What a long, strange trip the final two years of high school have been for the graduating classes of 2021. Reduced in-school, in-class time, virtual learning at home, and canceled or reduced-capacity athletic and other events once considered business as usual in packed venues. That marks the era of the worldwide Coronavirus Disease-2019 pandemic attributed with the deaths of over 595,000 Americans among nearly 3.5-million fatalities worldwide in about a year and a half.
But with a little parental initiative in cooperation with downtown Front Royal business people and the town government spearheaded by Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell, Warren County’s graduating classes of 2021 got a Hollywood-themed night to remember “Under the Stars” the evening of Saturday, May 22nd.
Late Saturday afternoon, Royal Examiner found the organizational hub and information center on that evening’s joint Senior Proms of Skyline and Warren County High Schools in Front Royal’s Village Commons area across East Main Street at White Picket Fence/Key Move Properties. Proprietor Sue Laurence was overseeing the final stages of neighboring C&C Frozen Treats couple Will and Nina Huck’s dressing for Prom Night, while her husband and co-designated prom chaperone Chris was on site across the street as the final touches to a “Hollywood Night Under the Stars” setting, and DJ musical accompaniment was underway for the lucky 7 to 11 p.m. Prom Night extravaganza.
We asked the co-organizer and Downtown Ice Cream Man, Will Huck, about the impetus for the evening’s outdoor prom night. He explained that following the public school system’s early decision not to have proms due to the still-strict pandemic guidelines at the time, it was parents of graduating seniors who took the initiative to try and facilitate some kind of open-air-site event where social distancing requirements could be met.
“Since the guidelines have changed, and they only recently changed,” Huck observed of a CDC softening of pandemic precautions as over two-thirds of the nation is now reported having received a COVID-19 vaccination, “there wasn’t enough time for the schools to change direction because they said they weren’t going to be doing proms early on. And some citizens, some local mothers of some seniors reached out, came in, and wanted to put this together, and I said ‘Sure’. So, we moved along the process, working with the Town and the community. This is a community event,” Huck pointed out.
As to the establishment of the Town Commons area between the Gazebo and new Pavilion at the East Main-Chester Street downtown central intersection, Huck noted, “Lori Cockrell brought up the idea at a town council meeting back in February. And when we knew the pavilion was going to be built, I said, yes, we need to do it, and we need to do it on Main Street, and we need to utilize the new pavilion. So, we have it sanctioned over here and laid out where it’s going to be an elegant prom contained into the parking lot area of the Gazebo.
In fact, it was the student’s parents who helped the process along financially and organizationally, Nina Huck observed. “The parents came in and brought water and sodas and gave money. It was 20 dollars here, 50 dollars here, 20 dollars here … We had snacks donated by parents, they would just bring them in and drop them off – they didn’t want any credit. They just wanted to have stuff for the kids to be able to do it. So, it was very much the community coming together, and it’s very humbling to see that happen,” Nina concluded.
“This is a community of our two schools coming together for this special occasion – to make this happen for our seniors who have had a rough year,” Nina’s husband observed of the pandemic-mitigating restrictions through 2020 and the seniors’ final semester of 2021.
Enjoy these additional scenes, including some ‘BAD’ (that means good) group dancing, of Saturday evening’s joint Warren County and Skyline High Schools “Old Hollywood Night Under the Stars” Prom night – Classes of 2021, you earned it!!
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Eastern Screech Owl
What inspired you to help wildlife? For many, it was this beautiful owl, Dopey.
Dopey is a red-morph eastern screech owl who was admitted as a nestling in 2013, after being found on the ground and unable to be re-nested.
When he was placed in an outdoor enclosure with other young screech owls, he was often found on the ground and seemed unaffected by our presence. As he continued to mature, other neurological issues, such as seizures, developed, preventing him from surviving in the wild.
Because he was unable to survive on his own, and was comfortable and low-stress in captivity, we decided to permanently care for him at the Center.
Dopey is one of our 22 Wildlife Ambassadors and is part of our education team!
Our ambassadors are imperative to our mission at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center: to teach others how to be good stewards of our natural world. Seeing native wildlife live and in-person allows people to truly appreciate our native species. That love and appreciation ultimately develops into a desire to help our native wildlife and ecosystems so that we can all take advantage of the biodiversity, land use, and health benefits of healthy ecosystems.
But we need your help to get our awesome Wildlife Ambassadors to more educational events.
We currently rely on staff and volunteer vehicles to bring our ambassadors to programs and this greatly limits how many of the animals we can safely transport and how far we can take them. Your donation TODAY will go towards purchasing a van to transport our animal ambassadors, like Dopey, to educational programs.
Help us teach children and adults to appreciate and respect our native wildlife with your donation today.
This van will allow all our animal ambassadors to be safely transported and allows plenty of space for biofacts and other educational materials to make our programming as effective as possible. Our ambassadors, staff, and volunteers are grateful for your support!
WC DECA celebrates three of its Alumni during DECA Month
Each year, during November which is National DECA Month, the Warren County DECA shares the success stories of three of their alumni. We are pleased to introduce to you three of our recent alumni and how DECA helped prepare for their post-secondary experiences.
Makayla Grant (2021). As a WCHS DECA member, Makayla competed at the district and state levels. She was the chapter’s Vice-President of Recruitment and Engagement. Makayla is also the initial recipient of the Dr. Leonard F. Maiden DECA Scholarship which is given annually to a graduating WCHS DECA senior. Makayla is currently a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She had this to say about her DECA experiences.
“DECA has prepared me for college primarily because I was given ample opportunities to practice professionalism, presentation skills, and interviewing skills. I was a member for three years and the VP of recruitment and engagement for one year. Today I’m a Sophomore Business Foundation’s student at Virginia Commonwealth University with projections to concentrate in Product and Brand Marketing. My time in DECA helped give me the confidence and preparation to currently become a Teaching Assistant, a member of Business Student Ambassadors (at VCU), and secure two part time jobs in the Richmond area.”
Michael Kelly (2021). As a WCHS DECA member, Michael competed at the district, state, and national levels. Michael’s greatest contribution to the chapter was serving as Co-Manager of DECA Tailgaters, one of the chapter’s School-Based Enterprise (SBE) which received a Gold standard certification from National DECA. Michael is currently a second –year student at James Madison University. He had this to say about his DECA experiences.
“DECA has helped me tremendously and the numerous skills I learned from Mr. Gardner and my advisors have really translated to life after graduation. Through DECA I have gained an immense amount of confidence that I use toward anytime I have to publicly speak, present a project, or interview for a job/internship. Not only did DECA teach me how to present myself, but it improved my critical thinking ability as well as my ability to lead. Every employer wants a leader that’s not just reactive, but proactive as well, and by the time any DECA member walks across the graduation stage they have become the embodiment of the chapter’s motto “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” I will continue to use the skills I learned in DECA to reach my goal of getting my Juris Doctorate and eventually working for the CIA, FBI, or DOD.”
Emily Mawson (2022). Serving as her chapter’s president during her senior year, Emily also competed at the district, state, and national levels. She was a state winner during both her junior and senior years. Emily is also a recipient of the Dr. Leonard F. Maiden DECA Scholarship Currently, Emily is a freshman at West Virginia University. She had this to say about her DECA experiences.
“Last year, I had the pleasure of serving as Warren County DECA’s chapter president. During my term, I produced one of the most successful seasons our chapter has ever seen. We broke records at the district, state, and national level. I’m incredibly proud of the work we produced as a chapter. I spent two years in DECA, and as a freshman at West Virginia University, I am a proud alumni of the organization. I’m currently studying psychology and criminology at West Virginia University, with a focus in behavioral analysis. My chapter and advisor encouraged me to chase my dreams and even provided a $1000.00 scholarship to jumpstart my education.
Without DECA, I would not be the person I am today. DECA encourages leadership, organization, team work, and professionalism. These are all qualities that employers and higher education institutions look for in students and employees. Many of the core aspects of DECA are transferable to different areas of life. I’ve used the education provided by DECA in my educational and professional life. DECA allowed me to grow as a leader, encouraging me to be an active listener and use my creative background to improve every project I worked on.
