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Warren County School Board recognizes Royal Examiner; votes to add kindergarten ‘floater’

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Mike McCool, Royal Examiner’s publisher accepts VSBA Media Honor Roll award. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County School Board recognized the Royal Examiner for its public service and approved the addition of one kindergarten floater teacher during its October 2 meeting.

The School Board announced on Wednesday that it has submitted Royal Examiner Publisher Mike McCool’s name to the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) “in recognition of his support for all of the School Board work and for the public school students in our community,” said Melody Sheppard, WCPS assistant superintendent for administration.

“We want to thank him for his commitment to the students in our division,” Sheppard said, reading a statement from the dais. “His work has aided in focusing on the goal of providing the best public schools we can have for the students who attend them.”

McCool received the recognition certificate as a 2019 VSBA Media Honor Roll Recipient from Sheppard and School Board Chairwoman Catherine Bower.

“I really appreciate it and all the things that you do,” McCool told them in accepting the certificate Wednesday night, adding that he sees “bigger and better things” happening in a joint collaboration with the county DECA program, which prepares leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges.

“We thank you for your help,” Bower added.

In School Board action on Wednesday night, members unanimously agreed to add one floater kindergarten teacher position at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School due to increased classroom sizes.

Because WCPS receives roughly $124,000 in funding from the K-3 Primary Class Size Reduction Program for LFK Elementary School, the school district is required to keep K-3 class size enrollment at 24 students or fewer in order to retain the funds, explained George Smith, WCPS director of personnel.

LFK currently has four kindergarten classes with student enrollment in each at 24, 24, 25, and 26 students, Smith said, entitling the school to a “floater” position, which is a teacher who would follow LFK kindergarten classes through their K-5 experience.

If the numbers do not justify the position, then it would be absorbed into another vacant elementary position through attrition or the position would not be refilled, he said, adding that any teacher candidate who applies for the floater position would be made aware of these stipulations prior to the official hiring process.

Normal staff attrition, as well as grant funds, would support the floater position, Smith said, pointing out that the floater model has been used previously in other WCPS schools.

“When the students go into sixth grade, will that teacher move to another school or will you be able to absorb those extra children throughout extra classrooms … or is this just specific to the grant for K through 5?” asked School Board member Arnold Williams, Jr.

“It’s specific to the grant,” Smith answered, “but it’s a K through 3 class-size reduction … so we can maintain a smaller classroom and we can also maintain the funding that comes along with the grant.”

Bower asked if there’s an extra classroom for the new floater and Sheppard said LFK staff “is actually working through the logistics right now” to form the fifth kindergarten classroom there.

Williams moved to approve the request, which was seconded by School Board member C. Douglas Rosen before being approved by the full board.

In other action, School Board members approved adoption of the Certificate Corporate Resolution from Corporate Planning Network for the school district’s Section 125 Flexible Benefits Plan.
WCPS has provided employees the opportunity to participate in a Section 125 Flexible Benefits Plan since January 1, 1989. Under the plan, employees may make pre-tax contributions for health care, dependent care, and health care flexible spending accounts.

Smith told School Board members that the request is “a housekeeping detail” to continue plan participation and it was unanimously approved.

Also approved “with gratitude” from the board was a donation of snacks by Katherine Glascock for food insecure students at each of the schools in county.

Sheppard also provided School Board members with the first reading of the 2020-2021 school year calendar for their consideration. She also distributed it countywide for comment. The second reading and discussion will be during the board’s October 16 meeting and a recommendation for board approval will be during its November 6 meeting, Sheppard said.

The calendar also must be accepted by the Warren County Board of Supervisors, she added.

Discussion of 2011B and 2012B Bond refunding opportunity was discussed in the work session.

