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Waynesboro Schools looks ahead to education after pandemic

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

Waynesboro Public SchoolsWAYNESBORO — Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Waynesboro School Board was all about moving forward after the pandemic and the school system’s plans for the 2021-2022 academic year.

In his monthly 2021-2022 budget update, Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell said that a motion to decrease the city’s tax rate from 90 cents at Waynesboro City Council’s meeting on Monday failed.

A motion was also tabled until council meets again on May 24 to approve the city manager’s recommended budget, which includes a tax rate of 90 cents, according to Cassell.

If the city decreases the tax rate, the school system may not receive the necessary funding to provide staff and teachers with raises in the next budget.

“Assuming that [the city manager’s budget] passes, we‘ll issue our [employee] contracts the next day,” Cassell said. “We can’t issue contracts until we know that we have the budget.”

Cassell said the school system’s strategic plan for the coming years includes incorporating five core values: empowering growth in students, staff and the community; valuing diversity and demanding equity for all students; a commitment to high expectations; facilitating collaboration while fostering independence; and embracing change.

“I do think this is a good time coming out of the pandemic,” Cassell said of the strategic plan.

He added that the school system’s staff and teachers learned a lot about new ways to operate a school system and to educate students.

Cassell said the first day of school for the 2021-2022 academic year will be August 10, and encouraged the school board and audience members to “think about what has happened in the last 90 days, and I think we can expect changes in the next 90 days.”

With approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 12, Cassell said “it’s very realistic that when we return in August, all of our students age 12 and under will have a vaccine” and social distancing will not be necessary.

“We’re making a lot of progress [with the pandemic],” Cassell said.

Before the 2021-2022 academic year begins, the school system will hold two “Back to School Bash” evenings on July 25 and August 1, from 1 to 6 p.m. at Kate Collins Middle School.

“We have a community that struggles sometimes at back-to-school,” said Waynesboro Schools’ Director of Student Services Dr. Ryan Barber on Tuesday night.

New clothes, bookbags, supplies, shoes and haircuts for students can put a strain on a family’s finances.

Both events will aim to ease the financial burden on Waynesboro families about to send students back to school in the fall “so that the start of the school year is less stressful on families but also less stressful on students,” according to Barber.

The pandemic last year prevented holding “Back to School Bash” evenings.

“It’s our goal, our vision would be to remove any barriers to school readiness for students and their family. We want to connect and understand what our students and their families need,” Barber said.

Twenty-five community leaders are working together to provide opportunities on July 25 and August 1 for students, including school physicals, access to staff members, registration for school enrollment and for school supplies. Coupons will be provided for discounts on clothing, and haircuts will be available.

Barber said that school supplies will be delivered to students who register on the first day of school.

“So, we’re really excited about this event. We really feel like it’s going to benefit our families,” Barber said.

The 2021-2022 academic year will bring new faces to the school system’s administration.

Dr. Sharon Barker will be principal of William Perry Elementary School. She previously served as an Intervention Specialist for Waynesboro Schools and Principal of A.R. Ware Elementary School in Staunton.

Abbey Arey was previously assistant principal of Stuarts Draft Elementary School, and an Intervention Specialist and School Testing Coordinator for Augusta County Schools. Arey joins Waynesboro Schools this fall as principal of Wenonah Elementary School.

As the school system’s first Director of Equity & Diversity, Kendra Jones previously held positions as Assistant Principal of Waynesboro High School and a Biology teacher at Waynesboro High.

Waynesboro Schools’ Head Nurse Amanda McComas will become the school system’s Director of Health Services for the 2021-2022 academic year.

This year’s Waynesboro Public Schools Teacher of the Year ceremony will be presented via Zoom on Tuesday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m. An invitation to virtually attend is available on the school system’s web site.


Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.