FRONT ROYAL— With schoolwide chronic absences reaching almost 30 percent last year, the administrators at Skyline High School (SHS) have had to come up with some creative solutions.
One of the most effective practices currently being used at SHS has been an administrator’s knock on the door at the home of a regularly absent student.
“We have gone to several homes of students who don’t want to come to school after we’ve called the parents, who say they just can’t get them there. So I said, ‘Do you mind if I come to your house?’” SHS Principal Michael Smith explained to members of the Warren County School Board during the work session portion of their January 15 regular meeting.
“It’s been pretty effective because the principal is standing there at the front door, almost at their bedroom door, opening it up and asking, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ The parents get a good kick out of it and it works for the kids; they don’t want us coming back to their house,” said Dr. Smith.
“Whatever works,” he added. “All of my administrative staff has had to do that, so we’re doing everything we can to get them to school.”
During his presentation to the School Board, Smith said that SHS had an academic review on November 6, 2019. The overall findings and problem identified during the review was that chronic absenteeism at SHS received a Level III performance standing, meaning accredited with conditions, he said.
Melody Sheppard, interim superintendent for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), told School Board members on Wednesday night that SHS is one of the school district’s two schools dubbed accredited with conditions, and the board next month will hear from Principal Shane Goodwin about similar efforts under way at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School to curb chronic absenteeism.
Following the academic review, Smith said the subsequent SHS corrective action plan was submitted to the Virginia Department of Education on November 18, 2019, while essential actions to improve the chronic absenteeism rate have been added to the SHS school plan for the 2019-2020 school year.
Additionally, attendance expectations for accurate reporting of attendance were added to the staff handbook; an annual staff training was conducted on the attendance protocol; and attendance data will be reviewed monthly to identify students on track to be chronically absent and to prioritize students requiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of support, he said.
Tier 2 level students are those who have missed nine days at the mid-school year point, while Tier 3 level students are chronically absent from school, said Sheppard, who noted that students are allowed a total of 18 excused absences in a school year.
And according to WCPS attendance policy, absences are excused for a funeral, illness, injury, legal obligations, medical procedures, suspensions, expulsions, religious observances, and military obligations that parents are aware of and support.
In addition to the impromptu at-home visits, Smith said another current practice is to assign teacher mentors to Tier 2 and Tier 3 level students for daily and weekly contact. “It’s usually their first block teacher or another teacher they’re comfortable with,” he said, adding that the goal is for the teacher mentor to get information from the student about why he or she isn’t attending school.
The subsequent data that the teacher mentors put into an online Google form describes when they met with students, what they talked about, and what they determined were some possible solutions. Smith said this data also provides useful evidence for future decision-making around making individualized attendance plans, for example.
Smith outlined several other current practices that are ongoing at SHS to stem the chronic absenteeism problem.
Every Sunday, for instance, Smith sends out a weekly phone blast to relay pre-recorded information about the upcoming week, as well as the importance of regular attendance.
Other practices include what Smith called “simple things,” such as teachers greeting students as they enter the classrooms and administrators greeting students in the morning as they enter the school building. These are county-wide policies aimed at fostering positive relationships across an entire school, he said.
“I actually have two assistant principals at the entrances to the school,” Smith told School Board members. “They open doors and greet every single kid who comes into the school.”
There also has been an attendance committee with parents developed at SHS that already has met twice. “Parents were surprised at the number of students who miss substantial amounts of classroom time,” said Smith.
During the attendance committee meetings that Smith holds with students and their parents, they develop an Attendance Success Plan for each student. He’s so far held 66 meetings.
Second attendance meetings also are held between Smith, the parents, students, and the SHS truancy officer, with 15 having been held thus far. “It’s nothing punitive, it’s just about getting students to realize the importance of what they’re missing when they’re not in the classroom,” said Smith.
Smith also sent out 890 letters to every SHS household asking parents to come in and discuss the chronic absenteeism situation. The parents who did respond to the letter, he said, were the ones whose kids regularly attend school, but who said they wanted to learn how to share the value of coming to school with other families and students.
