Cynthia Walsh was named the new chairperson of the Shenandoah County School Board on Monday morning at the board's yearly organizational meeting.
Walsh was the only one nominated and replaces Karen Whetzel, who had been chairwoman for the last five years.
"I am honored to be selected by the Shenandoah County School Board to serve as its chair for the coming year," Walsh wrote in an email to The Northern Virginia Daily. "We're a strong board with a good cross-section of experience and ideas. Together we'll navigate what is sure to be another challenging year in an unprecedented learning environment. As long as we always keep what is best for the students of SCPS at the top of our priority list, we can not only get through this but also come out with some valuable lessons and ideas for the future."
Walsh was voted in 5-1, with board member Marty Helsley voting no.
Michelle Manning and Whetzel each received a nomination for vice chair. Manning received more votes, 4-2, to be named vice chair for the first time.
"I am honored to serve in the capacity of Vice Chairperson of the Shenandoah County School Board," Manning states in a news release. "I look forward to working closely with our Board of dedicated members to ensure that the students of Shenandoah County are kept in the forefront of all we endeavor to achieve as a Board in the coming year."
Walsh has served as vice chair for the last two years. This is her sixth year serving on the board. It is Whetzel's 12th year on the board.
"It was an honor to serve as chair of the Shenandoah County School Board and work with three different superintendents as well as two interim superintendents," Whetzel wrote in an email to The Northern Virginia Daily. "My focus as a school board member, vice chair, and chair has always been the same: providing the best education for the students in Shenandoah County Public Schools. To this end, I have devoted many hours of my time to do the best job possible."
Whetzel said she believes Walsh will do a good job in her new role.
"Ms. Walsh has been vice chairman for several years, and we always did things together like setting the agenda although policy does not always require the vice chair to be involved," Whetzel wrote. "She is committed to education and students. Ms. Walsh will continue to lead the school board forward as we all work together during a difficult time."
Over 400 people signed a petition in recent months to have Whetzel removed from the School Board due to the board's legal battle in Shenandoah County Circuit Court over the renaming of schools and mascots. The renaming is part of a resolution by the board condemning racism and affirming the division's commitment to an inclusive school environment.
Helsley said that he felt Manning would be a good choice for vice chairwoman since she did establish Shenandoah Forward, which is a nonprofit organization set up primarily for raising private funds to offset the costs of the name changes.
"I appreciate what she's done," Helsley said. "I've always believed it should not be coming out of the taxpayers' money to change the names."
The School Board also unanimously approved Robin Heishman and Sheryl Jett to continue in their roles as clerk of the board and deputy clerk of the board, respectively.
The board unanimously approved board members Shelby Kline and Manning to remain as agent and deputy agent, respectively, regarding examination and approval for payment of claims.
Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston also gave an update on schools.
Johnston cited the core indicators for school metrics on the Virginia Department of Health's website. He said that even though Shenandoah County is in the highest risk category with 1,106 new cases per 100,000 people within the last 14 days, there has been no evidence of spread within the schools. Johnston noted that all of the schools divisions in Virginia are in the highest risk category. Johnston said the mitigation strategies within the schools appear to be a success.
He said that he has conference calls twice a week with Lord Fairfax Health Director Dr. Colin Greene and Valley Health.
Johnston also gave an update on how high school sports have been going. Shenandoah County teams have been playing games for the last two weeks and practicing for the last month. He said he received a letter from Greene this past weekend that indicated they have not seen any cases caused from athletes playing high school sports.
"Dr. Greene indicates he still has concerns," Johnston said. "I don't want to underplay it. He still has concerns, but he's not seeing the kind of spread that he first feared. So that appears to be working."
Johnston said that there are two Shenandoah County teams out now due to quarantine. He said that Strasburg's boys basketball team is expected to return from quarantine on Jan. 7 and Central's girls basketball team could return from quarantine on Jan. 11.
Shenandoah County schools will return from winter break on Wednesday. Monday and today are teacher work days. As of Monday, each school is scheduled to return in the hybrid model.
"If we all don't do what we need to do, we are not going to be able to keep schools open," Johnston said. "So it's important that we do not send our children to school sick. If you are an employee and you have a sniffle or a sneeze or a cough or a fever, don't come to work sick. If we all follow those rules and use our masks to protect ourselves and others, more importantly, we should be able to maintain and get through to the vaccinations and get past this terrible situation."