Tours help draw eyes to schools

For National Teacher Appreciation Week this week, school administrations and local Parent-Teacher Associations planned special lunches and small gifts of acknowledgment for teachers and other staff.

Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools, which formed earlier this spring to bring attention to school needs, praised the effort and called on members of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors to use the opportunity to visit schools through planned tours and briefings.

Accepting an invitation from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg, Supervisor Marsha Shruntz said a Thursday morning visit with Principal Robin Shrum went very well.

“I was impressed about the activities going on in the classrooms, the gym and the cafeteria. Everything was organized and efficient,” she said. “That’s what I saw with my own eyes.”

The Parents Alliance started in March shortly before county supervisors voted on a school budget, and it’s grown to more than 550 followers on its Facebook page and 200 parents at its website, http://www.shencopass.org, said founder Dan Walsh.

Children in Shenandoah County receive $750 less than public school students in other parts of Virginia, he said. Throughout their kindergarten through 12th grade school career, he said, that equals $10,000 less funding for Shenandoah students than children in other regions receive.

“We as parents consider that unacceptable,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week.

“I think a lot of us weren’t paying attention,” he said, citing the busy work and home lives of his fellow area residents. “Our job is getting us paying attention now.”

Hoping to sway more support for the effort, Walsh and other alliance members asked for supervisors to visit schools if they haven’t already done so in recent months.

Singling out District 4 Woodstock Supervisor Cindy Bailey as the only one of six who hasn’t attended a formal visit to schools in recent memory, Walsh contended in a written news release that visiting the schools “informally” isn’t the same thing.

“The guy who delivers soft drinks to the soda machine in the faculty lounge can also accurately say that he has ‘visited the schools,'” Walsh wrote. “However, he cannot say that he has fulfilled the responsibilities of a County Supervisor with respect to the schools.”

As a District 5 Strasburg representative, Shruntz said her main questions for the principal of Sandy Hook concerned the district’s Capital Improvement Plan and how funding might better serve a school so overcrowded that lunchtime noise levels have been reported to exceed OSHA standards.

“I did go into the cafeteria,” Shruntz said. “It did not appear overcrowded to me. It was well organized with cafeteria aides monitoring the children who were eating.”

However, she did not dispute the school’s need for capital improvement funds.

In the School Board’s plan, an additional gym floor would alleviate cafeteria crowding by allowing for more space for PE classes during lunchtime hours, which begin at 10:30 a.m.

Planning to tell supervisors about her visit to Sandy Hook, Shruntz said she believes capital improvement funding issues to be relevant throughout the school system.

Like many other school-related programs, Teacher Appreciation Week doesn’t have much funding, and Shruntz, who said she visited Sandy Hook as a direct response to Shrum reaching out and asking her, said she could appreciate the personal touches Shrum put into Sandy Hook’s efforts to celebrate school staff.

“Of course everybody that has a job would like to be appreciated,” Shruntz said, “but I feel like Teacher Appreciation Week deserves everybody’s attention because what they do is a fabulous job, … concerning education for the future generations. That’s what they’re doing.”

“They were doing the best they could,” she added. “Ms. Shrum told me that she baked cookies for all of her teachers. … Her staff means a lot to her and she was very proud to introduce me to her staff.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com