Many of the essays on college applications I filled out asked how I responded under pressure. A fair majority of the prompts asked me to describe a hardship or how I overcame a difficult decision. Application committees aren’t necessarily asking about your past, but how you respond under pressure. DECA provides instruction and opportunities to teach young adults about maintaining professionalism and overcoming adversity. That alone has helped me more than anything else.
During my first semester at West Virginia University, I was able to secure a job at Milan Puskar Stadium. During football season, I was hired to work in premium seating as part of hospitality management. The education provided by DECA allowed me to be well informed of the industry I was working in. During my senior year, I worked on a project based in project management, hospitality, and entrepreneurship. My time in DECA has served me well professionally.
DECA has allowed me to accomplish many things. I’ve secured jobs, received scholarships, and performed at a higher rate in projects because of this incredible organization. This important educational opportunity has transformed me as a person, and I cannot repay my chapter, or my advisor, Mr. Richard Gardner.”
Warren County owed over $1.5 million in delinquent personal property and real estate taxes
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” That oft-used phrase was penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and it holds true today.
Taxes are something almost every citizen deals with. Taxes fund our government and the services it provides. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, residents pay federal income taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes, among others.
Warren County is tasked with collecting both real estate and personal property taxes biannually. Most citizens get their payments in on time, though not everyone complies. Warren County Treasurer Jamie Spiker said in a recent interview that the COVID pandemic proved hard on many, and because of that, the County opted to suspend its practice of placing holds on Virginia DMV vehicle registration renewals of drivers who were delinquent on tax payments. Municipalities also stopped other collection efforts, such as placing liens on taxpayer bank accounts and on employers’ paychecks to tax-delinquent employees.
Spiker said DMV holds will begin again in the Spring of 2023, noting that bank and employer liens were reinstated earlier this year. “Some accounts are hard to collect on if they are not employed in Virginia; they registered their vehicles in another state or in another name,” Spiker continued.
Regarding the delinquent personal property tax list, Spiker said, “Without giving actual information on specific accounts, some of the delinquents listed [on the delinquent personal property list] are either making payments, have Warrant in Debts, and/or DMV holds.“ She said some of those on the list have actually paid their back taxes since the list was produced on Oct. 3. Because of the additional monthly interest added to past-due accounts, Spiker said some balances on delinquent accounts that are making payments do not reflect much change.
As of Oct. 3, Warren County was owed over $266,000 in back personal property taxes, according to the Warren County Delinquent Personal Property database. The County has over $1.3 million in Real Estate taxes that remained uncollected as of that date. Warren County maintains a database that lists the unpaid amount for each real estate parcel by owner name and another list for delinquent personal property tax, also displayed by name.
As for real estate taxes, those accounts that are past due since 2019 were turned over to collection firms in 2022. The local firm Pond Law Group collects on past-due accounts whose last names begin with A-L. Richmond-based Taxing Authority Consulting Services (TACS) collects delinquent accounts whose last names begin with M-Z.
Ms. Spiker explained that once the collection firm gets a past-due file, real estate owners are contacted and asked for payment. Taxpayers have the option of paying fully at once or arranging a payment plan. If neither of those options is worked out, the firms begin the process that leads to a sale of the property to pay back taxes.
Tax auctions were not held in 2020 due to COVID, Spiker said, though they were restarted in 2021. There was one auction in 2021 and one in 2022. Moving forward, Warren County will have at least four delinquent property auctions annually, with each firm committed to having two per year.
Despite over a million dollars in real estate revenue remaining uncollected, Spiker says she would love to have a collections person in the Treasurer’s office, something that has been requested for almost every budget year, though such a collections position has never been approved.
Spiker said of having an in-house collector, “I feel like the position would pay for itself.” The salary for such a position could range from $35,000-$60,000, depending on qualifications. She says if the position is not approved in the next budget year, she would pursue other options, such as hiring a part-time employee or switch to an agency that handles personal property as well as real estate collections.
With delinquent taxes for real estate alone north of $1.3 million, can the Warren County Board of Supervisors afford not to add a collections position?
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Pileated Woodpecker
This female Pileated woodpecker came into care this week after a suspected vehicle collision.
She was having difficulty breathing due to bleeding in the lungs and she was suffering from head trauma. After 24 hours on oxygen support, this bird improved in demeanor and breathing.