After the regular meeting, the School Board went into a work session. Watch the regular meeting and work session in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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County Board Chairman Walter Mabe’s remarks to Front Royal Unites rally

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Following Friday’s peaceful march of over one thousand citizens calling for racial and social unity in our community and nation, the crowd including community leaders returned to Bing Crosby Stadium for remarks by a variety of people. Among them was County Board of Supervisors and COVID-19 Emergency Management Team Chairman Walter Mabe. Mabe made his remarks available to us, and they are printed in their entirety below:

Chairman Walt Mabe delivers the theme of social unity and ‘stronger together’… a recurring one in his remarks on our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic health threat.

George Floyd is dead. Nothing we do here today will change that. What we can do is make his life, and his death, meaningful.

We’re gathered here for a variety of reasons. For many, it is to demonstrate and highlight the racial inequality that exists in our country. Some are here to pray for peace and for the wish that calm will prevail. Others simply hope this will be the start of a process to heal our country. I know there are many more good and valid motivations of those who are here and those that would be here if they could.

I look out among you and see diversity, young and old from all walks of life that have come together for a common purpose, the purpose of Community Unity.

I see a community of leaders, religious leaders, our County Sheriff and Front Royal Police Chief, and representatives of our elected bodies showing their reverence with members of our community.

Together we are making a statement just by being here, we are a peaceful assembly at a respectful distance from one another, united as a community.

I see strength and determination among us. Not just for this day, or this evening. I would like to see this continued going forward.

I see the ability to unify our community. Not just for this gathering, but to always remember that we must make a difference. Each of us can do better by leading and becoming the example of unity and fighting for those whose voices aren’t heard, and ensuring that every resident is treated with respect and equality under the eyes of the law. We are all the same, we are people and citizens of our beautiful county and town.

While this is a sad occasion to gather, there is also cause for celebration. We’re here celebrating freedom of assembly and the constitutional right to free speech. We’re freely and peacefully voicing our concerns here in Front Royal, in Warren County, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in the United States of America.

For that we are grateful.

If we could, I’d ask all of us to join hands, but please, just do it symbolically… COVID-19 is still with us. We’re stronger together when we’re joined in a common purpose. Take that strength and use it to make your life and those around you, a better place. It’s the best way to give meaning to the memory of George Floyd.

I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Thank you for coming and remember:

We are Stronger Together.

Front Royal Unites draws over 1,000 for anti-racism rally

Front Royal Unites plans peaceful June 5 equality march

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Front Royal Unites draws over 1,000 for anti-racism rally

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While there was yet to be an official crowd size estimate, it appeared that well over one thousand, perhaps between 1200 and 1500 people gathered at Bing Crosby Stadium off a flooded Eighth Street Bridge for the Front Royal Unites rally against racism early Friday evening, June 5th.

Oops, looks like I can’t get in this way – a huge crowd of demonstrators against racism and for unity across social and racial boundaries gathered at Bing Crosby Stadium early Friday evening, June 5. Royal Examiner Stills/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mike McCool

Several organizers spoke to kick off what was planned as about an eight-block circular path march through Front Royal beginning westbound on Eighth Street to North Royal Avenue, left to Sixth Street, left on Commerce and back to Eighth and Bing Crosby Stadium. But with the heavy rains that began mid-afternoon suddenly flooding the bridge, the march detoured southbound on Crosby Road out of the stadium parking lot to Sixth Street and across Commerce to North Royal and back around to Eighth Street and ultimately back to the Stadium for closing speeches.

And while the rain was hard in the hours leading up to the rally, the skies lightened and the rain stopped about a half-hour prior to the rally’s 6:30 p.m. start.

The Front Royal Unites rally grew out of the nationwide reaction to the brutal and unprovoked videotaped treatment of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis, Minnesota policemen in what some are equating to a modern-day lynching. All four officers were immediately fired upon release of a videotape of their collective action leading to Floyd’s death.

The message of Front Royal Unites was consistent – and the bottom sign-holder’s hand is covering the apostrophe-T of “can’t” in that insightful observation …

Derek Chauvin, the white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as the black man plead for his life, saying he could not breathe and was dying, has been charged with 2nd Degree Murder and the other three have been charged with complicity in 2nd Degree murder and related manslaughter charges.

