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A new lease for the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Elements program was unanimously approved by the Warren County School Board during its meeting on Wednesday, September 21, and the board received updates on several WCPS items during its concurrent working session .

At the same time, members present to vote during the session — school board chair Kristen Pence, vice-chair Ralph Rinaldi and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo and Melanie Salins — again delayed action on three issues related to the board’s potential for 2022. 2023 Membership of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).

The VSBA-related items were removed from the agenda ahead of the meeting “for additional information and will be added to the Oct. 5 meeting,” according to the school board’s revised agenda.

Removal of the three VSBA elements – to authorize the renewal of the VSBA membership of the Board; renew the VSBA Policy Service Agreement; and selecting a delegate and alternate delegate to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Meeting – once again delaying board action originally requested months ago, which continues to lag largely due to concerns, largely voiced by Salins, of objections to membership of the school board in the association raises.

Board members voted 5-0 to approve each of the three other action items on the agenda — including improvements to accessibility at Skyline High School and a one-year contract for the Schoology learning management system.

WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch

After an application from Funk and a second from Salins, the school board first approved a WCPS lease for the Raymond Santmyers Youth Center for the WCPS Elements Program, which WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch (above) says is a transitional program designed to bridge the gap between high school and Adulthood for qualifying students with disabilities.

Specifically, Elements is a community-based program for students ages 18-22 that focuses on pre-employment, supported employment and employment strategies, Hirsch said.
“Some students with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to go to college, particularly those with significant cognitive impairments,” Hirsch explained, “so we decided to partner with Lord Fairfax Community College and create our own program called Elements.”

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Lord Fairfax Community College is now known as Laurel Ridge Community College. Hirsch said the Elements program was based at the college for years, until March 2020 when WCPS had to stop holding its classes there. Hirsch said the plan now is to return to the college with an expanded program that will allow WCPS to serve more students than the nine it currently serves this school year.

“We want to give students who are not pursuing a standard or graduate degree the opportunity to stay [in WCPS] until her 22nd birthday,” said Hirsch. “We don’t want students to sit in a restrictive environment at Warren County High School or Skyline High School for eight years, so we’re creating opportunities in the community and in the college.”

Until WCPS can hold its Elements class back at the college, Hirsch said the department wants the community-based program for students with disabilities to continue operating. Warren County came forward and offered space at the Santmayer Youth Center to host the Elements program. This year’s nine students in the program will go to the community to work in positions at the city’s Front Royal and for all types of local business partners while they “learn how to work competitively,” Hirsch said.

WCPS plans to have two program bases when the college reopens its doors in the spring, Hirsch said. From the college location, students can work in various positions such as post office, catering or student union, while from the youth center they can work in Front Royal-located positions.

“We love it, and we’re very grateful to the county for stepping up and providing us with this resource,” Hirsch said.

With the School Board’s approval of the Action Point, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger is now authorized to enter into either a lease or agreement with Warren County for occupancy of a portion of the youth center on East 8th Street in Front Royal.

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In another action, the Board approved the WCPS purchase of the 2022-2023 Schoology Learning Management System for a total of $16,147.17 for use in the elementary schools this school year. WCPS has used the system for the past two years during the pandemic and after completing a survey this year decided to continue using it, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg. The system is used by teachers to communicate with students and parents, among other things.

The latest action item approved by the school board was a request to install additional curb cuts at Skyline High School’s bus loop/parking lot entrance, where a painted pedestrian crossing currently exists, to increase student and staff safety and improve accessibility for the disabled.

The board approved a contract totaling $19,235.83 to be awarded to the Gordian Group, which will install handicap curb trims that comply with federal law.

work session
In addition to several items discussed during the working session of the school board meeting, George “Buck” Smith, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration, outlined information on the planned renovations at the Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith

The Warren County School Board Building Committee, also meeting Wednesday before the board meeting, reviewed value issues and considered identifying additional sources of funding for the LFK project.

For example, about $245,800 from the WCPS cafeteria fund would be available for the LFK project that could be used for new equipment and installation, Smith said, adding that tens of thousands of dollars in project savings could also come from modified renovations could be achieved lower costs and do not reduce the scope of the overall project.

Smith told school board members that the building committee will have a contract, which has been reviewed by the department’s attorney, and a presentation for the school board to prepare for possible action during the board’s Oct. 5 meeting.

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View Exclusive Royal Examiner Video of the full Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting below.

In another working session contribution, Superintendent Ballenger reported that there are currently 5,042 students attending WCPS, not counting the approximately 173 to 175 pre-kindergarten students.

Ballenger also noted that class size is growing at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which is expected to require five teachers per grade level over the next two years. E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School may also need additional instructional support, he said.

After discussing some options for providing such additional support – which is now needed to return from pandemic-related literacy deficits in Ressie’s classrooms – Ballenger said he would table an item for board action like this at its next meeting to do.

“We’re reaching the limit of the number of students per class,” Ballenger told board members, “and we still have a lot of work to do. We want to make sure we offer the best possible service to students.”

Another working session item that will later emerge for school board action was the removal of gender specifications from both the Warren County Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Thompson Scholarship, which are awarded to the male and female highest-ranking student at each WCPS high school academic GPA that also meet the criteria for the scholarship. Scholarships are typically $3,000 each, but may be adjusted depending on the amount of money available.

WCPS would like the school board to consider making this change in scholarship criteria to recognize the two students with the highest academic grade point average at each high school, regardless of gender, Bragg said.

Due to the increased demands on the WCPS finance department, Ballenger said there was a need to add a new position to the department. This working session item will also be brought up for discussion at a future board meeting.

Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting on September 21, 2022

Warren County School Board Meeting/Working Session of September 21, 2022






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