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpecker species in North America, with females reaching over 14oz in weight, 19 inches long, with a wingspan of 30 inches!
The majority of their diet is made up of insects, typically found in dead trees. Pileated woodpeckers leave rectangular holes in the trees that other birds later use as nests.
Woodpeckers have special and fascinating anatomy—they have extremely strong, chisel-like beaks designed for high-impact drilling.
Also, their tongues are incredibly long (almost a third of their body length) with barbed edges to help the reach deep into drilled holes to pull out tasty insects!
Check out this video, which shows the patient boring holes into a dead log in search of wood-boring insects, like grubs and ants.
This illustration by Denise Takahashi depicts a great example of a woodpecker’s hyoid apparatus, the cartilage and bone that support the tongue. In woodpeckers, the hyoid curves all the way around the back of the skull so they have plenty of room to store their long tongues!
We are happy to report that after a week in pre-release caging, this patient fully recovered and was released!
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.
Buckle up and travel safely this Thanksgiving
For many Virginians, gathering with family and friends is the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Some will even travel long distances to share in these wonderful family moments. Just as important as it is to make sure those pies and casseroles make it to the dinner table safely, motorists also need to make their own safety a priority. Virginia State Police is reminding all drivers and passengers of all ages to buckle up this holiday weekend. Preliminary data show that 54% of those who have died in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt or safety restraint.*
“The fact that more than half of those who have lost their lives in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt is a tragic and inexcusable reality for Virginia,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Your family wants you to arrive safely, and clicking a seatbelt can help that happen. Virginia State Police and your loved ones want you to arrive at your destination safely – ditch distractions, comply with posted speed limits, never drive buzzed or drunk, and, again, always buckle up.”
To further prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police will once again be participating in Operation C.A.R.E. – Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. As part of the state-sponsored national program, state police will be increasing its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period that begins at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, and concludes at midnight Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
The 2021 Thanksgiving Operation C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 5,127 speeders and 1,565 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 65 drivers for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs and cited 477 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.
There were five traffic fatalities during the 2021 five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period and 12 traffic fatalities during the same period in 2020.
This year, the Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative falls within the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This enforcement and the educational initiative aim to further emphasize the lifesaving value of seat belts for every person in a vehicle.
With increased patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, drivers are required to pass the emergency vehicle cautiously. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
*Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The percentage of crashes in vehicles equipped with safety restraints.
WCPS begins addressing instructional materials with sexually explicit content
Local school boards across the state have until January 1, 2023, to adopt either model policies from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) that ensure parents are notified about instructional materials with sexually explicit content or their own policies, which “may be more comprehensive.”
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is working on its policy and procedure for notifying parents when instructional materials being used in the classroom have sexually explicit content and will specifically update Policy IIA-R of the Instruction section of the WCPS Policy Manual.
During the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, November 16 work session, WCPS staff discussed Policy IIA-R and adding language to it that’s consistent with the VDOE’s “Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content.”
VDOE’s 10-page document details the policies the department developed as required by Senate Bill 656, which was enacted by the 2022 Virginia General Assembly, and became effective on August 4.
VDOE’s model policies say that parents will be notified at least 30 days in advance if any instructional materials with sexually explicit content will be used in their child’s classroom. Parents at that time can review the materials. The state policy says that school principals must maintain current lists by grade and subject of sexually explicit instructional materials on school websites.
Additionally, VDOE’s model policies note that provisions in the new state law “shall not be construed as requiring or providing for the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools, or the designation of instructional material as sexually explicit based solely upon the sexual orientation of the characters contained therein.”
School boards also should adopt policies “which empower parents to exercise their right to decide whether the use of sexually explicit content in instructional materials is appropriate for their child,” according to VDOE’s model policies.
The draft WCPS policy, which the school division’s attorney helped craft, closely follows VDOE’s model policies. For example, WCPS plans to use the same definitions for sexually explicit content, parent(s), and instructional material(s).
WCPS policy also coincides with VDOE model policies that say that at least 30 days prior to the use of any instructional materials with sexually explicit content, principals shall provide written notice to parents that “specifically identifies the instructional materials with sexually explicit content; informs parents of their right to review such instructional materials; and informs parents of their right to have their child use, in a non-punitive manner, alternative, instructional materials that do not include sexually explicit content.”
