Shenandoah board names new schools chief

Mark Johnston

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board named Mark Johnston as the division’s new superintendent at Thursday night’s meeting.

The School Board voted unanimously at the public meeting to appoint Johnston as the division’s new superintendent, effective Sept. 1.

Johnston, who has been serving as the interim superintendent since July 1 after the resignation of former superintendent Jeremy Raley, said he’s “thrilled and very honored and humbled” by the appointment, which takes effect in September.

“The people that work here, I have such great respect for what they do and I love the kids,” he said.

He said he wants to keep the current initiatives and goals moving forward and in the right direction and find ways to improve them further.

“We’ve got a number of things going,” he said. “We just need to make it more systemic and being a part of that is just so exciting.”

“It’s an opportunity I’m thrilled to have and I’m really looking forward to it and excited about it,” he added.

Johnston said teacher retention is an important goal for him as the division has lost several key positions in the past year and the division needs to recruit the right people to fill those gaps as well as to find ways to better retain staff in the future.

He added that making the public aware of what the long-term facilities master plan is and how it will be implemented is also a goal he has set for himself and the board. He said that people have misunderstood what the plan is designed to do. The plan is laid out to take about 30 years to complete, with people making decisions who aren’t on the board or in the division’s staff at this point in time. The plan is a roadmap for what renovations and replacements will need to take place in the future.

“Because our taxpayers own our buildings, I think we owe it to them,” he said of the need to communicate the plan to the public.

Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said they chose to appoint Johnston to the position due to his current success and past success in the school division.

“We think it will be a good transition,” she added.

Vice Chairman Rick Koontz said he is glad to have a superintendent for the start of the upcoming school year.

In a closed session prior to the public meeting, the board approved a four-year contract, from Sept. 1, 2016, to June 30, 2020, for Johnston. Whetzel said the board is required to choose two- or a four-year contracts for new superintendents.

According to a memorandum of agreement between the School Board and Johnston, as interim superintendent Johnston is paid a monthly rate of $10,880. Whetzel said his new salary as division superintendent will be released once his new contract has been finalized.

A news release sent by Whetzel Thursday night stated that Johnston has spent 30 years in public education in Virginia. In Shenandoah County Publics Schools he has served as director of human resources. Prior to his work in Shenandoah County, he served as assistant superintendent for instruction and supervisor for science in Arlington Public Schools, and has 15 years experience in classrooms in Fairfax and Prince William County public schools.

“We are grateful to have the benefit of Dr. Johnston’s knowledge and understanding,” the release stated. “Johnston understands and supports the needs of our teachers, our staff and our students.”

“Dr. Johnston has had to make some tough decisions this summer in leading our school community forward, yet his commitment to education, our students and our staff and our schools has remained strong and the cornerstone for his decisions,” the release stated. “We have heard similar, affirming information from our community, having already received positive feedback from parents, staff and community members about Dr. Johnston’s performance.”

Also at the meeting, the board heard public comment from Wanda Heisler, of Winchester, about how the upcoming boundary changes will affect her family. Her daughters attended schools in Strasburg last year, but due to the boundary adjustment, her daughters will be attending school in Woodstock.

Heisler said that her daughters’ father lives in Fort Valley, so if her family can’t receive an exception from the School Board allowing her daughters to continue school in Strasburg, her daughters may not be able to live with her anymore.

“I may have to give up my children because of this,” she said.

Also at the meeting, the board:
• Heard an update on the division’s Summer Arts Academy.
• Reviewed policy revisions that will be voted upon at the next School Board meeting.
• Reviewed a revised School Division Goals draft for 2016-2017 that will also be voted upon at the next meeting.
• Approved a personnel list.

The School Board will hold a joint meeting with the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 to discuss the long-term facilities master plan.

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