WAYNESBORO — The start of the 2017-18 school year on Tuesday carries with it a lofty number of challenges for area school districts and administrators.
In addition to the rigorous Virginia school accountability system, school systems are now tasked with providing increased workforce readiness for their students and making certain they are literate in technology.
Other challenges for Waynesboro Schools include working toward getting accreditation for both Kate Collins Middle School and Wenonah Elementary. William Perry Elementary has a “partially accredited/reconstituted” status. Westwood Hills and Berkeley Glenn elementary schools and Waynesboro High are fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education.
“ We are focused on the accreditation [process],’’ said Cassell. “We are making progress and we will continue to make progress. We hope to get to the level of full accreditation for all schools.”
And while Augusta County Schools can celebrate the opening of the brand new Riverheads and Cassell elementary schools, Waynesboro Schools must patiently wait several more months just to have a budget set for renovating Waynesboro High School.
The renovation is a key component of the future of K-12 education in the city. Cassell is firm in his belief that the school district will know the budget for that project by late this year. The high school and its importance is also expected to be one of the top priorities in Waynesboro’s new comprehensive plan for development.
“ We’ll have made progress toward a budget and toward a final renovation plan,’’ Cassell said. “I’m very optimistic about that.”
But the start of a new school year also carries with it the promise of a clean slate for students, teachers and administrators.
“ I’m really excited this year. We have some new administrators, a new administrative team at Kate Collins Middle School and our new teachers,’’ said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Jeff Cassell. He describes the new Waynesboro Schools teachers “as an outstanding and energetic group,” of educators.
“ We are well positioned for a successful school year,’’ Cassell said.
Some of the gains in Waynesboro include a completely upgraded technology infrastructure that includes new switches and servers. The school district can attest to providing one-to-one computer devices to students in grades 5-12 later this school year.
Augusta County Schools Superintendent Eric Bond said the bar is high in his district.
“ It’s about providing a world class education that meets the needs of the 21st century. We want [students] to graduate and be productive citizens in society and in the Valley,’’ he said.
The Augusta County Schools’ digital initiative started a few years ago and continues to move toward getting one-to-one devices in all students’ hands.
Bond said the completion of the new Riverheads and Cassell elementary schools means all of the county’s elementary schools have been newly built or renovated and added on to since the late 1990s.
Cassell Elementary Principal Mindy Garber calls the construction of the new facility “a two-year journey from groundbreaking until now. We have included the kids in every step of it.”
She said the excitement of the new building includes new teachers and students who will be experiencing a new school together.
Another goal in the county is to make sure students are as prepared as possible not just to attend college, but, for those who don’t continue their formal education, for the workforce, as well, Bond said.
“ The workforce has changed in the commonwealth and in the Valley,’’ he said. “Our graduates need to be well rounded.”
But being well-rounded includes more than passing a test or writing a paper, Bond said. “They need to be problem solvers, think critically and work collaboratively in a team effort,’’ he said.
At Staunton Public Schools, it’s the dawning of new era of sorts. In May, the Staunton School Board selected Garett M. Smith as the new superintendent, succeeding the retiring Linda Reviea.
Smith took over in July. He most recently served as the executive director of school leadership in the Newport News Schools, where he supervised 24 elementary schools and four early childhood centers.