Additional current practices include a Principal’s Cabinet that consists of class officers who discuss the atmosphere of the school and what incentives might help improve attendance.
During the last meeting, Smith said cabinet members commented that for those students who regularly miss school, they likely wouldn’t attend “no matter what incentive we have.”
The SHS attendance secretary also notifies parents every day to determine why students are absent.
Going forward, Smith told School Board members that SHS will continue to: run the teacher mentor program; meet with students and parents; and send the Sunday phone blasts.
Warren County School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower asked what the most common reasons are for the chronic absences. Smith said there’s a wide array of excuses.
For instance, many students say they just don’t want to get out of bed or that they’re bored at school, which essentially relates to instruction, said Smith.
Sheppard pointed out that all the current practices at SHS to fight chronic absenteeism are evidence-based practices. “It’s all about building positive relationships with kids,” she said. “Whenever a student comes to school, they have somebody there that they can have a conversation with and not feel uncomfortable.”
“It is about the relationships, the rapport and the trust,” agreed School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., who told Smith to “keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving forward. I know you can get there.”
“We will,” Smith told him, noting that last year, SHS was at 29 percent chronic absenteeism and this year’s goal is to reduce that mark to 24 percent. “If we can get there, that would be a huge decrease.”
Watch the latest Warren County School Board work session where SHS Principal Michael Smith discusses this problem with the board:
Derrick Leasure of R-MA assumes Front Royal Rotary presidency
Randolph-Macon Academy Assistant Dean of Students Derrick E. Leasure officially took over as president of the Rotary Club of Front Royal at an “actual” ceremony in the town’s community center on Friday, July 10.
Outgoing president Bret Hrbek passed the gavel after his year in office, made more challenging when interrupted by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, which sent its regular weekly meetings since March to the internet via “Zoom.”
The real-life meeting that greeted Leasure, attended by a dozen past presidents from John Marlow (1977) to the retiring Hrbek, likely will return to “Zoom” as Leasure begins his tenure. After the gavel was passed, Leasure swore in members of the new board of directors, including Hrbek.
“He has a difficult task before him,” Hrbek had said earlier. Like other local organizations, Rotary has taken a hit in its fundraising activities but nevertheless managed to take in $126,000 last year for local and international projects.
Leasure, who came to R-MA’s middle school in 2008, earned his Bachelor’s Degree at Ohio State University and a Master’s in History from the University of Arizona. He is an active member of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, serving on the education committee. Outside his teaching and later administration posts at the Academy, Leasure has been a student mentor and head coach in golf as well as his promotion to assistant dean.
Married to Michelle Cantlebary, the couple has two children. He joined Rotary shortly after arriving in Front Royal 18 years ago.
(Malcolm Barr Sr., our contributing writer, is a member of the Rotary Club of Front Royal)
LFCC Professor Mark Sunderlin receives statewide recognition
Professor Mark Sunderlin recently received the George B. Vaughan Leadership Award for Outstanding Adjunct Faculty from the Virginia Community College System with support from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.
Earlier this year, Professor Sunderlin was named the 2020 LFCC Distinguished Faculty Award winner.
An adjunct faculty member for the past eight years, he spent many years working for the federal government, before serving as the senior technical manager of AOL for seven years. Currently, Professor Sunderlin is principal data engineer for Verizon Media Services.
United Way welcomes Shane Goodwin as new president for 2020-21
Shane Goodwin has been elected the new President of the United Way of Front Royal-Warren County, and will serve through the 2020-21 fiscal year. Mr. Goodwin is the Principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School.
Mr. Goodwin arrived in Front Royal from York, SC, where he served on the Solid Waste Advisory Board (2003-04), the PTO Board (2003-19), and the Boy Scouts of America Board (2002-18). During his time in South Carolina, Mr. Goodwin was also involved with the Regional Aids/Interfaith Network, Family Promise, the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Since arriving in Front Royal, Mr. Goodwin has continued to demonstrate a desire to work in his community, and has been involved in the Thermal Shelter, Shred Day, the Rotary Club, the Elks Club, Church Choir, and Boys Into Gentleman (B.I.G.).
