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Shenandoah schools aim for achievement despite budget woes

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Unifying a school system that proudly has three distinct territories is a challenging enough task for Shenandoah County Public Schools, budget concerns aside.

With more than 900 employees packing the Central High School gym Friday for the annual school convocation, there were plenty of people clad in the colors of their respective high schools -- blue (Central), purple (Strasburg) and red (Stonewall Jackson). Guiding them toward one common goal -- student achievement -- falls under the jurisdiction of Superintendent Keith Rowland.

His crack at his third convocation as the division's leader went smoothly, as he relied on a mix of music from Brooks and Dunn, Martina McBride, Louis Armstrong and the Pointer Sisters to help him get his message across. That theme was for everyone to know that the administration is by their side -- no matter their color preference -- as the county enters one of its most challenging academic years.

The challenge is a result of Adequate Yearly Progress expectations continuing to rise and the system facing another potential cut in state funding of 5 percent to 15 percent, Rowland said.

"Make no mistake about it, your job is very serious," he said. "As a teacher, you still have the ability to mold and change lives."

In past years, someone from outside the school division was brought in to spread such words of encouragement. Officials elected to stay in house this year, noting during a video Friday that it also would save them a buck or two.

And savings is one way the school system has found a way to unify. In 2008-09, schools took part in an energy savings program that reduced spending by $183,439, Rowland said.

Adding in more than $35,000 saved through transportation changes, several teaching positions were spared from being cut as a result of all the savings, he said. Overall, after federal stimulus money is factored in, 40 teachers and 20 support staff kept their jobs when they otherwise would not have.

Keeping personnel will remain the priority for the school system, leaving teachers with other things to worry about. Patty Snarr, a special education teacher at Central High School going on her 26th year in academics, said there are plenty of things that fall into that category, particularly this time of year.

"I'm always anxious," she said of a new school year.

There are meetings to attend, rooms to get organized, friends to greet after a summer of not seeing them and, as a special education teacher, parents to contact regarding their children's schedule, Snarr said. She remembers her first time doing all of that.

"Freakout," she said was her mindset that day.

The school convocation can help take away some of that nervousness for a beginner. Veterans need the boost sometimes, too, Snarr said.

"It's very nice," she said. "It's real important to accentuate the successes in the county."

The first day of school is Sept. 8.

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