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Shenandoah administrators, teachers ready for opening day

Elizabeth Barnes, a 4th grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg, places paperwork on the desks for new students in her classroom on Thursday. Barnes, who graduated from James Madison University in May, will start her first teaching job as Shenandoah County schools open on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Students will be heading back to Shenandoah County’s public schools on Monday.

“I’m always excited at this time of year,” said Superintendent Mark Johnston. “We have so many positive things happening in Shenandoah County Public Schools.  I can’t wait for our students to get back.”

Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Robin Shrumm has been in education for 23 years and still gets excited when the new school year starts.

“I don’t sleep the night before. It’s exciting. It’s a new start,” Shrumm said, adding that administrators have been working all summer to prepare for the return of teachers and their students.

Central High School Principal Melissa Hensley is a bit nervous.

Elizabeth Barnes, a 4th grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg, installs a calendar in her classroom on Thursday. Barnes, who graduated from James Madison University in May, will start her first teaching job as Shenandoah County schools open on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s like going back to school, just like as a kid, that nervousness,” Hensley said.

Except now that nervousness is “did we do things right?” because she said she and her staff want to give the students what they need that first day.  Central’s staff has been getting ready for the last couple weeks, she noted.

“It’s going great. Our faculty and staff are ready,” she said.

A new program at Central that Hensley is thrilled about is The Seminar Program, a new advising program in which students will be paired with a staff member for the entire time they are in high school to help them with needs not taught in a classroom. The idea came after talking to students about what they needed to learn or what was lacking while they were in high school.

“For example, a freshman may need help learning time management skills or a senior may need help with scholarship applications or a resume,” Hensley said, “I think it’s really good.”

The Shenandoah County Public Schools division begins the 2018-2019 school year with 6,066 students.

This year the division shifted grades to relieve overcrowding in some of its schools. The grade levels for Ashby Lee Elementary, North Fork Middle, and Stonewall Jackson High School were reconfigured. Ashby Lee’s fifth-grade class was moved to North Fork Middle School and North Fork’s eighth-grade class to Stonewall Jackson High School. This makes Ashby Lee a pre-K to fourth grade school, North Fork a fifth through seventh grade school and Stonewall Jackson an eighth grade through 12th grade school, which it was previously.

“It certainly shows a more balanced school district but it is a short-term solution until we open seats in the elementary schools,” Johnston said.

“W.W. Robinson and Sandy Hook are still overcrowded,” he added, referring to two other elementary schools.

Elementary school expansion may be accomplished by the long-term facilities plan that calls for more school buildings to be constructed or it may occur if enrollment numbers decline, something that goes against the current trend.

The following enrollment figures were provided by Johnston:

• Ashby Lee Elementary School: 654, down from 802.

• North Fork Elementary School: 363, up from 339.

Stonewall Jackson High School: 628, up from 511.

W.W. Robinson Elementary School: 1,120, down from 1,141.

Sandy Hook Elementary School: 889, down from 912

Peter Muhlenberg Middle School: 567, up from 552.

Signal Knob Middle School: 426, down from 444.

Central High School: 780, down from 799.

Strasburg High School: 639, up from 606.

This will be the second year when the school division will start classes but then leave on break the week of Aug. 27th for the Shenandoah County Fair.

Some families, especially those with kindergartners, offered feedback on the schedule change.

Some said it was harder to get quickly into a routine with the break, Johnston said.

But, there was positive feedback as well, typically from the kids and their families who were able to participate in and attend the fair, he said. There have also been positive remarks on finishing the first semester of school before Christmas break so that students were not taking tests after the break, Johnston said.

There will be 57 new teachers in the division this year, Johnston said. Eight of those new teachers are at Sandy Hook, with Veronica Zimmerman as its new assistant principal, Shrumm said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools was able to stop a trend in recent years of coaches leaving and was able to retain most of its head coaches.

Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg high schools kept their head varsity coaches. Central High School hired a new golf coach and boys tennis coach, according to a previous Northern Virginia Daily story.

The academic calendar has school ending on May 23. Christmas break will be from Dec. 24 thru Jan. 2 and spring break April 15-22.

School lunch costs this year will increase 10 cents to $2.45. Johnston said the adult lunch will increase to $3.45.

Also, new this year for students and staff:

• Expansion of mental health counseling services to the central and northern campus schools as a result of grant funding and a partnership with the Shenandoah County Community Health Clinic.

• Increased training for staff on social-emotional learning support for students.

• Expansion of the computer 1:1 initiative – fully implemented in grades six-12 and fifth grade at North Fork Middle School.

• This year’s freshman high school class will have new graduation requirements that, while reducing the required Standards Of Learning tests, will increase career experiences for students, among other changes.

• Sandy Hook Elementary School is in the process of building its auxiliary gymnasium. Officials say they hope it will be completed and ready for use by October.

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