And while violence has been an issue from both demonstrator and police at some consequent demonstrations across the country, the Front Royal crowd was peaceful, the message was “Love, Love, Love – not hate”.  As the march began a spirit of unity seemed prevalent between demonstrators and a combined local law enforcement presence of Front Royal Police and Warren County Sheriff’s Office personnel as both crowd and traffic control, as well as supporters of the message of community unity across racial and uniformed/non-uniformed boundaries.

The message of the march on the back of a kickoff speaker’s shirt – and the marchers remained peaceful, and focused on the message of a march against racism and for community unity.

A report from one person who participated in the entirety of the march told us the crowd remained peaceful, encountering some minor verbal harassment from a very small minority of onlookers along the way. Some pickup trucks sporting Confederate flags were also observed at some distance from the marchers, but there was no encounter between occupants and marchers observed.

See for yourself the message, the march’s outset, and conclusion in this exclusive Royal Examiner video and accompanying still photographs:




Front Royal Unites plans peaceful June 5 equality march

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Lord Fairfax Health District offers free COVID testing session in Woodstock

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The Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) will offer COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, June 8, at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, 300 Fairground Road, in Woodstock. Five hundred tests will be available.

Testing offered will be the nasal swab sample that looks for the presence of RNA from the actual virus. It will be offered in a drive-through format. Participants will be required to provide consent for testing and contact information so that proper follow-up can occur.

“We selected this location for our first community testing session, due to the presence of several outbreaks in Shenandoah County, and a desire to reach out to members of the medically underserved community, many of whom live in the area,” said Dr. Colin Greene, District Director. “We are very happy to be able to offer these tests at no charge to the patient.”

LFHD will offer testing on a first-come, first-served basis, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., or until test supplies are exhausted, whichever comes first. Testing is available to anyone ages 10 years and older. All persons must remain in the vehicle, and no walk-ups will be tested. Those seeking tests should be seated near a window of the vehicle.

To protect yourself and healthcare workers, please wear a cloth face covering or mask. Please keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and other people at all times. Please tell the testing providers if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, deep cough, or shortness of breath, or believe that you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

For more information, call the Lord Fairfax Health District at 540-459-3733.

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Town Talk: A conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer; new dogs tags, K-9 additions

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In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt Gomez is an Animal Control Officer and Captain Holzbauer is in charge of the Patrol Division.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division has the primary law enforcement responsibilities of providing a wide range of services and to initiate a proactive approach when assisting the community.

The Animal Control Division provides enforcement of all animal control issues within the County of Warren and the Town of Front Royal. Animal law enforcement, including the methods of capture, confinement, and disposition of nuisance animals, both domestic and feral, requires that the animals be treated in the most humane manner possible. Warren County or Town residents who require the assistance of Warren County Animal Control are to contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128 or in the case of an emergency, 911. This includes any questions dealing with wildlife matters.

Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com

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Valley Health System welcomes new President and CEO

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Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer

Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer began work Monday in true COVID-19 style: appropriately distanced, wearing a face mask, elbow bumping new colleagues, and joining more than 6,000 coworkers to report a daily personal health attestation for the safety of patients and colleagues.

Certainly, neither Nantz nor his predecessor, Mark Merrill, anticipated making this major leadership transition during a public health crisis. Merrill’s retirement farewells and Nantz’s welcomes are occurring via email and video until it is safer to meet face-to-face and travel to Valley Health sites around the region.

During the Valley Health Board of Trustees’ nationwide search and comprehensive interview process with system, physician and community leaders, Nantz stood out as an accomplished and visionary healthcare leader with an impressive record of building advanced clinical programs and successful physician and community partnerships and improving patient satisfaction, quality metrics, and employee engagement at the local, regional and system levels.

“From the moment I first met with the search committee and then stepped on the Valley Health campus in Winchester, I knew I had found a place where people shared my commitment to improving the health and well-being of the community, especially those who are marginalized and under-served,” Nantz says. “During my interview process, every board member, every provider, every leader, and every staff member demonstrated a dedication and commitment to Valley’s Health’s mission of “Serving our Community by Improving Health”. It was clear to me that I had found a new place to call home and caregivers with whom I could join in serving the community.”

