Home Waynesboro Schools receives local recognition for performance through pandemic

Waynesboro Schools receives local recognition for performance through pandemic

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

Waynesboro Public SchoolsWAYNESBORO — At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Waynesboro School Board, discussion was focused on praising the perseverance of Waynesboro Schools staff, teachers and administrators during a pandemic, as well as two accolades received by Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell, and on the school system’s Summer Enrichment Program.

Waynesboro Rotary Club’s Maggie VanHuss, chair of Vocational Service Awards, said that the club usually recognizes a teacher at Kate Collins Middle School and Waynesboro High School each year chosen by students for Teacher of the Year.

“Well, for obvious reasons, that just did not seem to be the thing to do this past year,” VanHuss said.

In January, she began conversations with club members about this year’s Teacher of the Year award amidst a global pandemic during which all teachers were asked to go above and beyond teaching remotely and later also in-person.

“We all agreed that something had to be different, that we needed to provide recognition and that it needed to be broader in scope than it had been in previous years,” VanHuss said.

In 2000, VanHuss said she heard a speaker at a high school graduation tell graduates of the skills they would need in the 21st Century to obtain jobs, including critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, communication and adaptability. She said the speaker also mentioned literacy, media and technology literacy, productivity and social skills, and that students would need to be lifelong learners, have good listening skills, be flexible and have compassion.

“This past year, the need for those skills was especially evident [in Waynesboro Schools],” she said.

Staff, teachers and administrators changed the course of school, used resources available, created new resources and partnerships, provided all of the 21st Century skills in course work presented in a 2-dimensional world, and “continued to assess and respond to the emotional needs of its students and their families.”

According to VanHuss and the club, as the saying goes it takes a village to raise a child, but “it takes a village and educational community to do school.”

In 2020, amidst a global pandemic, all of Waynesboro Schools staff, teachers and administrators “rose to the occasion.”

“The Waynesboro Rotary Club acknowledges the hard work, the dedication, the ability, the leadership and the compassion of all of our educational village,” VanHuss said.

The school stem’s principals have been invited to the rotary club for recognition.

Each building’s administrators were honored for “their significant contributions to educating the youth of Waynesboro.”

VanHuss singled out Cassell and Waynesboro School Board Chair Rick Wheeler for their leadership and supportive roles during the pandemic. Wheeler later thanked the board’s four members: Debra Freeman-Belle, Kathe Maneval, Diana Williams and Erika Smith, for their dedication and contributions.

“On behalf of the Waynesboro Rotary Club, we salute all of you — for a job well done,” VanHuss said. “And, while it seems pretty inadequate, we thank you for all of your effort.”

The theme of this year’s scholarship awards sponsored by the club was superheroes, according to VanHuss.

Superheroes deal with deep personal, social and political issues.

The Rotary Club recognizes members of the community for their superhero powers with several awards including the Vocational Service Award.

This year’s recipient is Cassell “because of his guidance and leadership in educating our youth.”

Wheeler announced that Cassell is always recognized for 2020-2021 by the Virginia Association of Schools Superintendents as Superintendent of the Year.

Amidst conducting school during a global pandemic, Wheeler said the association is recognizing all 133 of Virginia’s superintendents.

“Obviously, Dr. Cassell was no. 1 on that list,” Wheeler said.

He read a proclamation by VASS that all superintendents were recognized this year because “stable and consistent leadership by local school division superintendents has been vital in serving children through this pandemic.”

“I’m honored and humbled, but anything I accomplish is due to the people on this stage and in the audience and in the buildings,” Cassell said.

Cassell said “the people that I work with are the best ever in education,” and he is “so proud of the school division.”

A plaque of acknowledgement will be displayed in each school building.

Waynesboro Schools’ Summer Enrichment Program began June 7 and runs through June 24 at Wenonah and William Perry Elementary schools. At each school, 120 students participate in class instruction from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, then participate in activities at either the Waynesboro YMCA or The Wayne Theatre in the afternoon.

“It may be summer time and students may be in school, but it’s definitely not summer school,” said Jeff Fife, executive director of the Waynesboro YMCA, at Tuesday’s meeting. “The energy and the enthusiasm that we’ve seen in those kids just walking through the hallways.”

He encouraged everyone to visit and see the fun and excitement for themselves, and “the whole blending of experiences” for students.

Cassell announced that “The Crumbling Schools Tour,” which includes members of the Coalition of Small Rural Schools, of which Waynesboro Schools is a member, will include a tour of Waynesboro High School on July 13 at 10:30 a.m. The school’s recent renovations highlight the possibilities of reinventing a school built in the 1930s.  The tour’s purpose is to highlight the need for funding renovations of rural schools.

During approval of it consent agenda, the school board approved a gift of new scoreboards for the Waynesboro High School gymnasium purchased by State Farm Insurance’s Patrick Blevins.

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.