undertaken by school administrators, teachers, staff, and parents. “We have had no community spread at all within the school system as of the date that we have identified” active cases,” Ballenger added.
The superintendent also reported that WCPS has scheduled remote learning days for all students on February 11 and 12, 2021, so that all divisional staff members may receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. All schools will return to their normal schedule for the 2020-2021 school year on February 16, 2021. To date, Ballenger said WCPS is approximately 65 percent vaccinated.
Virtual days also could be possible for all students depending on the weather, said Ballenger. “This is the time of year when weather can impact school and we’ll err on the side of caution,” he said, noting that WCPS will move to virtual days if needed, “unless the weather is so severe, we cannot get staff into the building to use internet service. We want to make sure everybody is safe, and that we can provide quality education to the best of our ability.”
WCPS also is considering whether to increase capacity on its buses during the ongoing pandemic, according to Ballenger, who said that other school districts in the region, like Clarke County, are already doing so while also keeping their COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place. “The overall goal is to increase in-person days for middle school and high school,” he said. “We are currently looking at this ourselves to see if we need to adjust and move toward more in-person days.”
Regarding virtual education, Front Royal, Va., resident Richard Baker told School Board members during the community participation segment of their Wednesday night regular meeting that during the pandemic over the last year, he has had a chance to talk to many middle and high school students about virtual education and how it works.
“I would ask them how much time a day they spend working on it, and invariably the answer I would get was ‘oh, about an hour.’ I don’t know what the requirement is on a daily basis, but I’ve heard ‘about an hour’ many times from kids down at the gazebo,” said Baker, explaining, “I’m the guy you all usually always see walking and smoking my pipe all the time.”
Baker, who said he was a teacher for three years in Marion County, Fla., before being laid off after 9/11, said he just wanted to pass along the information he’s heard to the School Board. “While this may be what you call anecdotal, it does strike me as interesting that I’m getting that response over a fairly long period of time,” he said. “I don’t completely understand the program, but I don’t think you’re getting a whole lot done in an hour.”
More from Ballenger
During the School Board’s work session — which followed a closed session to discuss a WCPS personnel issue — the members received fiscal year (FY) 2022 pre-budget information from Superintendent Ballenger.
Also, to be discussed during the board’s February 17 meeting will be the renewal of both the foodservice management contract and the custodial management contract that WCPS currently has with Sodexo Operations, LLC to manage those operations for the school division. Melody Sheppard, WCPS assistant superintendent for administration, explained on Wednesday that no motion from the board was necessary as the contracts will be presented at the February 17 School Board meeting for consideration.
Additionally, during the superintendent’s report, Ballenger told the School Board that the division’s Strategic Planning Committee has met a few times and this week discussed vision statements for the upcoming WCPS strategic plan. He provided two vision examples. The first is: Engage, Educate, Empower, Equality, Every Student, Every Day; and the second is: Learning through Inspiration, Empowerment, and Innovation. These vision statements will help the committee members create mission statements for the final strategic plan, which will go before the School Board once completed, he said.
Ballenger also presented a certificate of recognition to each School Board member from the Virginia School Board Association acknowledging appreciation for their dedication and service to education excellence.
There was one action item presented by WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, who requested approval of the 2021-2022 Program of Studies (POS).
Fox pointed out that since the initial reading of the POS during the board’s last meeting in January, course descriptions were added for three more new courses: Information Technology Fundamentals, African American Studies, and Criminal Justice I, which is expected to be a very well-received course. “If it goes as well as we think it will, we will return with Criminal Justice II,” Fox said.
The School Board voted unanimously to accept the POS, with all members present, including Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Kristen Pence, Ralph Rinaldi, and James Wells.
New Warren Memorial Hospital ‘95% complete’ – transfer from North Shenandoah Ave. due in June
In a “Zoom” talk before the Rotary Club of Front Royal April 16, Warren Memorial Hospital Board Chairman Floyd Heater reported construction of the new $100-million hospital on Leach Run Parkway “95% complete” and a ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for June 8.
Several other community open houses, among those for employees and donors, will be scheduled before and after patients are admitted June 23. By then, hospital departments will be in place (June 16) The emergency department will be operational June 23.
