Brentsville District High School student injured in jump from roof

Brentsville District High School student injured in jump from roof

A Brentsville District High School student was injured Thursday morning reportedly jumping from a roof at the school in Nokesville — an incident witnessed by several other students.

The student was taken to a nearby hospital in unknown condition. It was unclear what prompted the student to jump.

In a note to the school community, Brentsville Principal Katherine Meints said no further information would be released to protect the student’s privacy.

“Students are understandably upset and have questions and concerns. Be assured we have been supporting those students today, and we are available to you and your students as needed.  We have counseling teams on site at the school,” the note said.

“Additionally, for the privacy of the family, we ask you to encourage your student not to share photos, other personal information, or rumors on social media related to today’s incident.”

Prince William County Police 1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok referred questions to the Prince William County School division, which released Meints’ statement. The full text is below:

March 23, 2023

Dear Brentsville District High School Families,

As a follow up to this morning’s communication, I am writing with more information about the situation at our school this morning. Students may have witnessed an incident involving one of our students which required an emergency medical response. EMS responded and transported the student to the hospital. 

We have been in contact with the student’s family and will be providing support. For student privacy, we will not be sharing further information.     

Students are understandably upset and have questions and concerns. Be assured we have been supporting those students today, and we are available to you and your students as needed.  We have counseling teams on site at the school.

Additionally, for the privacy of the family, we ask you to encourage your student not to share photos, other personal information, or rumors on social media related to today’s incident.

If your student needs additional support, please reach out to your student’s counselor or contact the school.

I appreciate your cooperation, patience, and support.

Thank you,

Katherine Meints

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Prince William Schools report better test scores, but more absences

Prince William Schools report better test scores, but more absences

New data from Prince William County Public Schools shows testing improvement in crucial areas like reading and math, even as school division officials are increasingly concerned about falling attendance. 

Results from the most recent Virginia Growth Assessment earlier this year show significant improvement from fall 2022 scores. Taken in grades third through eighth, the reading and math assessments focus on material from a student’s current grade level. 

In math and reading, third-graders saw the biggest improvement in reading scores from the fall 2022 assessments. The Virginia Department of Education has yet to release interpretation guides for the “vertical scaled scores” on which the test is graded, making the raw scores difficult to analyze on their own. But all of the county’s tested grade levels showed improvement on the test, which has been a state mandate since 2021. 

Multiple reading assessments for younger students showed progress. The percentage of students from grades second through fifth reading on or above grading level, according to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt reading assessments, jumped from 42.6% in the first quarter to 56.1% in the second quarter.

According to the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, or PALS, 66% of first-graders and 68% of second-graders were considered on target in terms of word recognition. In spelling, 65% and 74% of grades first and second, respectively, were found to be on target. 

“Yes, there is still work to do. We knew that this would be a long-term process,” Superintendent LaTanya McDade told the School Board on March 15. “However … we’re moving in the right direction. We’re seeing some promising practice as well as outcomes to show that the work that we’re doing is taking root.”

For middle and high school students, in-class grades dipped slightly in the second quarter, with more students failing one or more courses at both levels. 

Attendance issues

But more concerning to School Board members at the March 15 meeting were dips in attendance across every grade level in the school system. 

For all students, attendance dropped from 94% in the first quarter to 92% in the second. Attendance in the 12th grade fell from 92% to 89% between the two quarters, and over 23% of all students have missed nine or more days (out of 90 total) across the first two quarters. Students who miss 10% of school days or more are considered chronically absent.  

High schoolers have missed the most school, with 28.7% of high schoolers missing nine or more days. Over 28% of special education students missed nine or more days, and over 26% of English-language learners did the same. 

“We know that there is a correlation between absenteeism and classroom performance. Stated simply, better attendance is associated with higher grades,” Michael Neall, the division’s supervisor of program evaluation, told the board. “It isn’t just our academic performance that’s critical here, but it’s hard to make a connection and foster a sense of belonging when students aren’t present in school. And we know that that is critical in addressing social-emotional needs.”

Neall and other officials from the school system said absenteeism is more common in the days surrounding holidays, of which there were more in the second quarter. They also said that there’s been a growing culture since the pandemic of families keeping students home if they say they don’t feel well.

McDade said that if students are sick, they should stay home. But both excused and unexcused absences count toward a student’s “chronically absent” status, which in turn can impact a school’s state accreditation. 

