Ag Learning Plan Takes Root with School Board

“Agriculture is Clarke County’s top economic sector,” Corey Childs told the Clarke County School Board last night. Childs and the Clarke County Farm Bureau hope to re-focus a portion of the school curriculum to provide agricultural education for Clarke County students as well as neighboring districts that have reduced or eliminated agriculture training programs.

“We know that things are changing in Clarke County. Agriculture gets left behind sometimes. But agriculture offers a wide range of educational opportunities and jobs that we need,” Childs told the School Board.

Childs runs livestock and feed grass on his family’s North End Farm off Triple J Road. Childs says that North End Farm has been in his family “forever” and that Clarke County’s 496 active farms cover nearly 68,000 acres. Better agricultural education can mean more local jobs and more farming benefits for the community, Childs said. Benefits would also extend to the local environment as well as the Chesapeake Bay watershed. “Most modern agricultural programs are environmentally friendly and teach low impact farming methods. Our program would include best management practices that will reduce impact on the Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries.”

Corey Childs addresses Clarke County School Board - Photo Edward Leonard

Corey Childs addresses Clarke County School Board - Photo Edward Leonard

Childs and the Farm Bureau want to revive Clarke County High School’s Community based Agricultural Education Program on an 18 acre parcel adjacent to the existing high school. The program envisions an outdoor agricultural classroom that provides experiential learning for Clarke County youth and adults through traditional and alternative farming instruction.

Childs told the School Board that the program could conceivably be offered as a magnet school program for Clarke students and extended to Warren and Loudoun County students where agriculture programs have been eliminated.

School Board member Barbara Lee (Pine Grove) strongly endorsed examining the program further and urged the Farm Bureau to expand its collaboration to other groups. “I’d like to see Lord Fairfax Community College included as a potential partner,” Lee said. “It’s important to have a higher education component if we can.”

The School Board directed the Farm Bureau to develop an action plan for moving the concept closer to reality. The Farm Bureau says that it is committed to providing equipment and funding streams through a multiphase development approach.

Boyce’s Music Teacher is VFW Teacher of the Year

Boyce Music teacher Jessica Tavenner receives VFW Teacher of the Year award from Rick Birch (c) and Tom Bundy (r) - Photo Edward Leonard

Boyce Music teacher Jessica Tavenner receives VFW Teacher of the Year award from Rick Birch (c) and Tom Bundy (r) - Photo Edward Leonard

Jessica Tavenner is the Virginia Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year. Local VFW Post members Tom Bundy and Chris Birch presented Tavenner with the award at last night’s School Board meeting. Birch is also the VFW’s State Teacher Recognition Chairman for Virginia.

Tavenner says that she won the VFW’s District award before successfully taking the State title. “I do a lot of educational programs for students that involve veterans,” Tavenner said. Tavenner is also a member of the Berryville VFW Ladies Auxiliary and is the bugler for the Clarke County Honor Guard.

School Lunch Outsourcing

Buckmarsh resident Sherry Miller thinks that outsourcing Clarke County’s school lunch program is a bad idea and urged the School Board to carefully consider its options before making any decisions. Miller said that she had managed USDA food programs in the past and has doubts that a school lunch program outsourced to a private firm will deliver better results than what is currently being achieved. Miller cited the following concerns about the CCPS’s request for proposals to manage daily food operations:

–                 Schools can unexpectedly close, especially during snow storms, resulting in decreased revenue for the food management company. Revenue projections can significantly change due to such unexpected events.

–                 School menus and food items are planned using USDA guidelines. Private companies need oversight from school staff. What is the plan for monitoring the implementation for the outsourced program?

–                 Economies of scale projected by for-profit companies generally don’t materialize. Not-for-profit organizations can generally obtain lower food costs than for-profit companies.

–                 Clarke’s menus are already excellent and the food is delicious.

Miller said that she opposes USDA nutrition funds being distributed to for-profit companies.

Other Meeting Topics

Student Insurance – The School Board considered options and merits of extending and financing the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) student insurance program to all of Clarke County’s 2,140 students. The cost of the coverage is $8,988 and provides catastrophic coverage up to $25K for school related accidents. In the past VSBA insurance participation has been very low and primarily used by school athletes. According to CCPS Business Manager Ed Breslauer the insurance would make it much easier to deal with student injuries that require hospitalization as well as relieve some of the financial burden from families that have limited or no insurance.