Already complete and awaiting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection on the 150-acre site is a helipad, most welcomed by employees of the old hospital site where a stamp-sized parking lot was used for air evacuations. Calling the helipad a “great enhancement,” Heater further remarked, “There’ll be no more moving of cars every time (air evacuations) are necessitated,” with a nod to long-suffering staffers at the old hospital that has been operating at its North Shenandoah Avenue location more than 70 years.
Generally, the new $100 million complex is state of the art, while Heater singled out the three operating rooms he said would be “the envy of many other hospitals.” Also, he gave mentions to Front Royal Rotarian Fred Andreae and his family for their contributions to a 2.5 mile wellness and recreation trail on the property, and to members of the public who contributed more than $2.5 million to the Warren Memorial Hospital Foundation capital campaign, including some of the trail costs, a history wall and medical history display, plus a brick paver engraved with the names of brick-buying donors. The bricks will become part of an outdoor patio in the hospital’s courtyard.
Overall, space-wise, employees will have 52,000 more square feet to work in – 177,000 vs 125,000 square feet.
“Taking Health Care to New Heights” is the title of a Valley Health handout, available online, which describes the new hospital and all of its 21st century features.
Warren County/Skyline High School Senior Prom scheduled for May 22 at the Gazebo
The Senior Prom for 2021 will bring both senior classes together on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at the Gazebo in downtown Front Royal. A group of concerned parents got together and planned this event for this year’s graduating class.
The Senior Prom signifies one last unforgettable evening as High School Seniors, and with the ‘Old Hollywood’ theme, it will be an evening to remember. Formal wear is required, so get the gowns and tuxedos ready. It’s also a free event, but tickets are required. Go here to sign up.
Watch the video for all the details, and go to the Facebook group to stay updated.
Warren County School Board meets Wednesday to act on van purchases, ESY staff raises
The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, April 21 meeting will consider requests by Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to increase hourly pay rates for extended school year positions, purchase two vehicles, and approve the 2021-2022 local Perkins Career and Technical Education Plan.
The first of three action agenda items to be considered this week by the School Board is to approve a request by WCPS to increase the hourly pay rates for extended school year (ESY) positions, which provide services to qualified students with disabilities throughout the county. ESY student support generally occurs in the summer but is designed and planned to meet the individual needs of each student, according to the School Board’s agenda.
Due to this year’s short summer break, it has been increasingly difficult to secure staff, according to WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch, who will recommend increasing the hourly rates of the ESY administrator from $35 per hour to $45 per hour; the speech pathologist and physical and occupational specialists from $35 to $45 per hour; the ESY teachers from $25 an hour to $35 per hour; the Summer School and the ESY school nurse from $25 to $35 per hour; and the ESY instructional assistants from $10 to $15 per hour.
The second action agenda item for the School Board’s consideration is the 2021-2022 Local Plan for Career and Technical Education Perkins Funds, which provide WCPS with funds to support Career and Technical Programs and includes equipment, professional development, and student organization support. The funding is not to supplant but to enhance local funding, according to the agenda.
The last item slated for School Board action on April 21 is a WCPS request to purchase two used Dodge Caravans from G&M Auto Sales in Front Royal, Va., that will be used primarily for student transport in and out of Warren County. WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell will explain that WCPS seeks to maintain a quality, safe, and needs appropriate vehicle fleet, and the plan is for WCPS to trade in four vehicles for the two Caravans, according to the School Board’s agenda.
A work session is also scheduled during the School Board’s Wednesday meeting during which time Hirsch is scheduled to discuss required immunizations for WCPS students, and WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Melody Sheppard will provide a second reading and further discussion on the Virginia School Board Association’s School Board Policy Updates.
April 7 meeting summary
In highlights from the School Board’s April 7 meeting, Sheppard reported that the WCPS Food Services staff has prepared more than 900,000 meals for students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognizing staff members for their hard work, Sheppard commented on the extraordinary job that both Food Services and transportation employees have done in preparing and delivering meals during this time.
She also presented Nickole Kinsey, WCPS Food Services general manager, with a plaque from the state in appreciation for the work that has been done to make sure students remained fed during the pandemic.
