By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK - Energy and excitement filled Central High School's gymnasium Friday afternoon as teachers, administrators and staff gathered for Shenandoah County Public School's convocation ceremony.
Hundreds of faculty and staff members from each of the division's buildings sported their school colors. In years past, several different ceremonies were held throughout the division, but this year everyone came together under the same roof to receive some final thoughts before starting the school year in September.
School board Chairman Gary Rutz briefly updated employees on the search for a new, permanent superintendent. He said the board has received 17 applications, 13 of which are in-state.
Interviews are being scheduled now, and Rutz said the position is still on track to be filled by early October.
Dr. Kevin Castner, the division's interim superintendent, recognized the value of all members of the school system, from custodial staff to teachers, and everyone in between.
His remarks focused on how employees should approach the year, which is full of new standards and mandates coming down from the state. He also clued the audience in on goals set forth by the Shenandoah County School Board, and how each person was part of making those goals reality.
Castner discussed the increased importance of scores on Standards of Learning tests, but admitted that it shouldn't be a teacher's sole focus.
"Our mission is to create a future of lifelong learning for our students, not a future of taking multiple choice tests," he said. "High SOL scores are not the end goal here."
Applause and cheers erupted from the bleachers following the comment.
Castner explained that after doing research on the division, he found that "business" in Shenandoah County's schools is "good."
For instance, the school system has a lower dropout rate than the state's average, and boasts a School Resource Officer program that is the envy of divisions across the state.
He said momentum is perfectly positioned for a "redo" of success this year.
"But are we about a redo?" he asked. "Or are we about wanting to do more for our children?"
Castner said that even though teachers, in particular, may feel added stress over the new SOL tests and consequent teacher evaluation process, they should be aware that control is still in their hands.
The way to work with the new system, he said, is to constantly keep students engaged, and not get caught up in worksheets and memorization. He added that it is always helpful for teachers to share with each other what is and isn't working in the classroom.
"It's so important to create a thoughtful balance of content and real-life skills," he said. "Unfortunately, we as a country are guilty of a curriculum that's an inch deep and a mile wide."
The new batch of kindergarten students will be the graduating class of 2025, Castner said. With the way technology is already influencing education, he said teachers need to stay on top of digital and online resources.
Additionally, he said the division would likely need to add several information technology positions in order to "keep up." One of the School Board's goals is to attract and retain high quality staff.
"If we ignore that, we'll just create more of a digital gap," he said. "It's all about planning that leads to alignment."
In his closing remarks, Castner said that the division can have as many visions and goals as it wants, but "it's the people that make a difference."
"We must discover the wealth in every child," he said. "And remember the intended purpose of these school buildings - four walls with a future inside."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org