The Greene County School Board held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 8. Despite a rowdy crowd and lively public comment and discussion from those in attendance (nearly 100 people), the board was able to recognize student and staff member achievements from the past year and hear updates on summer school, professional development, the Sheriff’s office memorandum of understanding and the process for the upcoming fiscal year 2023 budget process.
Since the Public Health Emergency Order issued by Gov. Ralph Northam Aug. 12 requires universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools, the issue of mask-wearing in schools is no longer a part of school board discussion or decision-making. However, after three contentious school board meetings (including two special called meetings) in the first month of the school year, many members of the public showed up to express their beliefs for or against the issues of masks and vaccines. The six people who spoke during public comment have also been heard at previous meetings.
School board chairman Leah Paladino recognized several students and staff members who received awards in the past year.
Ninth-grade WMHS student Akhil Marri placed in the top 300 in the 2020 National Broadcom Masters after winning first place in a regional science fair in Charlottesville last year. His project was titled, “The Effect of Different Materials as Cathode and Anode to Produce Electricity in a Hydrogen Fuel Cell” and he competed in the junior division of the Energy & Transportation category at the annual Virginia Piedmont Regional Science Fair on March 4, 2020.
Eighth-graders Caroline Bruton and Kayla Shaller took first place in the country at the National History Day competition for their junior group documentary called “Communicating Through Cell Walls: The Secret Correspondence of American POWs in Vietnam.” The film tells the stories of American prisoners of war and the multitude of ways they found to communicate secretly while held captive during the Vietnam War. During the course of their research, Bruton and Shaller interviewed two POWs who shared personal stories about the use of Tap Code during the war. At the state competition in May, the pair was also awarded the Naval Order of the United States Award.
Sixth-grader Mukund Marri (Akhil’s younger brother) came in eighth place nationwide for junior individual documentary for his National History Day (NHD) project, “Navajo Code – The Unbreakable Code.” The films created by Marri and Bruton/Shaller were showcased at a small awards ceremony over the summer and are available for viewing at the Greene County Historical Society or at nhd.org/virtual2021winners.
In addition to the student awards, William Monroe Middle School history teacher Stephanie Hammer received the Naval Historical Society’s Teacher of Distinction Award for 2021 due to her role in sponsoring the winning team. Hammer has encouraged and assisted students with the History Day program in Greene County for more than 10 years.
Erica Knights, second-grade teacher at Ruckersville Elementary School, was selected as a finalist for Charlottesville Business Innovation Council’s Educator of the Year in 2020. “Each year, the council recognizes one K-12 educator who has set an example of incorporating the principles of innovation, entrepreneurship, invention and technical achievement in a classroom setting,” Paladino said.
WMMS seventh-grade science teacher Kathryn Thomas was unanimously selected as Educator of the Year by the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District’s (CSWCD) board for 2020.
“The board receives nominations from Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock,” Paladino said. “The organization aims to emphasize the importance of water and soil conservation efforts in communities and educate citizens on how to implement those efforts … Ms. Thomas’s selection was not only based on her consistent passion for teaching conservation to students in Greene County Schools, but also due to her work with Greene Youth Development Council.”
Nathanael Greene Ele-mentary School Intervention Specialist Linda Haselton was honored as the William C. Lowry Mathematics Educator of the Year at the elementary level for 2021 by the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics (VCTM). Among her many accomplishments, in 2019 the organization granted Haselton—along with two other GCPS educators—funding for the popular “let’s get cooking” program.
Dawn “Knikki” Hernandez, Spanish teacher at WMHS, was lauded during the meeting for the release of her book, “Empowering Gen. Z: Practical Lessons to Take Students from Z to A++,” which released last month on Amazon. The book aims to help current teachers create a more effective classroom environment for Gen. Z students.
Student-athletes who were selected to all-district or all-region and all-state teams for the modified fall, winter and spring seasons were also honored during the meeting and were recognized in the Record throughout the summer for each sport.
Jesse Lamm and Mara Zornes gave a presentation on the Orton-Gillingham training they participated in during the summer. Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory reading methodology developed in the 1930s by a teacher and doctor to aid students with dyslexia who struggle with reading; it overcomes obstacles by explicitly making connections between letters and sounds, and can be applied to all students who need help with reading.
“This training was specifically exciting for me as a high school educator because reading instruction isn’t necessarily a part of what we do every day,” said Lamm, who is an instructional coach at WMHS. “It provides the resources so that the educators know how to fill the gaps a lot more effectively on the secondary level.”
“One of the takeaways from this training this summer was how excited and rejuvenated our educators felt afterwards,” said Zornes, instructional coach at Nathanael Greene primary and elementary schools. “It’s great to get together and talk about how this is going to look in our classrooms and how we can immediately implement it.”
GCPS Assistant Super-intendent Dr. Bryan Huber gave an update on summer school programming and transitional offerings for students returning to in-person learning this fall.
Other informational items included updates on the Greene County Sheriff’s Office memorandum of understanding (MOU) with GCPS—which will be voted on in October—and the start of the budget process for fiscal year 2023. Current enrollment is 2,878 with 69 students learning virtually through Virtual Virginia.
“Today was the 20th day of school,” Superintendent Dr. Andrea Whitmarsh told the board and assembled community members. “There’s certainly been some challenges in the past weeks, but it’s wonderful to have nearly everyone back in our buildings working together after having modified schedules and structures last year. We are in the midst of a critical teacher shortage … and we are going with unfilled positions and doing our best to make things work.”