Skip to main content
A1 A1
News
featured
Possible human remains investigated
  • Updated

Local authorities and state medical officials are investigating evidence discovered last week in Carroll County, after emergency responders received a call in reference to a citizen who believed they found human remains.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office reported that it responded to the call in the Iron Ridge area of the county on Sept. 6, along with Carroll Fire Rescue.

In a news release dated Sept. 9, Sheriff Kevin Kemp reported that patrol units arrived on scene and began investigating, at which time the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) was requested. “The scene was processed by CID, and potential evidence was collected,” the report said.

Investigators confirmed that following the discovery, the remains were sent to the state medical examiner’s office for analysis and that the sheriff’s office is working closely with the lab as the investigation continues.

As of Monday afternoon, police had released no additional details in reference to the investigation and there was no report available from the medical examiner.


News
featured
Williams named Carroll's teacher of the year
  • Updated

HILLSVILLE

Carroll County Public Schools recognized Christy Williams as 2022 Teacher of the year with a classroom celebration for staff and students.

“A well deserved honor for a fantastic teacher,” school officials said in the announcement. “Thank you, Mrs. Williams for all your hard work and dedication to the students of Carroll County High School.”

Additional merit recognitions were scheduled for announcement during the Sept. 13 meeting of the Carroll County School Board and were not yet available as of press time. More information for this year’s award winners will be published at a later date.


News
featured
Youngkin outlines steps to address teacher shortage

Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive directive on Sept. 1 that aims to address teacher shortages in Virginia through strategies that include hiring retired educators and targeting recruitment and retention efforts toward communities most in need.

His directive comes as the nation and Virginia face shortages of teachers due to such possible causes as highly charged political battles over education, the pandemic and dissatisfaction with wages.

“I’m frustrated that we have a shortage right now,” said Youngkin. “It’s been a persistent shortage over many years, and it hasn’t been closed, and that’s why today’s executive directive is focused on the near-term challenges, but also getting at some of these long-term solutions.”

Data from school divisions, which report their unfilled positions annually on Oct. 1, showed that Virginia’s teacher vacancies more than doubled from 1,063 in 2019 to 2,563 in 2021.

The Virginia Department of Education said the most critical teacher shortage areas are in elementary education followed by special education and middle school education.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera joined the governor along with Republican Dels. Tara Durant and Phil Scott, who represent parts of Stafford County, on Sept. 1 at Colonial Forge High School for the announcement of the new executive directive. The group joined community leaders, teachers and students to discuss plans for addressing statewide learning loss.

Under the directive, Balow will be permitted to issue teaching and renewal licenses to out-of-state and retired teachers whose licenses may have lapsed. Guidera and others from the administration will be charged with developing legislative proposals to loosen regulations for teacher licensure and policies to support the provision of child care inside schools.

Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Gary Pan and Balow will also establish an apprenticeship program with school divisions to train and license new teachers, including paraprofessional educators.

Additionally, Youngkin directed education officials to establish a statewide model policy to create an apprenticeship program to train high school students to become child care providers and asked officials to raise teachers’ awareness of the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program, which assists families with child care costs.

Officials are directed to target grants for recruitment and retention bonuses to school divisions with the greatest teacher turnover.

Funds will also be targeted to improve teacher benefits under the directive.

Youngkin touted lawmakers’ inclusion in the state budget of 10% raises for teachers over the next two years, as well as funding for lab schools and school construction and renovations. However, teacher advocates raised concerns over teacher pay and highly politicized working environments.

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, an organization that represents more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals, said the governor’s directive has ideas the membership can support but doesn’t offer serious investments to address the teacher shortage.

Fedderman said educators have been seeking competitive salaries and additional aid to high-poverty schools through the at-risk add-on — a funding tool that allocates additional dollars to low-income students.

Additionally, he said educators recommend lifting the “support cap,” which limits state aid for critical school positions, investing in community school models to break down barriers to education faced by many students and fully funding the Standards of Quality set by the Virginia Board of Education.

“Our current budget surplus could be used effectively to solve this problem, which affects all Virginia’s citizens,” Fedderman said. “By what he decides to do with those funds, our governor will show us if he truly values education and solving our teacher shortages.”

Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, who is a teacher and represents Henrico, said the directive makes sense and he supports the efforts by the governor’s administration, but there needs to be more.

“I think anything we can do is doing right by kids,” said VanValkenburg. “I like that pay is moving in the right direction and I hope that he continues forward like Gov. [Ralph] Northam did in making us more competitive with teacher pay, but he’s also got to stop politicizing the classroom because the constant politicization of curriculum, teachers and public schools is dragging down morale and people don’t like working in a work environment that’s toxic.”

Other challenges potentially linked to recruitment and retention problems include inadequate funding for schools that are not fully accredited.

Schools without full accreditation have a higher concentration of inexperienced teachers compared to fully accredited schools, found one VEA report.

Additionally, schools without full accreditation had twice the teacher vacancy rates in October 2021 than fully accredited schools.

