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Waynesboro School Board meeting on Tuesday night to include ‘trial run’ of Owl cameras

Crystal Graham
parents at computer
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On Tuesday, a series of Owls will be at the Waynesboro School Board meeting. In this case, it won’t be birds. The Owls will be a series of cameras set up to do a test of recording and broadcasting meetings to make them more accessible to parents and citizens who are unable to attend.

Dr. Ryan Barber, the Assistant Superintendent of Waynesboro Public Schools, sitting in his office Friday, with one Owl in the corner of his office on a tripod, said the new equipment will be installed on Monday. Tuesday’s meeting will include a test run of the system.

The goal is to make meetings available to the public beginning in March.

“Over the past year, we traveled around to all of the different schools,” Barber said. “While there was a desire to do audio and visual of our meetings, the technology was challenging to make sure it’s ready to go at Wenonah and William Perry.”

In 2023, in addition to the Central Office, meetings were held at the Wayne Hills Center, Wenonah Elementary School and William Perry Elementary School.

This year, however, all of the board meetings are scheduled at the Central Office at 301 Pine Ave. except for one meeting in May that will be held at Waynesboro High School.

Barber said that interested citizens will be able to log in and watch the school board meetings. He’s excited about the technology the Owl Labs product should bring to meetings.

“The Owl actually has these different eyes that are on the cameras. On the top of the screen, you’ll be able to see all of the board members, but in boxes, larger boxes below, will be the board members,” Barber said.

So, in essence, if a board member and the Superintendent are talking, the cameras may zoom in on them. But if you prefer to see the entire board and their reactions, you can look at the wide shot instead.

“On Tuesday, what we might do is a trial run to make sure that all the kinks are worked out,” Barber said. “But definitely by March, we’re going to be up and going, and then we’ll be able to share the link with our community, and they’ll be able to watch that.”

The goal is to also create a digital archive of meetings on the Waynesboro Public School website as well.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Barber. “It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for awhile. I think it’s going to be a really good experience for us.”

Because of the portability of the Owl cameras, Barber hopes that they can use them at other events in the city including the high school graduation.

“I do think this is going to be a game-changer, because there’s a lot of different types of meetings,” said Barber.

Barber said they may also try to record special education advisory meeting as another example.

With many issues facing school boards across the nation – transgender bathrooms and policies, banning books, bullying, homelessness and more – transparency at all levels of government is often demanded by citizens.

“People might be interested in (the meetings), but they don’t have childcare in the evening, or they’re working or whatever,” he said. “They’d be able to watch the video later. I think the goal is to be as transparent as possible, so people are engaging in what we’re doing.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.