Like every school district around the nation, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is trying to figure out how summer and fall instruction will work this year as the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Warren County School Board and WCPS have quite a task ahead of them.
On June 9, WCPS received the Virginia Department of Education’s comprehensive plan, which includes a phased approach for Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for summer school and the upcoming academic year. WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard said WCPS staff are currently reading through the document and planning for the reopening of schools.
All PreK-12 schools in Virginia are required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said last week. The PreK-12 guidance is aligned with the phases outlined in the Forward Virginia blueprint and provides opportunities for school divisions to begin offering in-person instruction to specific student groups.
“We are currently in phase two, which is virtual learning for most students,” said Sheppard, adding that students in grades “pre-K through three, English learners and students with disabilities are eligible for in-person instruction.”
Continuing phase two for the summer, WCPS plans to offer virtual remediation in math and reading at the elementary level, said Sheppard, and parents may elect to have their child or children participate in one or both courses.
At the middle school level, WCPS will start virtual instruction within the next few weeks and recovery programs already have begun at both WCPS high schools. “So, our summer school programs are gearing up or have already started, and they will all be virtual,” Sheppard added.
WCPS plans to start phase three as the 2020-2021 school year begins in the fall. According to the governor’s plan, 6-feet of social distancing will be required in the school buildings and on the school buses, which “is going to be problematic,” said Sheppard.
“Our buses and our classroom space are really what will drive how we do school next year,” she said.
For example, WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell thus far has put together several scenarios on the number of students that WCPS can transport daily, Sheppard explained.
WCPS also is working on a healthcare plan that includes disinfection protocols and increased cleaning within the school buildings and on the school buses. The district also is coordinating with the local health department on the WCPS plan for reopening school, she said.
“As soon as all the details are worked out, we will submit our plan to the Virginia Department of Education,” she said. “Our plan is to offer as much in-person instruction as possible, however, we know that our buildings and our transportation won’t allow us to have all students in the buildings at one time.”
WCPS also tentatively plans to offer virtual learning, particularly for all students in grades 5-12 whose parents are not comfortable sending their children back to the school building due to COVID-19.
Additionally, the school division is scrutinizing the current 2020-2021 school year calendar, but anticipates reopening on August 11, although “there may be some changes” after that date, said Sheppard.
“There has been some discussion that there will be a resurgence [in the spread of COVID-19] in October and what that’s going to look like. So, we are prepared to move to virtual instruction if we need to,” she said.
The interim superintendent stressed that WCPS is in the infancy stages of preparation for the upcoming academic school year and is “working diligently to ensure it’s going to go as smoothly as possible.”
School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. asked Sheppard about busing plans, particularly regarding the younger students. She told him that with “mitigating strategies in place,” WCPS would be able to put one student in each school bus seat.
“What we’ve worked out is that we could transport three elementary schools at one time, and we could transport our high schools in two separate sections,” Sheppard said. “We’re also looking at instead of a six-and-a-half-hour day, maybe a five-hour day, but none of this is set in stone at this point; these are just things we are considering.”
Also, most WCPS drivers work a four-and-a-half-hour shift and the district is considering a possible increase in hours, though she didn’t say how many hours total.
“We would be asking them to work a much longer day,” said Sheppard, adding that WCPS likely will have to spend some of its forthcoming federal pandemic emergency relief funds to cover the increased expense related to bus driver wages.
“Everyone is working hard to figure this out,” said School Board Vice Chair Catherine Bower. “It’s going to be tough.”
To utilize space during social distancing, Chairman Williams suggested maybe splitting up classes into multiple rooms. Sheppard said that every available space within a school building will be used, including gyms, auxiliary gyms, libraries, and cafeterias. “There will not be a space in a building that likely does not have kids in it, except for maybe our hallways when students need to use the bathroom or move between classes,” she said.
Serving breakfasts and lunches within the classrooms rather than the cafeterias also are under consideration, according to Sheppard.
“We are really going through all the scenarios to make sure we do everything we have to do to make sure our students are safe and healthy,” said Sheppard.
The hardest part, said School Board member Ralph Rinaldi, is going to be transporting students to the schools. He said he has told residents who have called him that “Everything is up in the air right now, but we’re planning for everything.”
None of the WCPS plans are finalized, reiterated Sheppard, “but we really need to start putting things into place and into writing. But we need to get it all figured out first.”
During the School Board’s regular meeting, which was held at Skyline Middle School, members unanimously approved several items, with present members Williams, Bower, and Rinaldi joined by School Board members James Wells and Kristen Pence.
