SHEN SCHOOL BOARD  - Superintendent

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston presents a report on the opening of schools during Thursday's School Board meeting.

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said Thursday that there will be some students returning to school over the next few weeks and they are hopeful the hybrid model will begin by Oct. 19.

Johnston gave a presentation on virtual learning during Thursday's School Board meeting.

He said that Triplett Tech students have already been attending two, half-day sessions to get the required hands-on skills necessary for licensure.

Schools are beginning to reach out to identify students with intensive special needs and English Learning Level 1 students (no minimal English skills) and those students will start attending part-time beginning Monday.

Students identified with the need for specific interventions will start attending part-time beginning Sept. 21. This may include select students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, or anyone in any grade who is not making progress.

All of these students will be attending in small pods for only a few hours a day, a few days a week for specialized support with all hygiene and cleaning protocols in place.

Johnston said the goal is to phase into the hybrid model no later than Oct. 19, provided the data continues to demonstrate low risk. He said they will make a decision on possibly going to the hybrid model by no later than Oct. 5.

Johnston said he feels like things have gone well over the first two weeks of virtual learning.

"I was a little worried, just because I'm a worrier," Johnston said in an interview after the meeting. "This is my 35th year starting school and this one was as nerve-wracking as every one ever before and a little more so just because we've never opened this way before. So I thought it went very, very well. ...It's not something you can do a dry run on. So given that we really didn't have a dry run, I was really pleased and really impressed with our staff and the way they came together."

Johnston said that the decision to go virtual was the hardest one he's ever had to make.

In his presentation, Johnston said that teachers have collaborated more than ever to help one another create the best virtual learning experience.

He said on the first day of school the technology staff and many of the school staff answered questions and provided support. Technology has worked hard for the virtual reopening by building community hot spots and working with internet providers to ensure that all students have access.

As of Aug. 31, 5,897 students were enrolled compared to 6,111 last year. According to the presentation, the division's partnership with Shentel is ensuring all households in need of internet service are scheduled to be resolved with the exception of two households for which they are working to find a solution.

Johnston urged parents to contact their schools if they are having trouble with the Chromebook or other school-provided devices. He said if a student is having trouble with the lessons, parents should reach out to their teachers.

As part of the presentation, Central High School math teacher Lisa Rogers and Signal Knob Middle School English teacher Leslie Artz gave demonstrations on how Schoology, the learning management system, works. Both Rogers and Artz said things have gone well so far with virtual learning.

"Although there's been some glitches, although there's been some problems here and there, I think the positives have outweighed the negatives in all things that we've done," Rogers said. "Students are reaching out to us. ...They're asking for help. Parents have access. They can actually see what's going on. It's not just 'what did you do in school today? It's a 'let me see what you're doing in school today.'"

"I would really just like to give a shout-out to all the students who've been logging in every day," Artz said. "They're reaching out to their teachers. They're asking questions. They're sending emails saying 'thank you' and being so polite. ...I'm so impressed with their ability to navigate through this, to problem-solve. And I think these kids thrive with this technology. If they have the right tools and the right guidance, I think it's really going to help prepare them for any kind of future career they might have."

There was only one comment about the reopening of schools. Brad Pollack, a member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors,  asked the School Board to "please allow our students to return to school."

Also on Thursday, several School Board members commented on the work done by the school resource officers (SRO) in Shenandoah County.

School Board Chairman Karen Whetzel said that in some divisions school resource officers are being eliminated, but she wanted to express her appreciation for everything they do. She said that Gloucester County Public Schools recently passed a resolution in support of adequately funding the SRO Grants program and fund and in support of continuing SRO positions. Whetzel said it could be something they could consider in Shenandoah County if the other board members were interested.

"I would like to thank (Shenandoah County) Sheriff Tim Carter for his on-going provision of SROs in every school in Shenandoah County," Whetzel said. "and I would like to express my thanks to all of our SROs for everything they do."

The School Board also recognized 2020 Central graduate Isabelle Funkhouser at Thursday's meeting.

Funkhouser was awarded a Granville P. Meade Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to students who have achieved academically but aren't financially able to attend college. She was one of eight recipients in the state chosen for the scholarship by the Virginia Department of Education. Each scholarship is in the amount of $2,000 per year for four years, provided the student continues to meet the scholarship requirements.

Funkhouser graduated from Central with a 4.0-grade point average and has been accepted into the Honors College at George Mason University. She is majoring in health administration.

Central Principal Lori Swortzel said that she enjoyed having Funkhouser in the school and that she is very deserving of the award.

"Integrity is how people act when nobody is looking," Swortzel said. "Izzy is one of those people who has integrity far beyond her years. She does what's right no matter if her friends are doing it, and often at the face of ridicule, she'll hear about it. But she's not afraid to do what's right. She's not afraid to stand up for what is right and to make good strong decisions."

Johnston also recognized the entire food service staff that has been serving meals to students during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they served 92,501 meals from March 18-Aug. 31. There were four from Signal Knob Middle School: Candy Dispanet, Kathy Smith, Jane Plaugher and Chanda Wilkins. There were seven from Peter Muhlenberg Middle School: Judy Taylor, Carolyn Tusing, Judy Funkhouser, Cindy Sager, Tammy Polk, Viola Shipp and Lynn Williams. From North Fork Middle School there were Kathy Wills, Vanessa Souder, Brenda Mason and Robin Lawrence. Beverly Polk is the Shenandoah County food service supervisor.

The School Board also approved the personnel report, which included seven appointments, four transfers, two retirements, five resignations and four long-term substitutes.

All six School Board members, Marty Helsley, Andrew Keller, Shelby Kline, Michelle Manning, Cynthia Walsh and Whetzel were in attendance at Thursday's meeting.

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com