Local leaders on Friday continued their tour of Shenandoah County Public Schools by visiting Signal Knob Middle School, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Strasburg High School.
Not participating in Friday’s tour were Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Dick Neese, Chairman Conrad Helsley and Shenandoah County School Board members Chairman Karen Whetzel and Vice Chairman Richard Koontz.
Signal Knob was the first stop.
The school has 444 enrolled.
Part of the tour was teacher Jason Poole’s technology classroom where students were working on coding and robotics.
One of the students was 13 year-old eighth grader Tegan Allen, who was working on a small robotic vehicle she built.
“When we are hiring anytime I can hire a female engineer my H/R (human resources) gets all bubbly. There is tremendous growth because there is no programmers,” Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Karl Roulston, who owns Regulus Group, said. “The earlier they understand technology the further ahead they are.”
The group saw what the school terms a “maker space” — a trailer where students creatively use technology class tools such as a laser cutter and a 3-D printer.
“I’m impressed. We did not have tech (classes) growing up,” Roulston said.
The tour participants were greeted as they walked down a hallway by the seventh grade at Signal Knob hiding in a common area.
“We are family. I got all my teachers with me,” they sang and danced.
Supervisor Dennis Morris, a farmer, slipped on a pair of overalls to join staff and students who were celebrating Farmer Day at Sandy Hook.
“My granddaughter goes here. I told her I was coming in in my work clothes,” Morris said.
The leaders saw how the school uses every space possible as it serves and meets the demands of the 912 students enrolled at Sandy Hook.
They saw students in physical education class only able to use half of the gym, while the other half was being set up to be used for lunch, which was quickly approaching.
Principal Robin Shrum talked of how hard it is to have events.
“We try not to do many things because of the work the custodial staff has to do,” Shrum said.
The staff has to move 400 chairs from a storage building outside the school, across a parking lot, and wrestle them through school doors and set them up in the gym, putting staff at risk of being hurt, she said.
“I take it you can’t have an assembly,” Morris asked.
“No,” Shrum said.
An auxiliary gym for the school has been on the list of needed projects for years.
The visitors saw the temporary trailers that were brought in to alleviate overcrowding that have now been used for 12 years. Those trailers do not have bathrooms, forcing those in need to find the nearest bathroom in the main building.
Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston discussed with the members of both groups other much needed work, such as the air system at Signal Knob being so old that when parts fail those parts have to be manufactured.
He also talked about how the division has three roofs on school buildings that need to be replaced, as well as a chiller at North Fork.
Strasburg High School Assistant Principal Derek Ritenour showed the local leaders around the school where 606 students are enrolled.
Those on the tour saw the old carpeting in areas of the building that, long past its life, held together with tape, pulling apart at the seams and threadbare with holes in it.
They saw an old secondary gym with chipped paint and a broken scoreboard.
“This is not the impression we want people to leave with,” Ritenour said.
In the room is a small stage that is used for drama and other productions, despite the fact the lighting system no longer works as it should.
Ritenour also discussed security concerns and the need to replace some cameras and add more.
The School Board and Board of Supervisors members also saw how the school has been added on to, including the science wing where students learn astronomy, oceanography, biology and other courses.
Students in astronomy were preparing reports on astronomers but took time to show those on the tour the constellations, which are projected onto the walls with lasers.
Students in the class also conduct pulsar research and some have been listed as contributing to peer reviewed papers. A Strasburg student who was part of this research six years ago found a pulsar.
They also saw the school virtual reality lab where students use technology to virtually visit other areas of the world or times past.