Dr. Mark Johnston, Superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools (SCPS), welcomed legislators and educators to SCPS’s First Annual Legislators Breakfast held on December 14 at Triplett Tech in Mt. Jackson, VA. Dr. Johnston noted that Effective Communication is one of the four goals of the Shenandoah County School division. The breakfast event, which included a PowerPoint presentation from Dr. Johnston, a buffet breakfast prepared by Triplett Tech Culinary Arts students, and tours of Triplett Tech, was itself an example of effective communication.
Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain, town council members, mayors, members of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors including Steve Baker, Marsha Shruntz, and Rich Walker; and School Board Chairman Karen Whetzel, and School Board members Cyndy Walsh and Irving Getz joined SCPS central office staff for this event. The group observed a few moments of silence in memory of the children and adults who lost their lives during a shooting four years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Dr. Johnston’s presentation began with “SCPS at a Glance” -- information about enrollment and the Free/Reduced Lunch percentage. Compared to last year, SCPS enrollment has decreased by about sixty students; however, the impact of that number across nine schools is minimal, commented Dr. Johnston. The Free/Reduced Lunch rate has decreased from 47.7% to 43.3%, which is a positive change.“When students come to school from poverty, they are already at a disadvantage,” said Dr. Johnston.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act and revisions to Virginia’s Standards of Quality present challenges to Virginia’s Public Schools. According to Dr. Johnston, changes in the SOQ staffing requirements will have budget implications for SCPS including the hiring of additional School Counselors, Psychologists and School Social Workers, among other positions. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces and reforms No Child Left Behind, requires transitions to new systems.
Dr. Johnston’s tree-top view itemized SCPS priorities for meeting these challenges. Among these priorities were full funding for all mandates passed by the General Assembly of VA, opposition to vouchers or tax credits for non-public schools, balanced assessment and accountability models, development of an alternative VDOE English test for English Learners, flexibility to meet local Career and Technical Education needs, and time to implement federal reforms required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Virginia Profile of a Graduate.
Dr. Johnston clarified all priorities, some through examples. “Did our students suddenly underperform in Grades 6, bounce back in Grade 7 and underperform again in Grade 8?” he asked as he referenced a graph that showed big drops in statewide reading scores for these two grades. “Of course they didn’t,” he said and noted that he and other educators across the state know there is a problem with Virginia’s reading tests in that they are not correlated to reflect a true “growth model.” Assessments must be improved, he emphasized, particularly if schools are to be measured on student growth. .
“My priorities are education, transportation, and public safety,” said Senator Obenshain. “We do a good job in the Shenandoah Valley of putting students first.” He explained that even though there will be a billion dollar shortfall in Virginia
over the next two years, he will do all that he can to protect students from the impact of that deficit but admitted that meeting his goal will be difficult. He called for allowing teachers the flexibility to innovate and said that teachers in Shenandoah County know more about how to teach than “a bunch of bureaucrats in Richmond.”
“Education is a community endeavor,” said Dr. Johnston in answer to the question: What can Town Councils do to support schools? “Partner with schools every way possible,” he added. “And advocate for business development in your area.”
During the breakfast, the group enjoyed watching Shenandoah County Reads, a video suggested by Dr. Johnston and created by Tim Taylor (Supervisor of Instructional Technology) to promote and reinforce the importance of literacy. “Stars” in the video included some members of the audience, who were delighted when they saw themselves. Click on url below to watch Shenandoah County Reads!
The Readers of Today are the Leaders of Tomorrow! See current and future leaders in Shenandoah County sharing their love of reading! https://youtu.be/t6fJtIfk9zA
At the close of the event, Skills USA officers led small groups from the breakfast meeting on a tour of Triplett Tech where they observed classes in progress and talked to teachers about their courses. Groups visited the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, Carpentry, Automotive Technology, Early Childhood Education, Masonry, Collision Repair, Nurse Aide, Cisco Networking, Culinary Arts, Electricity, Health Care, and Cosmetology.
Dagan Stephens, Electricity teacher at Triplett Tech, explains the
certifications and the real jobs that many of his students pursue to Steve
Baker (Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors) and
VA Senator Mark Obenshain.
John Davis, Networking and Cyber Security teacher at Triplett Tech, talks
to legislators and area educators during tour that followed the Legislative
Karen Whetzel, Chairman of the Shenandoah County School Board, said after the event “It was great to see so many local government officials and our state Senator Mark Obenshain at the Legislative Breakfast, so that they could experience first hand some of the challenges as well as successes in educating children. Many times our representatives at the General Assembly spend a short time at events, but Senator Obenshain not only participated in the tour of Triplett Tech, he went on to Central High School to speak to a Leadership class afterwards.”
Photos by Karen Whetzel