WCPS policy also says that principals shall provide online access for parental review of instructional materials that include sexually explicit content “unless not technically feasible or prohibited by copyright protection. Schools shall also have available at the school for parent review all instructional materials that include sexually explicit content.”
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and WCPS Assistant Superintendents Heather Bragg and George “Buck” Smith asked for input from School Board members on the proposed WCPS policy and procedure.
“Let’s just make this as easy for parents as humanely possible,” said School Board member Melanie Salins about copyrighted materials that parents may want to review.
Ballenger said he’ll check with the school district’s attorney about what is allowable under copyright law regarding access to instructional materials with sexually explicit content, and what potential liability might exist for WCPS.
Ballenger also told board members that he has asked Bragg and Smith to put a committee together that will consist of an administrator, counselor, librarian, and teacher from each elementary, middle, and high school level. The committee members will discuss the process WCPS needs to have in place regarding notifying parents about any instructional material with sexually explicit content, he said.
Ballenger also said that WCPS staff might unintentionally “miss some things” when it posts online the list of instructional materials with sexually explicit content. To help minimize any oversights, the school district’s policy and procedure will include how a parent — who comes across such material that isn’t already listed on the WCPS website — might then bring it to the attention of WCPS staff for evaluation and action.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence (above) asked if the WCPS procedure would differ from a challenge that a parent might make to a book that he or she objects to and wants to be removed from a school. And she asked if the new procedure would just address how a parent would alert WCPS staff to potential sexually explicit content in instructional material that might need to be listed online.
Yes, said Ballenger, this policy is different than the challenge policy, and he pointed out that just because instructional material with sexually explicit content is listed online, that “doesn’t keep us from not using it.”
Bragg explained further that if WCPS staff happened to omit from the online list an instructional material containing sexually explicit content, a parent could bring it to their attention, then WCPS would decide if the instructional material meets the definition of having sexually explicit content. If it does, then the material will be listed online.
However, that material’s use would still be allowed in the classroom following the 30-day notice. Bragg said that if a parent doesn’t want his or her child exposed to it, “then we would have to find an alternative assignment or supplement material for that student.”
And if a parent still didn’t want the material being used at all, the parent could take it a step further and, under the WCPS challenge policy, request that the use of that instructional material be removed. “So, it’s kind of a little bit multi-stepped as to how far the parent wants to go,” Bragg said.
“I think the goal should be that the perception has to be open and to do whatever we have to do to get information to parents,” said School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi.
Ballenger said WCPS plans to “have a comprehensive list online” for parents to review. Bragg added that WCPS has no intention or reason to hide anything from parents.
Once something is identified and put on the list, “we want to be able to do whatever we can to give access,” Ballenger said. “We’ll work through whatever we need to work through.”
No action was taken on the work session item, which will be discussed again at a future School Board meeting.
To view the state’s model policies, go to: https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/GetFile.cfm?File=C:%5CTownHall%5Cdocroot%5CGuidanceDocs_Proposed%5C201%5CGDoc_DOE_6205_20220615.pdf.
To view the proposed WCPS policy, go to: https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/warren/Board.nsf/files/CL2QNS69325E/$file/Policy%20IIA_revised_10_28_22.pdf.
In other discussions…
Regarding other work session topics, Smith provided the first reading of the proposed 2023-2024 school calendar; the second reading and discussion will be on December 7, and the recommendation for approval will be during the first January 2023 school board meeting.
Highlights of the calendar include:
- August 9, 2023 – First Day of School;
- September 14, 2023 – Parent-Teacher Conference;
- November 20 – 24, 2023 – Fall Break;
- December 22, 2023 – January 3, 2024 – Winter Break for students;
- December 22, 2023 – January 1, 2024 – Winter Break for WCPS staff;
- March 29 – April 5, 2024 – Spring Break; and
- May 23, 2024 – Last Day of School.
Among other work session items, the School Board also discussed the 2023 School Board meeting dates and times and received updates on grounds maintenance, the recent Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) Delegate Assembly meeting, and the school district’s contract for hiring substitute employees.