Nantz previously served in executive roles with Bon Secours Mercy Health, most recently as Chief Administrative Officer and Atlantic Group President; before that as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Bon Secours. He has also held executive positions at Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) and Carolinas Medical Center–NorthEast, and leadership roles in the audit practice of a Big 5 accounting firm. A certified public accountant, Nantz holds a Master’s in Health Administration from Pfieffer University and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

In his first video introduction to Valley Health employees this week, Nantz touched on what motivates him personally and what his priorities are as Valley Health’s CEO:

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.’ I believe that with all my heart and it’s why I have spent nearly 30 years in not-for-profit healthcare. It is at the core of my call to serve in the ministry of care delivery. To be sure, I feel that each of us has been called to serve others by providing access to high quality, affordable health care, and an exceptional patient experience, regardless of whether or not those individuals have the ability to pay. I think we are called to treat everyone who walks through our doors with dignity and compassion and that we must respect and appreciate the unique set of beliefs and experiences that they bring to our organization. That’s what drives me and what gets me up in the morning.”

“These are challenging times,” Nantz continued. “The COVID pandemic has changed much about the way we provide care, how our community views healthcare workers…and even the way we live. You can be confident that Valley Health’s medical and executive leadership have taken steps to ensure the delivery of safe, quality care as we diagnose and treat those with COVID, as well as care for our other patients with emergent healthcare needs. Our health system will continue to respond and adjust in these changing and uncertain times, and we will endeavor to ensure financial stability for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.”

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Face masks are a labor of love for one local woman

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be an old adage to some, but to Warren County resident Redz Castro Downes, it is a way of life.

Castro Downes, a Certified Nursing Assistant, is known to her family and friends as a kind-hearted person who always looks for ways to brighten the lives of those around her.

This pandemic has inspired me to learn how to sew and make the best out of a difficult situation,” Redz Castro Downes said recently. Here, she models a custom mask. / Courtesy photos

While caring for her husband, local attorney David Downes, during a recent illness, Redz realized that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was making it harder to find the face masks that were now required for wearing. She was especially concerned that her husband have adequate face-coverings as he recovered.

Having always wanted to learn how to sew, Redz decided to purchase a brand-new sewing machine and try her hand at making masks for her own family. “I’ve always wanted to learn sewing skills, and maybe make clothes for myself,” she said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview.

Undaunted by the fact that she did not know how to sew, Castro Downes stocked up on fabric at a local store, and downloaded a pattern to make washable, fabric masks.

In a short time, Redz mastered mask-making, each one taking less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Husband David and step-daughter Gayle have joined in, creating an assembly line. Gayle cuts out the mask pieces, David measures and cuts the elastic that forms ear loops, and Redz stitches the masks together.

Since the family began wearing their stylish masks, friends have taken notice and are asking if they can purchase the washable, cotton face coverings. So far, the Downes’ cottage industry has produced over four dozen masks, and the orders are pouring in!

Customers, such as Front Royal business owner town council candidate Betty Showers says the masks are “light, comfortable, adjustable and absolutely adorable!” She added that the masks were a great price and “I would recommend them to everyone.”

Especially popular among Redz’s customers is the plain black mask, with or without a Virginia Beer Museum logo. The first one was made for David, proprietor of the only beer museum in the commonwealth.

The Virginia Beer Museum mask is a popular design, and can be purchased at the museum when it reopens on Friday, June 5.

Redz says the proceeds from her mask sales will be split 50/50, with half of the money going to her family, who live in the Philippines and have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The other half will go to the Virginia Beer Museum, which is slated to reopen Friday, June 5 at 5 PM after being shuttered nearly three months.

The masks will be available for purchase at the museum, beginning Friday.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this week that all museums, theaters, and other tourist attractions across the commonwealth can re-open for business.

To order a mask: Message Redz Castro Downes or David Downes on Facebook Messenger.

VBM fabric masks $10 each, fabric masks $10 each or 2/$15

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