Shenandoah schools address issues at forum

Tom Crosby

Overcrowding, drugs among forum topics

By Josette Keelor

STRASBURG — At a Thursday evening question and answer venue at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg, Shenandoah County School Board members Sonya Williams-Giersch and Irving Getz fielded concerns about overcrowding and increased instances of drug use in recent years.

W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock and Sandy Hook Elementary in Strasburg are both over capacity, and Superintendent Jeremy Raley asked the small crowd of mainly parents, teachers and administrators to consider what the safety implications are for a school with too many students.

Addressing concerns about crowding in hallways and lunch periods that begin at 10:30 a.m., he said, “This is not a quick fix. This is not an easy solution.”

School overcrowding will be a topic of the School Board’s Dec. 11 meeting, and he asked the community to consider if capacity figures accurately reflect today’s expectations.

Drugs in schools were a topic that Linda Spiker, an instructional assistant at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said she’s learned about in greater part because of her son, a resource officer at Strasburg High School.

Her son knew of drugs at Strasburg when he was there in 2005, but she said it’s changed.

“Now it’s prevalent,” she said. “It’s that much more, and it’s trickling down into the lower and lower grades.”

Calling it a community issue, Raley said illegal drugs are more a problem before or after school, not so much in the hallways or classrooms, and that the relationship schools have with local law enforcement has kept the problem from worsening as it has in other counties. He said teachers have an opportunity to build bonds with students and be proactive about dangerous behavior.

Ken Knesh, principal at Strasburg High School, said students are more likely to start by sharing prescription drugs, later transitioning to illegal drugs.

The school’s anonymous tip line, which leads to a resource officer, encourages students to report suspicious behavior.

“But you’re right,” Knesh said. “It does start with those relationships that we build.”

Addressing the need for a community music venue, Vega Ziemer, a parent of two high school students, pointed out that Shenandoah County cannot accommodate the talent and effort area students would like to devote to the arts.

“I am very involved in the arts and very thankful that we have a community that puts an emphasis on continuing arts education,” she said. “… Not that I want more, but I want more.”

Raley agreed, saying the counties of Warren and Page have auditoriums that can support larger crowds at musical performances

“Don’t our students deserve that same opportunity?” he asked.

His question earned suggestions from Williams-Giersch and Strasburg Mayor Tim Taylor to consider using vacant locations, like the Strasburg Theater and the former Wayside Theatre in Middletown.

Though Ziemer, a member of the Strasburg Music Boosters, said the town of Strasburg isn’t in a position to take over the theater, Taylor explained that a $25,000 block grant they’re working on would allow funding for a project in which he said the community has already expressed an interest.

“[It’s] one of our top priorities for our downtown revitalization project,” he said.

“It’s got to be a public/private thing, it really does, because you can’t do it by yourself,” he said. “It’s a lot more promising now than it was a year ago.”

The next two sessions will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock and 7 p.m. Wednesday at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg.