WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board unanimously voted to approve the recommendation of renaming two Shenandoah County schools on Thursday night. However, members did not approve new mascots.
Effective July 1, Stonewall Jackson High School will be named Mountain View High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School will be named Honey Run Elementary School.
The renaming was part of a resolution condemning racism and affirming the division's commitment to an inclusive school environment for all.
On July 9, the School Board approved changing the name of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School and changing the mascot name "Rebels" at North Fork Middle School.
Committees at each school were formed and at the Dec. 10 School Board meeting each committee submitted a name for recommendation.
The committees chose Mountain View High School with a nickname of Rattlers and Honey Run Elementary School with a nickname of Bees. North Fork Middle School chose to go with whatever nickname the high school selects.
There was a public hearing held before Thursday night's meeting with nine speakers, six who were for the renaming of schools and three against it.
"With your brave resolve, School Board, even amidst uncivil attacks, I say thank you," Sarah Kohrs said. "And so too for your example of hard work, integrity, fairness, compassion and loyalty to a just cause. You give our community the chance to reveal true virtue is better than a facade. And with that, there is only hope for citizens of Shenandoah County to rally together behind more peaceable names and celebrate the beauty of this land we all appreciate and admire."
Charles Street said he has concerns about the money aspect and with the fact that there are other schools named Mountain View in Virginia.
"This amount of money could be used wisely for school supplies, equipment and everything else, especially for all the county schools," Streett said. "...The second criteria (for renaming) was avoidance of names that could cause confusion with other schools in Shenandoah County and/or with schools in adjoining jurisdictions. And I believe we have four. Mountain View Elementary School in Rockingham County. Mountain View Christian Academy High School in Winchester Virginia. Mountain View High School in Stafford Virginia and Mountain View Alternative High School in Centreville. I think that's pretty close to qualifying that as closeness."
Stonewall Jackson senior Brooke Jones, who was a co-chair for the committee to rename the high school, spoke at the meeting to explain the panel's decisions.
"We took a large list of community-suggested names and we narrowed it down to five," Jones said. "Then we put it out and got our top three back. We decided to honor the community vote and the top vote was Mountain View. So we went with that."
Shenandoah County School Board member Marty Helsley spoke about the renaming of the schools and asked about the funding. The renaming is expected to cost about $500,000.
Shenandoah County School Board member Michelle Manning has established Shenandoah Forward, which is a nonprofit organization focused primarily on raising private funds to offset the costs of the name changes. Manning said they have raised $36,000 so far.
Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said that they don't know how much money they will need yet because they aren't done with all of the fundraising. He said that they will not have to have all of the money at once and that they don't need to pay for spring sports equipment a year in advance.
Johnston said that they could use some of the money that is allocated to them from different appropriations, the majority of which are state funds. He said at this point he doesn't know how much money they will have to use for the renaming of the schools. The School Board has a work session on Jan. 21 to discuss the fiscal year budget. Johnston did say that "if the funds are not there, the project will not move forward."
Manning said she has a meeting on Jan. 22 with Stonewall Jackson Principal Mike Dorman to discuss and make a list of things that will need to be replaced.
One thing that everyone seemed to agree on was not approving the nickname of Rattlers. Many of the comments from the public mentioned their dislike of the mascot.
"I feel that the mascot of the school is more important than the name of the school because it creates the identity that students relate to," Susan Tusing said. "Mascots also create lifetime loyal supporters for our schools. When I google characteristics of a general, the first results listed five key characteristics: leadership, selflessness, courage, ethics and self-confidence. When I think of my life as a General, these are the characteristics that I hope to demonstrate. They are excellent attributes to attain in life and good models for the identity of students in any school."
Jones said that the mascot name came down to Generals and Rattlers. She said they did not go with Generals because they did not feel like it would be the same without the school name of Stonewall Jackson.
"With the loss of the Stonewall Jackson name for the school the Generals mascot, really loses a lot of its significance and meaning," Jones said. "After we continued to discuss it and how we would have to adapt the Generals mascot to be inclusive as the board wishes, it would no longer be the General figurehead itself. We talked about having to reduce it to just the 5-star ranking and it got to the point where we decided that it isn't something the students can really be proud of and it no longer has any true meaning."
Helsley made a motion for Johnston to conduct a survey of the community to include students, parents and community members to identify their preference of a new mascot for the high school and middle school. Helsley said that survey should be limited to the top two choices of Rattlers or Generals. The survey, which will appear on the Shenandoah County Public Schools website, can be open for no less than seven calendar days. The survey will be recorded to the School Board for its action at the Feb. 11 School Board meeting. The result of the survey is for information only and is not binding by the School Board.
Helsley's motion was unanimously approved by the board.
The School Board also unanimously approved the revised program of studies for 2020-21 and the Fiscal Year 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Plan.
The plan, which is a capital budget and planning document prepared annually for the division, will be forwarded to the county administrator for inclusion in the county's Capital Improvement Plan. The county Board of Supervisors finalizes the appropriate funding in the spring of each year.
The plan is projecting schools will need $4,756,965 in 2021-22 and $18,251,527 for all five years combined. The money goes toward funding maintenance, transportation, athletics and physical education.
The School Board also unanimously approved the personnel report, which included two appointments, two transfers, two resignations, three term substitutes and one coaching appointment.
All of the School Board members, Helsley, Andrew Keller, Shelby Kline, Manning, Karen Whetzel and chairwoman Cynthia Walsh, attended Thursday's meeting in person.