School officials, lawmakers discuss SOLs reform, special education

Del. Todd Gilbert, left, Shenandoah County School Board Chairman Richard Koontz, center, and state Sen. Mark Obenshain, right, meet with School Board members Wednesday morning to discuss education issues. Kaley Toy/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Standards of Learning reform was a major talking point among the Shenandoah County School Board members and Del. C. Todd Gilbert and state Sen. Mark Obenshain during a meeting Wednesday morning.

Obenshain said “SOLs and accountability standards are much more important for some school divisions than others.” He added that Shenandoah County isn’t being targeted with the SOLs.

“What we really desperately need are ways that we can drop lifelines to kids in these failing school divisions, and the ability to be innovative,” before “removing the burdens of SOLs from our great school divisions,” Obenshain said.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said the board “has been very adamant in Standards of Learning reform,” adding, “we need to be accountable for the work that we do.”

“Accountability in the 21st century is much different than it was when the SOLs were first initiated,” he said, noting that administrators must be accountable for the unique needs of a changing student demographic and adapt to the new roles.

The number of students in poverty has increased, as well as the number of English language learners. According to Raley, seven different languages are being spoken at the schools. He said the question for the schools is how to meet the needs of these students.

Among the changing demographics is the need for a new look on how students with special needs are instructed, said Gina Stetter, the school system’s director of special education.

Stetter said that intellectual and health impairments have increased in the county and that the number of students with autism has almost doubled in the last seven years.

“The intensity, frequency and difficulty of some of the behaviors our students present with are a tough group of kids to serve,” Stetter said, but she added that the county has dedicated teachers with a lot of training to meet these demands.

But even with dedicated staff, some of these kids are leaving the school division for specialized programs elsewhere, Stetter said.

“If we had more flexibility, we might be able to serve our kids in a better way,” she said.

Even with these new challenges within the school division, Raley praised staff members on their ability to keep pushing students to greater success. Central High School achieving National Blue Ribbon status and Signal Knob Middle School’s FFA’s continued success in national competitions were highlighted by Raley.

“We teach all students and we’re proud of what we do,” he told the lawmakers.

Gilbert said, “I have a long connection to our schools here and I’m very proud of that. I’m a product of our schools.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or