Committee discusses future of Shenandoah school division

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Public Schools began the process of creating a long-term facilities master plan on Wednesday night with the first meeting of the steering committee.

With the help of consultants Tracey Richter, CEO of DeJong-Richter; Matt Sachs, GIS analyst; and Mike Ross, of HBA Architecture, the committee discussed the vision of what they would like to see in county schools in the future.

“You have to take time to plan,” Richter said. School divisions need to look at where the education system is going and how to create schools that reflect the changing world of education.

“You have to look at education in a different manner,” he added. Teaching methods have changed dramatically over the years and the division needs an educational system that reflects these changes.

In considering ideas for the future of the school division, the committee agreed on the following: Flexible space, teacher planning spaces, ability to host community events, special education space and resources, outdoor classroom space, incorporating more natural lighting and air in classrooms, and additional space for the fine arts and a more exploratory library space.

Committee members also discussed what the schools were doing right in order to build upon current successes.

This included leadership, innovative teachers, sharing technology, supportive parents, national recognition as a Blue Ribbon High School and the national recognition of the agriculture programs.

The future of the campus-style division was also considered. The shape of the county, current investments and travel time were all reasons discussed to keep the campus-style division.

Program needs and future growth of industry and population were given as reasons to move away from the campus-style division.

“Change is necessary,” Richter said.

A building lasts 50 years, but education doesn’t, he added. Programs need to adapt to changing education, but facilities also need to support these changes.

The consultants spoke of the capacity and building utilization analysis they conducted, which showed the conditions at each of the schools and how they ranked on a scale.

The average building age for all the schools is 33 years.

All of the schools were built at around the same time, Ross said, so the condition of the schools is about the same across the division. When parts need to be replaced at one school, they probably need to be replaced at the other schools as well.

Ross spoke about the current and recommended budget needs of maintaining the current facilities and how to budget for capital renewal projects.

He said the recommended level of annual funding to maintain the current facilities is $3.9 million, yet the current level of annual funding is only at $1.85 million. The average funding over the last five years was $2.025 million.

This shortfall in funding has created a school division that is behind on component replacements.

The consultants also looked at educational adequacy assessments by asking principals how they believe their schools are supporting the desired learning environment. Ross said the principals thought this area was ranked low.

Principals want to incorporate more project-based learning and technology in the classrooms, he said, but they don’t have the space or resources to do so.

The committee will meet to work on possible facility options at upcoming meetings that create better educational adequacy and building utilization.

“From what I’m hearing,” Richter said, “this division in 20 years should look dramatically difference than it does today. And that’s OK.”

Upcoming steering committee meetings:
• 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25 in the School Board office training room. Options will be developed.
• 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 2 in the board meeting room. Options will be reviewed by the committee.
• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 11 at the Peter Muhlenberg Middle School cafeteria. Facilities Master Plan options will be presented to the community.
• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 25 at the Triplett Tech cafeteria. The committee will review community dialogue results.
• 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 31 in the School Board office training room.
• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 1 in the board meeting room. The committee will review recommendations.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com