Mr. Goodwin joined the United Way Board in August, 2019, out of a desire to “help our community connect and thrive.” Since joining the Board, he has taken on many community projects, including serving on the Community Impact Grant Interview Committee, which leads the way for local United Ways in providing grant funding for community agencies. This committee approved $35,000 in grant funding for eight community agencies over the coming year, including Blue Ridge Legal Services, House of Hope, The Laurel Center, Phoenix Project, St. Luke Community Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, Cars Changing Lives, and Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.
In looking forward to the upcoming year, Mr. Goodwin has several goals for the United Way of Front Royal-Warren County. These include the following:
- Increase Corporate Funding/Partnerships
- Increase Board Member Involvement On United Way Committees
- Set In Motion Processes To Increase Credit Scores/Net Worth Among Front Royal-Warren County Community Members
- Begin Working Toward A Facility To Allow Children Quality Exercise And Mentoring
Since 1950, the United Way has worked to advance the common good in Front Royal-Warren County. The community wins when a child succeeds in school, when families are financially stable, and when people are healthy. The United Way’s goal is to create long-lasting change by addressing the underlying causes of the challenges we face. Living United means being part of the change!
To reach the United Way offices in Front Royal-Warren County (134-B Peyton Street, Front Royal, VA, 22630), please email email@example.com or call 540-635-3636.
RSW Regional Jail’s new visitation system
COVID-19 has been a unique and ever changing situation and we are aware of the difficulties and strain the suspension of our programs and visitation has placed on the inmates, their families, and their friends. Since March of 2020, when we realized this would be a long term event, we have been working with our inmate telephone provider for a viable alternative to onsite visitation. Unfortunately, these plans slowed and then eventually halted as we faced the many challenges of having a number of inmates and staff test positive for the virus.
However, since that time, we have been able to move forward and are pleased to announce the launch of a web-based visitation system that allows for both, onsite and remote, visits. This system allows visitors the ability to visit with their loved ones from the safety and comfort of their home, utilizing a computer, tablet, or any Android smart phone. (IPhones do not currently work with this system, but we are told they are working on a solution to this)
Effective, July 13, 2020, we will resume our visitation program, utilizing the IWeb Visit system for remote visits only. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation and will make a decision for onsite visits at a later date.
IWeb Visit was founded in 2009 and is headquartered in Decatur, Alabama. They operate in 16 states from California to New Jersey. Currently, they serve 30 facilities across the nation and are adding 2-3 facilities per month. IWeb Visit focuses on increasing family contact with inmates and reducing recidivism as well as streamlining the overall visitation process by working closely with jail staff and administrators.
To accommodate this new system, a few changes have been made to our schedule and operations. Visitors will be required to register and schedule all visitations a minimum of one (1) day in advance by going to the website, www.iwebvisit.com. Visitors are no longer required to be on an approved visitor list for each inmate and there are no restrictions to the number of remote visits you can have each week, as long as there is a time slot available. Time slots will be as follows:
- 8 am – 11:30 am
- 1 pm – 4:30 pm
- 6 pm – 9:30 pm
Visits are in fifteen (15) minute increments and up to three (3) in a row may be scheduled at a time to allow for a total visit of forty five (45) minutes. There will be a fee of $4.50 for each fifteen (15) minute visit and it must be paid utilizing the website when the visitor schedules their visit. This fee is paid to IWeb to operate their system and RSW Regional Jail receives no revenue from this service. Visitors must also understand that by utilizing this system, they agree to the terms and rules of IWeb Visit. In addition, all visitation policies set forth by RSW Regional Jail are applicable. Any inappropriate content that is observed will result in the inmate losing their visitation privilege for a period of thirty (30) days. Subsequent offenses will result in a loss of visitation for a period of sixty (60) and then (90) days.
It is imperative that visitors have good internet connection or cell service (anything above two bars) before beginning their visit. Poor quality cell service or internet connection will negatively affect the sound and video during the visit. We understand this is a new process and you may have questions or experience some technical problems when first accessing the site. Please remember, IWeb Visit is an independent company that we have partnered with and RSW Regional Jail is not able to answer technical or operational questions regarding their website. For any questions or concerns regarding those matters, please reach out to their customer support team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-434-8748. For any questions regarding RSW visitation policies, please contact Captain Michael Miller at Michael.email@example.com or 540-622-5028.