Every school in the division, Neall said, is implementing a “specific and targeted” attendance plan to address chronic absenteeism, and the division has a new initiative aimed at improving notification of families when a student is chronically absent.

“This is a full-court press, as you would say, across many departments,” said Julie Crawford, director of student health and wellness.

School-based teams are trying to reach absent students and their families regularly. At the division level, communications and students services staff are trying to increase communication with families about the importance of attendance.

Starting in January, the school system has also started holding “reengagement nights,” in which schools try to host families whose students have become disengaged or are considered at risk of dropping out. 

“It has an impact on a child’s education,” Denise Huebner, associate superintendent for student services, said of attendance. “The message that we’re trying to send to parents is that we care about your child, we want to be sure that your child’s well, and we want your child in school to learn.” 


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Youngkin appoints Tennessee school official as Virginia superintendent

Youngkin appoints Tennessee school official as Virginia superintendent


Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has appointed Tennessee Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons as Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, one of the state’s top education posts.

Coons replaces former superintendent Jillian Balow, who resigned this month. Balow, who was appointed by Youngkin in January 2022, did not give a reason for her departure but said she planned to continue to advise Youngkin’s administration as a consultant.

Coons will be coming into an education department that has managed a number of controversies over Youngkin’s first year in office, including challenges to the ongoing revision of the state’s curriculum standards for history and social studies, backlash over “model policies” that would limit the rights of transgender students and a school funding error that required correction by the state legislature.

“The governor has set a bold academic agenda that puts students first and empowers families to help set priorities for their children,” Coons said in a news release Wednesday announcing her appointment. “We have an opportunity in Virginia to be the country’s best state for education, and we’ll achieve that vision through partnerships with families, educators and school division leaders.”

Coons most recently served as chief academic officer for the Tennessee Department of Education. She has also worked as an executive officer of division priority schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools and executive director of instructional leadership at the Tennessee Department of Education.

“She has demonstrated success in addressing learning loss, creating and implementing evidence-based literacy policy and practices, and building strong partnerships with teachers, communities, school and division leaders, and parents,” Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said in the news release.

Coons’ appointment is effective April 17.

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9-year-old wins Prince William Spelling Bee with 'gallivat'

9-year-old wins Prince William Spelling Bee with 'gallivat'

“Gallivat” is not a word you hear everyday. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an East Indian ship propelled by sails and oars and often armed and used by pirates.” 

But it was just one of the thousands of words Siya Sampath was prepared to spell at the 45th Prince William Regional Spelling Bee on Tuesday night. And she spelled that one and 15 others correctly to top 40 other spellers from around the county to win the bee.

At just 9 years old and representing J.W. Alvey Elementary School in Haymarket, Sampath was the third youngest speller competing in this year’s bee, her second regional spelling bee. She competed last year as a third-grader, when Ronald Reagan Middle School seventh-grader Peyton DeMichele took home the top prize after spelling 11 correct words.

“I studied all the words three times each at least,” Sampath said after the event. “There were only two I didn’t know.”

While she admitted to being nervous for a few words, she was still confident in the hours of studying she had put in with her mom.

“I would quiz myself on all the words and afterwards my mom would quiz me on the words I got wrong,” she said.

Sampath’s knack for spelling was challenged by the 40 other talented spellers, all winners of bees at their elementary, intermediate or middle schools. Contestants spelled words like “lithophone” (a class of percussion instruments), “baptismal,” “aberration” (the act of wandering away), “kookaburra” (a large Australasian kingfisher), “fervorous,” “idiosyncratic” and “coriander” with ease.

Aadya Pokarel of Pennington School finished in fifth place after being eliminated in the 10th round. Two spellers tied for third place after being eliminated in the 11th round: seventh-grader Peter Layton from Woodbridge Middle School and sixth-grader Vincent Chu from George Hampton Middle School.

Dhanvika Ragi Spelling Bee

Dhanvika Ragi, 11, a sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, spells a word in the early rounds of the Prince William Regional Spelling Bee. Ragi was the runner-up in the event. 

That left Sampath facing off against Dhanvika Ragi, 11, a sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, for the championship. The two successfully spelled words like “zeitgeist” (the spirit of the time), “dactylic” (of or consisting of a metrical foot of three syllables), “a posteriori” (what cannot be known except from experiences) and “graticule” (a network of lines of latitude and longitude).

But in the 15th round, Ragi was stumped by “gypsophila,” a plant of a large genus of Old World herbs having small delicate paniculate flowers and five-clawed petals. Sampath then correctly spelled “castellated” (built or formed like a large fortified building) and the championship word of “gallivat” to secure first place.

