WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board agreed on Thursday to put off making any kind of decision on a possible weekday religious education program.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Melody Sheppard said she recommended waiting until at least November or December to reconsider the program, which has been discussed for several months.

"(Shenandoah County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services and Strategic Planning) Dr. (Dave) Hinegardner and I reviewed things, elementary school schedules and data from our second-grade students and found that a number of our students our below grade level in both reading and math," Sheppard said. "Over the last 16 months, our students have experienced school closure and starts and stops to their instruction due to quarantine. This year it is our goal to discover where our students are academically and help them meet and exceed the benchmarks for their current grade level.

"Research has shown that students not reading at grade level in their early elementary years struggle throughout their school career. In order for us to be able to get our students at grade level, we need uninterrupted time with our students in our school."

Sheppard said there would be opportunities in November and December for them to look at the data and see if students are progressing and if they are they could then consider the program.

Antioch Church Pastor George Bowers, who is helping lead the program, spoke earlier in the meeting that they would like to start the program in January.

The School Board also heard an update on the opening of schools. Sheppard said that on Wednesday their enrollment numbers are at 5,721 students, which is down 48 from last year. The 5,721 is counting the pre-kindergarten students. She said in grades kindergarten through 12 there are 5,586 students.

Sheppard also gave an update on uniforms at Mountain View High School. On July 1, the school was renamed as part of a resolution condemning racism and affirming the division's commitment to an inclusive school environment for all last summer.

Sheppard said Mountain View Principal Mike Dorman informed her that the band uniforms have come in and looked nice. However, they are still waiting on football uniforms.

"Due to a company-wide issue with the uniforms we have on order, Joe King from BSN sports said that the Nike uniforms we ordered may be delayed possibly until the middle of September," Sheppard said. "But then a couple of weeks ago BSN sports sent an email that said the uniforms may arrive by Aug. 15 – so fingers crossed. But in the meantime, BSN sports are donating three sets of their brand of uniforms to our varsity team at no charge. They should be onsite by Mid-August."

In his closing comments, Shenandoah County School Board member Marty Helsley said that he found out on Wednesday that none of the kitchens at the schools have air-conditioning and that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Helsley said they do have a few fans, some of which were brought in from their own homes.

"When they use the ovens or whatever, especially when it's a hot day like (Thursday) outside, there's no air conditioning," Helsley said. "We need to have a temporary solution – a short-term to help those ladies. And then we need a long term to fix that problem, and I know we got the funds.

"This has to be our No. 1 priority in the next six months or to a year to get this corrected."

Sheppard said they would definitely look into it and help them out.

The School Board voted unanimously to approve School Board members Michelle Manning as the delegate and Karen Whetzel as the alternate delegate to represent the board at the Virginia School Board Association Delegate Assembly on Nov. 17-19 at the Williamsburg Lodge.

They also unanimously approved the personnel report, which included 24 appointments, four transfers, 12 long-term substitutes, seven resignations, four contracts rescinded, nine coaching appointments and five coaching resignations.

During the recognitions part of the meeting, agriculture students from North Fork Middle School, Audrey Dellinger, Nic Haggerty, Marcus Bowley and Hunner Gregoire gave a presentation to highlight the happenings and accomplishments of the North Fork Agriculture Department and FFA program. They were there with their teacher, Dara Booher.

They made a strong impression on the School Board, including board member Shelby Kline.

"They had eye contact," Kline said in her closing remarks. "I was blown away by those seventh-graders and what our FFA public speaking does. And I wish I had known that however many years ago at Strasburg High School. I thought it was only for farmers. They did an amazing job. And I do want to say to the students, the other students that spoke tonight, whether it was the FFA or the mask debate, it takes guts to come into a building and speak to six adults plus the administration of the School Board.

"I want to say to them that I thank you for having the guts to stand up and say what you feel. I don't think I could have done it at that age in high school, I don't think I could have done it. So I just want to say that to them that I respect that they had the guts to do that."

All of the Shenandoah County School Board members, Helsley, Andrew Keller, Kline, Manning, School Board Chair Cynthia Walsh and Whetzel attended the meeting in person.

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com