Specht to Join Virginia Sports Hall of Fame – Clarke County literature teacher and cross-country coach, Nancy Specht has been selected for induction into the Virginia High School Sports Hall of Fame. Specht has long been the cornerstone of Clarke County’s running program leading cross-country teams to nine State titles and four track and field State titles. “I don’t believe that anyone from Clarke County has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame before,” Athletic Director Casey Childs told the School Board. “This is a great honor for Nancy”.

Summer School – Although most neighboring jurisdictions have eliminated summer school programs altogether, Clarke County plans to offer the program this year albeit with a reduced budget. JWMS Assistant Principal Kip Tuttle will run the program again this year. Student transportation will not be provided. $26K has been set aside for the summer school program while special education summer school will be funded from separate budget sources. School Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy told the School Board that regular summer school budgeting has been separated from special education summer school to facilitate the continuance of special education programs in the event that regular school summer must be eliminated in the future.


The results are in from a survey of CCPS families conducted by Shenandoah University marketing students. 512 respondents from 1,500 surveys request that the CCPS    communicate less with paper and more by e-mail. The survey also indicated a desire for better web presence and an improved central school calendar. 80% of the respondents were women with a combined household income of over $100K.

Freedom of Information Act Training

The School Board has FOIA training tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 21st from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Check the CCPS calendar for specific details and location.

High School Choir Concert

The CCPS High Choir, under the direction on Dr. Ryan Keebaugh, will perform on June 2 at Johnson Williams Middle School. Check the CCPS calendar for performance time.

Closed Session

The School Board ended the evening in closed session to discuss Superintendent Michael Murphy’s evaluation as well as student discipline, legal, and personnel matters.


  1. Jim Gibson says:

    It is a good thing to see the Farm Bureau want to promote this. However, quality education requires quality funding. With the belt tightening that’s been going on, the current staff can only do so much. Unless this community is willing to step up and provide the adequate resources needed, this effort won’t get off the furrowed earth they wish to turn.

  2. Michelle says:

    Congratulations to Ms. Tavenner! She always does such an outstanding job with the Boyce musical programs!

  3. concerned says:

    I would much rather see our community at this point work together to ensure that our Clarke County students have the optimum agricultural and horticultural education chances at the new high school. Really, if we are trying so hard to find the funding to support our Agriculture and Horticulture programs, is it prudent to believe these other counties will jump on board to bus students here, etc? We have a beautiful new facility planned already, why not encourage the community to support the upgrading of it to meet the Ag needs for our community’s students. Dividing loyalties, funding sources, etc. between two projects may not be in the best interest of our children. I have heard, but am not sure, that they are actually considering busing students to the old high school to use the greenhouse there rather than build one at the new high school. Now that would be an excellent topic for the CLARKE COUNTY Farm Bureau deal with.

    • Lonnie Bishop says:

      That has been talked about. However, as all of the bids have come in well below the max available to spend, there has been some talk of perhaps moving the existing greenhouse to the new campus and setting up a decent classroom or classrooms there for that purpose. They gotta get the main building built, first.

      Like Jim Gibson said earlier, the programs are only as strong as the funding commitment that’s put behind them. With all the belt tightening, decisions get tougher. It’s a sad reality of the times…

      • “the programs are only as strong as the funding commitment that’s put behind them” Yes, but don’t forget the quality teachers that run these programs. A classroom can be a lovely thing to behold, but what makes it succesful is the learning that takes place there.

        • Lonnie Bishop says:

          I agree. But…a teacher, no matter how gifted he or she might be, is limited by the quality of resources at his or her disposal. To their credit, the teachers there @ CCHS have done an outstanding job with what they have. I think the larger point was in relation to the proposed enhancements.

  4. Concerned says:

    I am absolutely behind the thought of ensuring that we have everything that is needed as far as funding is concerned before we move onto “greener pastures”. One of the good things about having a greenhouse at the new high school is that the green house and initial supplies are all that is really needed. We already have excellent agriculture, horticulture, and technology teachers in place to fully staff the program. Another advantage too is that these programs are very good at supporting their own needs. The annual citrus sale by the FFA group; and the annual poinsetta and annual spring plant sale for the horticulture department both truly show that these students are learning while funding their programs. And, really is it cost effective to spends thousands of dollars a year busing these students when we could put that money towards a stationary asset that the many in the community, not just the students, enjoy?