In his report to the School Board on April 7, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said that as of that date, there were 15 active student cases of COVID-19 and six staff cases. He said that the school division will continue to utilize the same mitigation guidelines it has been using.
Ballenger also reported that he has held initial conversations with both high schools and class representatives about upcoming graduations. The current plans call for Warren County High School’s graduation to be held in the stadium on Saturday, June 12 at 8 a.m., and for graduation at Skyline High School’s stadium to be held at 10 a.m. on the same day.
Students would be given four tickets with 10 feet of social distancing required between families, said Ballenger, noting that the plan is based on the current state and federal guidance and could be adjusted if that guidance changes between now and graduation.
In addition, Ballenger told School Board members that a proposal for a Linden, Va., bus stop is being reviewed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and an initial meeting with families has been held to review the plan.
The School Board also on April 7 adopted a resolution honoring Ballenger as a Virginia Superintendent of the Year for 2020-2021. The Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) is honoring all 133 division superintendents throughout the state as Virginia superintendents of the year due to their extraordinary leadership during the 2020-2021 school year and their roles in serving their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the School Board’s April 7 meeting minutes.
VASS plans to recognize all the superintendents during its spring conference and asked that each school board in Virginia adopt a resolution recognizing their superintendent as a Virginia Superintendent of the Year for 2020-2021. The motion to adopt the resolution honoring Ballenger was made by School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, seconded by board member Ralph Rinaldi, and carried by a 5-0 voice vote with School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, Rinaldi, and Bower voting aye.
In other action on April 7, the School Board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the School Board and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for School Resource Officers (SROs) that was signed by the superintendent.
Current policy requires that the Warren County School Board and the Sheriff’s Office have an MOU that sets forth the powers and duties of the SROs. The MOU is reviewed and affirmed or amended at least once every two years and is modeled after the Virginia School-Law Enforcement Partnership Model MOU, Sheppard told School Board members.
The partnership between WCPS and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office is intended to facilitate effective, timely communication and coordination of efforts, and the MOU establishes a framework that both the schools and the Sheriff’s Office can work within to achieve shared goals toward creating and maintaining safe and secure school environments and to promote a positive and supportive school climate, according to the School Board’s agenda.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will employ and provide WCPS with 10 law enforcement officers to serve as SROs who will assist with matters related to the safety and security of the schools. Sheppard pointed out that SROs also will help school administrators develop school crisis and response plans, as well as coordinate crime prevention and school safety, among other tasks.
The School Board also unanimously approved a request that WCPS enter an MOU with Shenandoah University to provide a reading specialist endorsement program within the school division and that the superintendent be authorized to sign the memorandum.
As part of the partnership, WCPS will provide a cohort with a minimum of 20 participants at the cost of $624 per student per course, to cover the cost difference should the cohort drop below 20 participants, and to secure a commitment from participants to complete the program.
Sheppard said that WCPS has 21 teachers and one instructional specialist who have signed commitment letters to complete the reading specialist endorsement program. For those seeking the add-on endorsement, they have committed to completing the program and remaining in the division for three years following their completion of the program, she said, adding that for those seeking a master’s degree as a reading specialist, they have committed to completing the program and remaining in the division for five years following their completion of the program. Should they fail to complete the program or not stay the agreed-upon three or five years, she said they are responsible to pay back all funds paid on their behalf.
For its part, Shenandoah University will provide the instructional delivery, invoice the school division based on the agreed-upon rate, and will waive all graduate application fees and offer direct admission for all cohort participants, Sheppard explained.
The MOU will remain in force for two years but can be terminated by either party given a 90-days written notice, she said, adding that courses will be paid for using a combination of Title I funds, tuition reimbursement funds, and local professional development funds.
In another unanimous approval, the School Board voted to award a $17,543.75 contract to Roanoke, Va.-based Time Technologies Inc. for the purchase and installation of a digital marquee sign at Skyline High School to replace the current manual one.
Skyline High School (SHS) Assistant Principal Jody Lee told School Board members that SHS administration recognizes “this is not a need but rather a want but feel that this will be an asset to SHS and the community to enhance notifications for the students, families, and surrounding community members.”