For instance, the School Board unanimously passed two change order requests. The approved Change Order Number 002 totaling $202,488 authorizes Lantz Construction of Winchester Inc. to replace the existing flat roof with a membrane roof system and to relocate and resize the existing ductwork at A. S. Rhodes Elementary School. Approval of Change Order 003 totals $359,400 and authorizes Lantz Construction to provide and install casework and sinks at A. S. Rhodes Elementary School. Both jobs are part of the school’s ongoing renovation.
The Warren County School Board also approved the almost $25,000 purchase of the Alpha Gantry Computer Numerical Control (CNC) system, which will be financed through the CTE Competitive Innovative Equipment Grant.
“The Blue Ridge Technical Center has been awarded a CTE Competitive Innovative Program Equipment Grant for High-Demand and Fast-Growth Industry Sectors. This grant was written with a request of funds to purchase an Alpha Gantry CNC package from ShopBot Tools Inc.,” explained WCPS Career and Technical Education (CTE) Principal Jane Baker. “This system will support our Carpentry III and Project Lead the Way Engineering and Technology Transfer courses and provide industry-driven skill development opportunities to our students.”
The board also unanimously approved an instructional technology coordinator position.
“The demands on instructional technology support have increased since COVID-19 including the need for additional support for instruction with online learning initiatives,” WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant told the board members. “We anticipate this type of support will be a continued need for our teachers and students.”
The goal of the instructional technology coordinator is to work with the WCPS Instructional Resource Team to ensure that instructional goals and technology needs for students and teachers are aligned. The coordinator also would support the district’s Technology Integration Coaches, Grant said.
Also regarding technology, the School Board unanimously approved the purchase of Chromebooks in the amount not to exceed $452,200. The funds for the purchase will come from the WCPS 2019-2020 technology budget, a grant from the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the school district’s 2020-2021 fiscal year budget, said Grant.
To view the entire June 17 School Board meeting, which also included a personnel update, watch the Royal Examiner video below.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Northern Flicker
When we know better, we do better.
This female Northern Flicker came to the Center after a window collision that caused bleeding into the lungs and brain injury.
In the past, after a window strike, rehabilitators (ourselves included) typically recommended containing the bird and allowing it to rest for a few hours before seeing if it could fly off. That’s no longer the case!
When we know better, we do better. Even when these birds have no obvious injuries and are able to fly off, it’s been found that many suffer ongoing internal bleeding, eye damage, and delayed effects of traumatic brain injury. These issues are likely to result in death if released without professional care.
We don’t expect humans to “walk it off” after high-speed collisions – we get them medical attention. For birds, who need to be in top physical shape just to survive in the wild, this is even more important.
Just remember, if the birds hit hard enough that you can grab them and contain them, they should be seen ASAP by a rehabilitator – don’t let them go, even if they seem like they’ve “recovered”!
After a few days with supplemental oxygen and anti-inflammatories, this woodpecker patient is feeling better and has moved out of our intensive-care area.
Help protect our birds by taking steps to prevent window collisions in your own home!
- Vertical or horizontal lines, spaced no more than 2” apart, are very effective at preventing strikes (lines should be at least 1/8” wide and can be made using tape, washable tempera paint, or specific products you can purchase for this purpose).
- Decals can be effective, but only if spaced as described above – a few decals on a large picture window is not an effective deterrent.
Close shades when not in use. Turn off lights after dark to help nighttime migrants.
UPDATE: Last week’s Patient of the Week has now been returned to its found location at Sherando Park!
This goose was lucky to not sustain any fractures, only soft tissue damage, when it became entangled in fishing line. After a week of time to rest, this goose was ready to get home.
Please help wildlife that live near ponds, lakes, rivers, beaches, etc. by taking your trash home with you and cleaning up lures and fishing lines when you see it out in the environment!
Although there were no geese in the lake at the time of release, geese tend to frequent the same spots and they are regularly seen at this lake, so we suspect this patient will find its flock again quickly.
Watch the release video here:
Building Community, One Tree at a Time
On Saturday, November 13th, community members from Front Royal came together to do their part in helping our town achieve its Tree City USA designation by planting six Willow Oaks at the Gertrude E. Miller Community Park. The tree planting was made possible through leadership from the Warren County Democratic Committee (WCDC), in collaboration with the Town of Front Royal Public Works, Warren County Parks & Rec, the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards, and Town Arborist, Jim Osborn. Funding for the trees was procured by WCDC through the Virginia Department of Forestry’s (VDOF) Virginia Trees for Clean Water grant.
“This was a great opportunity to get our membership involved with a project that benefits the community and our local environment,” commented Paul Miller, outreach director for the WCDC. “What we all have in common here in Front Royal is a love and respect for our beautiful valley.”
