Shenandoah County Public Schools in 2019 saw changes in on the School Board and with school staff, as well as frank discussions on social issues affecting children.

Voters in District 2 had the only contested race for the School Board. Martin “Marty” Helsley Jr. won the election with 65 percent of the vote. The District 2 seat was left vacant when Richard Koontz announced he was not running for another term.

Strasburg resident Andrew Keller won with 99 percent of the vote in the uncontested District 6 race. The opportunity for the District 6 seat opened after board member Sonya Williams-Giersch announced she was not running for another term.

Another change in leadership occurred at Central High School in July when Lori Swortzel was named principal. Swortzel had been assistant principal at Staunton High School before joining Central. 

The change occurred when former principal Melissa Hensley left the Shenandoah County Public Schools after being named principal of Harrisonburg High School.

In October, Shenandoah County Public School officials met with county officials to start a dialogue about range of social and psychological troubles some students face and related demands placed on public schools.

Superintendent Mark Johnston told those present that students are calling out for help with such issues as sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, thoughts of suicide and addiction. Those students then bring their worries to school and are often not able to learn that day’s lessons as a result.

The Family Assessment and Planning Team worked with 190 students in fiscal year 2019, almost double the 89 children who received help five years ago in 2014. The team provided services for 181 children in fiscal year 2018 and 153 in the fiscal year 2017, according to a report presented at the meeting.

Johnston said it was all hands on deck with multiple agencies needing to come together to help students.

The division also dealt with the Election Day defeat of the county meals tax.

The revenue from the meals tax would have helped fund capital improvements in the county, including the schools. The schools could have used that additional revenue to fund several delayed capital improvement projects.

"The funds from the meals tax that were identified as for capital needs, would have reduced the impacts referenced even though it would not likely have met all the unmet needs," Johnston said.

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