LFCC nursing students volunteer – and learn – during coronavirus pandemic
LFCC nursing students and faculty are playing an important role in helping to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Since the start of June, dozens of students have voluntarily staffed a temporary COVID-19 contact tracing center set up in the Barn on the Fauquier Campus.
Grants from the PATH Foundation, the Claude Moore Foundation and the Culpeper Wellness Foundation have funded the necessary equipment and faculty stipends for the center, said April Achter, population health coordinator for the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District.
The center is staffed by LFCC nursing students three days a week, and by nursing students from George Mason University the other two days. It is scheduled to run through July.
The health department is notified of any positive COVID-19 case, and then contacts the positive patient, according to Amanda Brooks, the Fauquier Campus’s nursing program lead and clinical coordinator. The patient is asked for people they have been in contact with.
Contact tracing center staff then call the patient’s contacts to tell them they have been exposed to someone with the virus, Brooks said.
There are various quarantine and isolation recommendations based on whether the contact has symptoms of coronavirus or not, or whether they live with a confirmed case, according to Achter.
Contact center volunteers ask the people quarantining if they need help with groceries and other needs.
“I’m working in the center to serve my community,” said nursing student Teena Stevic. “We answer questions regarding how COVID-19 is spread, what to do if you have been exposed and how to self-isolate if you have COVID-19. We’ve also had the pleasure of contacting members of the community to give them the good news that their test was negative.”
Brooks said six to 10 students work at the center per day. Students can volunteer up to three days, earning 24 hours of clinical experience.
“As testing for COVID-19 ramped up and states started opening up, it became more important to trace contacts,” Brooks said.
Additionally, nursing faculty from LFCC and GMU provide pharmacology and other instruction on slow days, Brooks said.
Aside from learning this important facet of public health, the nursing students are getting a chance to earn clinical hours at a time when they’ve been unable to earn them in the more traditional way at hospitals.
Many of the hospitals where nursing students earn clinical hours stopped allowing the students to come in starting in March, Brooks said. This was to conserve limited supplies of personal protective equipment and to limit new patients’ exposure to coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District needed people who could help trace contacts of those who have been diagnosed to with COVID-19 in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
“It’s a great opportunity to expose the students to public health,” Achter said. “It’s been a great help to the health district. We’re just like everyone else – starting to transition back to routine services, and this takes a burden off our staff.
“Isolation and quarantine of those who are sick is really an age-old procedure for public health. The time-consuming and labor-intensive process of tracing contacts is the backbone of public health, so these students doing this work absolutely helps us mitigate this illness in our community. We’re grateful to LFCC for allowing us to use the space.”
Steevic said she decided to become a nurse to help close the gap in public health both in the U.S. and abroad.
“Working public health education while in school gave me an opportunity to talk with clients, educate them on the current pandemic, and practice the client communication skills I have been learning during my first year of nursing school,” she said.
Learn more about LFCC’s nursing program by visiting lfcc.edu/nursing.
Congratulations to Skyline High School Seniors – Class of 2020
Royal Examiner presents the Skyline High School Class of 2020. Congratulations to these wonderful seniors on their hard work and deserved accomplishments! We wish you the best in your next big endeavors. Photos courtesy of Victor O’Neill Studios, Tolliver Studios, and Nik’s Piks Photography.
The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and to not give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.”
“The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules.”
“Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”
—Senator Orrin Hatch
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.”
“Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.”
“There are no regrets in life. Just lessons.”
“Take pride in how far you’ve come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”
“The only thing you can do in this life is pursue your passions, celebrate your bloopers and never stop following your fear.”
“Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”
“Every person you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.”
—H Jackson Brown Jr.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
“You have to dance a little bit before you step out into the world each day, because it changes the way you walk.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
“Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.”
“I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.”
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”
“There is no script. Live your life. Soak it all in.”
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
“Spread joy. Chase your wildest dreams.”
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”