More than 20 volunteers assisted with the planting at the Gertrude E. Miller Community park, adjacent to Bing Crosby Stadium. The location was chosen because the newly planted trees will offer shade to the playground equipment, which is hot to the touch in summer months, and because it accomplishes one of the key metrics of the DOF grant — to convert turf to trees. Osborn explained the choice of tree: “We chose Willow Oaks because they are hardy and can tolerate various soil conditions. They grow up to 60 ft tall with a roughly 35 ft spread, which means they’ll provide good shade and a healthy canopy for residents and wildlife to enjoy.” After a planting demonstration, all six trees were in the ground within two hours, firmly staked to keep them growing straight and lined with a mesh to keep the bark safe from any wildlife inclined to rub or nibble.
Justin Proctor, a local conservationist assisting with the effort, was excited to see months of planning come to fruition. “Planting trees around our town is a win-win for everyone — we all get to share in more aesthetically engaging landscapes, we create habitat and food for our birds and pollinators, and we cool the town down during our hot summer months. The added benefits of carbon sequestration and oxygen production just sweeten the deal!”
After such a successful planting, everyone is eager to keep the momentum going. Melody Hotek, President of the Tree Stewards, sums up that feeling well: “Our Town has held the Tree City USA status for over 20 years, and that’s something to be proud of! Planting and caring for trees is such an all-around rewarding experience, but it takes time, effort, and collaboration to continue fostering healthy urban forestry throughout Front Royal. We really encourage more of our residents to get involved by contacting our group.”
If you’re interested in learning more, and/or participating in a future planting, don’t hesitate to connect with the Tree Stewards via their website: treesfrontroyal.org. And be sure to swing by the playground at the Gertrude E. Miller Community Park to see the new Willow Oaks!
Warren County EDA reaches bank agreement on McDonald parcel, moves C-CAP rental forward among other actions in final meeting of 2021
The Board of Directors of the Front Royal and Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) held the combined November and December meeting via Zoom. All Board members attended the meeting.
The Board adopted two resolutions. One resolution to approve C-CAP using Suite C located at the EDA office building to store food for distribution. The use of Suite C is at no cost to the organization while it transitions to a lease in Suite B and C-CAP will provide evidence of an insurance policy to cover the use of Suite C. The EDA and C-CAP will negotiate the terms of a lease on Suite B and possibly Suite C at the Kendrick office location at an agreed rental rate.
The second resolution authorizes the EDA Chair and Treasurer to finalize details of an agreement with Atlantic Union Bank where it gives up its claim in the Jennifer McDonald bankruptcy and the EDA will release its claim on the property formerly owned by “Little Rugratz” on Virginia Avenue. The existing bank loan is more than the value of the property and the release of the EDA claim allows the bank to sell the property. In return, by the bank releasing its claim in the bankruptcy, the EDA can recover a higher percentage of the recovery from the McDonald bankruptcy and save money in attorneys’ fees.
The Board is working with Public Works to address the maintenance issues at the Kendrick Lane building including HVAC repairs and installation of water shut-off valves.
The EDA and County are working on soliciting bids for appraising all the EDA properties. The first priority is the Baugh Drive building.
Chair Jeff Browne updated the board on Nature’s Touch and the VDOT grant. Scott Jenkins stated all the marketing material for the Commonwealth is updated and was approved by VEDP (Virginia Economic Development Partnership).
Greg Harold presented the final draft of three Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that will be used as guides for EDA and prospective purchasers of EDA property. He stated the documents were not “static”, but are “living” documents that will be modified as needed. The three SOPs approved are Letters of Intent, Contract Management, and Property Disposition Due Diligence. The documents will be posted on the website by December 15.
The EDA and Warren County are working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to govern the transition of EDA’s staff moving to the County payroll and EDA’s role in future economic development in the county. One change beginning immediately is the County will permanently take over receiving and coding EDA bills prior to the EDA Chair and Treasurer approving the expenses.
The EDA Board approved the meeting schedule for 2022 and future meetings will be in person. The next EDA meeting will be on Friday, January 14th at 9 a.m. The location will be posted on the website as well as the remaining dates for 2022.
(From an EDA Press Release of December 5th)
WATCH: Christmas Parade 2021
If you missed the Christmas Parade or want to see it again, sit back and enjoy!
This year the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade was hosted by Mike McCool, Publisher of the Royal Examiner. Thanks to Connor Clark for operating the video camera and the parade sponsor Lindsay Chevrolet.
Winners in this year’s parade are:
Best in Show – Edward Jones
Walking Group – Warren County High School Band
Best Large Float – White Horse Car Wash
Best Small Float – Samuels Public Library
Explore Art & Clay opens on Main Street Front Royal
Explore Art & Clay has opened a gallery at 501 East Main Street in Front Royal. The Gallery features locally handmade pottery, ornaments, mugs, glasswork, plates, paintings, cards, ink work and so much more. Local potters, artists, photographers, and makers work added every day. Love Front Royal? Love Virginia? This is the shop for you!