Sampath is the youngest winner of the Prince William bee since 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison won in 2012. The bee is open to students through the eighth grade. 

The bee, held at Gar-Field High School, was presented by InsideNoVa and the Bel Air Woman’s Club. The Prince William County Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism sponsored the event. 

“Regardless of the outcome for you this evening, each one of you is a champion,” Karen Attreed, president of the woman’s club, said at the start of the bee. “You are representing your respective schools. All of us, teachers, parents, mentors and your peers are very proud of you.”

Sampath will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Maryland from May 28-June 2, which will be aired on ION and Bounce television networks. She plans to use her same studying techniques to prepare for the competition this spring, where she will spell against 200 other regional champions from across the country.

“I may need a little more work,” she said. “There’s over 100,000 words in the dictionary.”


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Montgomery County schools report increase in arrests, decrease in calls for service

Montgomery County schools report increase in arrests, decrease in calls for service


Montgomery County schools have reported fewer public safety calls for service, but an increase in arrests so far this school year compared with last, system officials told the county council on Tuesday.

Through March 10, there were 1,329 school service calls and 1,133 resulted in a report being filed. Calls for service are requests for assistance made to law enforcement, medical and fire officials. At the same time last year, the school system reported 2,814 calls for service and 1,170 reports made. The data includes requests for both emergency and non-emergency situations, school officials said.

However, there have been 13 arrests this school year, compared with three arrests in the 2021-22 school year. Fifteen cases have been referred to the Department of Juvenile Services, compared with 39 referrals last school year. There have been zero citations this school year for marijuana possession, compared with two citations last year.

“What’s clear is that more needs to be done … we need to be open to all and every solution that’s out there,” said council member Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).

The data was shared at a joint meeting between Montgomery County’s Education and Culture Committee and Public Safety Committee. Council members also questioned school and police officials about the community engagement program and the updated relationship with police that allows officers to have a limited, but not permanent, presence in schools and still respond to incidents. Last school year, Montgomery County Public Schools removed school resource officers from school grounds, but after a shooting at a Rockville high school critically injured a student, the school system and the Montgomery County Police Department reached an agreement for the revised setup. The agreement stipulates that school officials, not police, respond to discipline and policy issues.

But some parents and educators have argued for a full return of police in schools to combat rising violence. As council members reviewed the data, some members of the audience held up signs that read, “Bring Back SROs!”

A county pulled police from schools six months ago. Now it wants to bring them back.

The arrest and referral data does not include breakdowns by race or for students with a disability, noted Will Jawando (D-At Large). “That was a key measure that we talked about tracking with the school system … where that was going to be monitored as a part of the larger process,” he said. Police said they would provide the data.

The school safety report also showed an increase in school-based incidents that show a bias toward a race, religion or other identity, such as incidents of antisemitism. The school system reported 100 incidents so far this school year, compared with 65 during the entire previous academic year. In February alone, there were 42 incidents. Forty-five of the incidents occurred at middle schools, 35 at the county’s high schools and 20 at elementary schools.

Of the bias incidents, 48 targeted race, 43 targeted religion and 15 targeted the LGBTQ community.

The school system recently announced it would toughen penalties for students who commit acts of hate by recording the incidents in their student file, and their parents will be brought in for follow-up conversations.

Montgomery County schools report another spate of antisemitic acts

School officials also presented suspension data that showed higher numbers particularly for students with disabilities and students of color. Data from the 2021-22 school year showed there were 2,392 suspensions total. Black students were suspended the most — 1,077 times total, according to data in a state report. There were a total of 889 Hispanic student suspensions and 739 suspensions for students with a disability. Meanwhile, White students were suspended 197 times and Asian students had 80 suspensions. There was no suspension data provided for this school year.

Shauna-Kay Jorandby, the district’s director of student engagement, behavioral health and academics, said the school system is reviewing its disciplinary training for conduct violations and working to build relationships with students who have higher numbers of suspensions. “We must always acknowledge that we must continue to work on the disparities within our suspensions,” she said.

School officials also discussed efforts being undertaken to discipline students without removing them from school.

Council members asked police and school officials to return before June with more information about what incidents led to those student arrests this school year, as well as race and ethnicity breakdowns of arrest and referral data.