“We feel that due to COVID-19 impacts, being virtual has allowed us to spend less than normal and feel this opportunity will not come again without a long-term fundraiser,” Lee said, noting that the sign will be single-sided with an illuminated routed nameplate for the school’s name. SHS also wants to use a Cloud-based software program for the sign images and notices.
The project, which should take roughly two months from the date of a signed contract, is over the $15,000 threshold so SHS asked to use its School Board funds to pay for the sign due to the current availability of allocated funds.
The School Board also voted 5-0 to adopt the 2021-2022 Special Education Annual Plan, which includes an application for federal funding in the total amount of $1,241,840.
The board’s April 21 meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be held at the Diversified Minds meeting room located at 465 W. 15th Street in Front Royal.
The Golden Throne: Fundraiser for Warren County Habitat for Humanity
You might see a golden toilet making its way around Front Royal through the end of April. This is a fundraiser for Warren County Habitat for Humanity (WCHFH). If you are lucky enough to find the Golden Throne in your yard, you can pay $10 to have it removed or $20 to have it removed and taken to a friend. To ensure that the toilet won’t return to your yard, you can purchase “Plumbing Insurance” for just $30. You may pre-purchase Plumbing Insurance if you’d like to support WCHFH, but would rather not have the honor of showing off the Golden Throne at your home or business.
You can “follow” the Golden Throne as it travels around our community. Follow WCHFH on Facebook.
For questions, removal, or to request toilet placement or insurance, contact Amanda Slate, WCHFH Board President, at Amanda.firstname.lastname@example.org or (540) 974-1827. For more information about Warren County Habitat for Humanity programs, contact Jessica Priest-Cahill, WCHFH Executive Director, at (540) 551-3232 or email@example.com.
Founded locally in 1993, Warren County Habitat for Humanity seeks to build homes, community, and hope in Front Royal and Warren County. Habitat for Humanity homes are sold with no profit received. The homes are built utilizing volunteer labor, donated resources, and money from the community. Homeowners must meet three qualifications: willingness to partner; ability to pay; and have a need for decent, affordable, and safe housing. In addition to the Habitat Homeownership Program, WCHFH provides home repair programs for low-income homeowners, homeownership and home maintenance education, and advocacy for affordable home ownership. To learn more visit warrencountyhabitat.org.
Front Royal man charged for sexual solicitation of underage victims
On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal Police detectives initiated an investigation regarding the solicitation of minors in the Warren County/Front Royal area. Detectives started a proactive approach to apprehend individuals soliciting underage victims for sexual purposes.
An undercover operation ensued, and an adult male began soliciting one of our detectives who he believed to be an underage female for photographs and sexually explicit material. The adult male suspect sent sexually explicit materials to the detective. The initial conversation was unsolicited and started by the offender in this case.
Police identified the suspect as 20-year-old Front Royal resident, Daniel Currence. Currence was arrested on 04/16/2021 and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail. Currence was ordered to be held on a $5,000 secured bond with a scheduled court date of May 20, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. We request anyone with information regarding the exploitation of a minor to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia Beer Museum and Shae Parker celebrate in-house Aries birthdays
Due to a rash of owner-staff April birthdays over the past week, on Saturday, April 17, Shae Parker headlined an “Aries Birthday Celebration” at the Virginia Beer Museum in Historic Downtown Front Royal. Parker, also an April birthday, of the River Driven band performed three solo sets, 24 songs in all, of original material.
Parker, proprietor of Hanna Signs in town, also produced the event’s very late-1960’s psychedelic-era themed poster that may have led some of the “more mature” attendees into time-space continuum flashbacks to the glory days of the “English Invasion” and Haight Ashbury-centered classic rock & roll they grew up with.
So, Happy Birthday, David (April 14), Jeremy (April 17), Derek (April 19) and Shae (April 14), from this reporter (April 17).
And always remember, Aries, numero uno – the rest will always be followers of the Ram along the celestial path of the zodiac; and whose ruling planet, Mars, as of April 19, 2021, has the first man-made flying object hovering around the surface of another planet as mankind explores for signs of past or present life, and potential sites for future human exploration and colonization on the red planet.