Schools chief highlights successes, challenges

WOODSTOCK — While there are challenges yet to be faced, many notable accomplishments were made in the past year in Shenandoah County schools.

Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley, who is entering his second year as superintendent, highlighted the accomplishments in his first annual report recently distributed to the community.

“Lots of things were accomplished during the course of that first year,” Raley said.

At the top of the list in year one was the fact that each of the county schools received full accreditation, making Shenandoah one of only 38 school divisions in the state to accomplish that.

In addition, Shenandoah’s schools had a collective dropout rate of 0.28 percent, nearly 1 percent lower than the Virginia average of 1.26 and a record low for the county.

Shenandoah also has a high rate of on-time graduation at 85.7 percent among its three high schools. The state average is 82.7.

“We really work hard to build relationships with students, make a difference in their lives and help them [to be] successful as high school graduates,” Raley said.

According to Raley, the county wants students to be well-rounded and career-ready after high school. He said this does not solely constitute students who are ready for college, but also graduates who immediately enter the workforce.

“We want our students to be critical thinkers … we want them to be problem-solvers,” Raley noted.

In order to gauge the success of learning in those areas, Raley explained that Shenandoah must look beyond the parameters of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) Assessments. To Raley, these tests, which serve as the basis for achieving accreditation, do not accurately reflect learning as a whole.

He said these tests are merely a snapshot in time “based on a multiple-choice measure.”

And while Raley is proud of accreditation achieved by the schools, he wants to use multiple measures to analyze success in education.

“We want students to be assessed in authentic ways, where they are not just given a multiple-choice test to determine whether or not learning is taking place.”

He said this means “engaging students in real-life, practical and authentic projects.”

When discussing these successes and goals, Raley frequently referred to Shenandoah’s teachers. “This school division is successful because of our talented employees.”

He mentioned Jaclyn Roller Ryan, an agriscience teacher at Signal Knob Middle School who was honored as Virginia’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.

He called Roller Ryan a “reflection of the talent that is in this school division” and said he believes that “everything we do really ties to the success of our talented teachers.”

Despite the many successes that county schools achieved in 2013-14, Raley admits that there are many challenges he, his staff and educators must face.

Challenges, such as overcrowding, are areas that the county and the community have begun discussing in Q&A sessions, and they plan to continue discussing it in upcoming open houses for American Education Week.

To Raley, simply hearing about these issues is not enough. “You can talk about overcrowding issues at schools, but [when] you see it first-hand … it comes to life. It’s more real.”

On the whole, Raley said he is thankful for the opportunity he has as Shenandoah County’s superintendent.

“We had a lot of positive accomplishments in year one … but we still have work to do,” he said.

Moving forward, Raley said he would like the county to be “the place where people are envious by … the great work [done] by our students and our staff every day.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com