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Two Richmond schools to implement 200-day school years

Two Richmond schools to implement 200-day school years

A1 Minute! March 21, 2023: Civica California contract; For Pickett renamed; Ironclad Coffee opens

Two Richmond schools will add 20 days to their academic calendars next school year in an effort to curb learning loss that was exacerbated by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a split vote, the Richmond City School Board on Monday approved the extended school year for Cardinal Elementary, a school in South Richmond, which was formerly named E.S.H. Greene Elementary until 2020.

The board voted earlier this month to approve a 200-day year for Fairfield Court Elementary in the city’s East end.

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“With the additional time, schools are able to do some innovative things, for example, more enrichment activities, including getting outside going on field trips, having more art and exploration so that they don’t feel quite as bound to the [Standards of Learning] calendar,” Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said on Monday. “This gives them a little bit more breathing room to try some of these innovative things.”

Research suggests that more time in school generally helps students do better academically.

For years, Richmond Public Schools’ academic outcomes have ranked among the area’s worst, and infighting among school board members has hindered progress in many areas.

But some board members, like Jonathan Young who represents the Fourth District, see the pilot as a “transformative opportunity.”

“I can’t think of many things we could do as a board to move the needle in a more substantive way,” Young said.

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Only 28% of students at Fairfield Court Elementary passed state reading tests last school year, compared with a pass rate of 47% division-wide and 73% statewide.

The school, which is located by a public housing project, counts 97% of its students who are “economically disadvantaged,” a rough gauge of poverty measured by the state.

At Cardinal Elementary School, about 54% of students are deemed “economically disadvantaged” by the state, and only 37% of its students passed state reading tests last school year.

Despite board members agreeing that Richmond’s students are in dire need of action, a few board members voted against the proposal, citing a lack of approval from families and concern about attendance.

Staff and families at both schools completed surveys about their interest in an extended school year.

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About 90% of families at Cardinal Elementary voted and, of those, 87% voted in favor of the pilot. At Fairfield Court Elementary, 99% of families voted and, of those, 91% voted in favor of the pilot.

Two additional schools, Westover Hills Elementary and Overby-Sheppard Elementary, were selected by their schools’ principals as contenders for the pilot, but a lack of community buy-in prevented those schools from being selected.

The pilot will be funded by the division’s allotment of the federal COVID-19 stimulus package.

The two schools will be among the area’s first to have additional school days. No schools in Hanover County have an extended schedule, and only one school in Henrico County has an extended year.

Chesterfield County has two schools with a year-round calendar, but still only 180 school days.

The votes of approval this month come after failures to get similar pilots approved over the past few years, as the division faces major learning setbacks from school closures during the pandemic.

Virginia State Police is investigating the in-custody death of a patient/inmate at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County who died after being brought to the facility by Henrico County sheriff’s deputies.

The family of Ivor Otieno are seeking answers on how he died at Central State Hospital.

Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies were charged Tuesday with second-degree murder in last week’s death of a 28-year-old mental health pat…

Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies held down a mental patient on the floor for 12 minutes while he was shackled and handcuffed, eventually “smothering him to death,” a Dinwiddie prosecutor said Wednesday.

Read the story at

Seven Henrico County deputies were charged Tuesday in Irvo Otieno’s death, which occurred during the intake process at a Virginia mental healt…

They were arrested Thursday and taken to Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County.

“I want to assure the public that I am conducting a review of what happened in the Henrico jail,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said.

Dinwiddie County’s chief prosecutor plans to release Central State Hospital security video that she says shows seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies holding down Irvo Otieno for 12 minutes until he died 

He says Virginia’s behavioral health system is “overwhelmed with in-crisis moments,” while “lacking in pre-crisis services.”

Attorneys for two of the 10 Henrico sheriff’s deputies and Central State Hospital technicians collectively charged in the death of mental patient Irvo N. Otieno filed court motions Monday asking a judge to bar the public release of any evidence in the case

A surveillance camera captured Irvo Otieno at Central State Hospital on March 6. Ten people have been charged in his death.

Caleb Kershner, defense attorney for Randy Boyer, one of seven charged Henrico deputies, talks of the case.

Family members of Irvo Otieno and their lawyers on Tuesday called for mental health reform and steps to be taken to avoid a repeat of what hap…

Central State Hospital security camera footage taken on March 6 shows a handcuffed and shackled Irvo Otieno, 28, being pushed to the ground and restrained, then medical workers trying to revive him unsuccessfully. 

A large group of sheriff’s deputies and employees of Central State Hospital pinned patient Irvo Otieno to the ground until he was motionless a…

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