The Department of Education will not have data on unfilled teacher positions for 2022-23 until next fall. Data on unfilled teacher vacancies for 2021-22 are expected in the fall.


News
featured
Board expresses frustrations over bad connections

INDEPENDENCE — At-Large Supervisor John Fant had strong words for CenturyLink — the main internet provider for much of Grayson County — at the Sept. 8 board of supervisors meeting.

Time was set aside, as an informational item on the agenda, for the board to speak by Zoom with Steve Brewer, the director of government affairs for CenturyLink, aka Lumen Technologies, and soon to be renamed Brightspeed.

Due to a technology issue, Brewer had to wait for a connection to be established before his portion of the meeting took place. The discussion, when it took place, lasted over 30 minutes.

After introductions, Brewer said, “In just three weeks, I’ll be joining Brightspeed and I’d like to give you a bit more information about that transition.”

On Oct. 3, he said, the company formerly known as CenturyLink — which had changed its name to Lumen in 2020 — will become Brightspeed. “Lumen, the parent company of CenturyLink, agreed to sell local assets in 20 states, including the state of Virginia,” Brewer informed the board and its audience. “Apollo Global Management, which is a very large investment firm, agreed to purchase assets from Lumen, and Apollo is doing so with the purpose of bringing as many fiber connections as possible to those assets. So we’re tremendously excited about that.”

Brewer said that after the company changes — it will be “completely a new company with a new executive leadership team” — CenturyLink equipment will be rebranded over to Brightspeed.

“Brightspeed will use its own investment dollars and also participate in broadband grants, again, to bring as many connections to the communities that it serves over the next few years,” Brewer said, noting that at the time of the change, “I hope to have an internal Virginia-based governmental affairs team member join us, as well, and certainly when that happens, I’ll provide you with that contact information.”

In his comments, Fant expressed some skepticism. “Help us understand how it’s gonna benefit us, because right now everything still sounds like a name change,” said Fant. “How’s it gonna make anything different for people here in Grayson?”

Brewer said that Brightspeed is only focusing its attention on 20 states it will offer service in — across the Midwest, Southeast and portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey — as opposed to every large national market; and that the incoming executive team are former Verizon members who took part in building the Fios network.

“And again, the intent is to bring as many connections as possible to the communities that we serve,” Brewer added. “Certainly, we still have a significant amount of copper network in the ground, and those networks are not intended to go away anytime soon.”

Brewer acknowledged that many small communities have been frustrated by poor service. “I believe that’s about to change in a really big way,” he said, adding that Apollo made available “an additional $2 billion to invest in these properties.” He did not specify how much would be used in Grayson County.

Additionally, Brightspeed is bringing in 120 additional American customer service call center representatives to hopefully begin working as soon as the change occurs. “I am very, very optimistic we will not experience those extended hold times when we transition over to Brightspeed,” Brewer said. There will also be 10 additional in-house service technicians and more contractors.

Despite these reassurances, Fant had further questions for Brewer regarding existing issues. “Your comment about the frustration of the public — it’s understated,” said Fant to some laughter from the audience.

He noted that, for example, his house had suffered a lightning strike and now his phone cannot call out, and has no good internet connection in order to file a report about it. Further, the company’s rsmartphone app doesn’t work, and the only workaround was to text the regional CenturyLink representative and file tickets through him. “Well, he’s gone now,” said Fant of the representative.

Responding to Brewer’s statement about installing more fiber in the ground, Fant said Grayosn has “been working on fiber in this county for six years, and we’ve got a lot of fiber now, but none of it is phone-based. The frustration we have here now is that we can’t get technicians. We can’t get repair people. We cannot get anybody on the phone to give a s— about what is happening in Grayson County.”

A chorus of agreement followed this speech.

“That’s the reality,” Fant continued. “So back to the very first question: what are you doing for the citizens in Grayson County? What are we doing today to solve the problems? Even though you’re in a transition, that is what we need help with.”

“As I said earlier, we are bringing on 10 additional technicians and we’re bringing on additional contractors,” Brewer replied. “We’ve also relocated technicians from other states, when available, to Virginia, to help with the service quality issues. So there certainly is additional work going on in order to bring service quality measures into standards.”

Throughout the exchange, board members who spoke were clearly frustrated, on behalf of the county and themselves, for years of inadequate service. Brewer maintained his composure and reassurances, but appeared surprised by the breadth of issues being described and the amount of animosity with which they were presented.

“I would like to tell you, Steve, that [the statement about the additional technicians and contractors] makes me feel better,” said Fant, “but I gotta tell you, I’m just not getting a warm fuzzy.”

Fant described the problem as immediate. “Because of our [mountainous] geography, geography gets a vote in everything we do around here. Because of our geography, the only reliable — and I use that probably not the right way — means of communication for a lot of folks in this rural area is that landline, and we have a 911 service. That’s the only way they’re gonna get hold of our volunteer fire and rescue.”

He continued, “So when our landline doesn’t work, we don’t have a cell phone option in a lot of parts of the county. We don’t have the backup internet cable yet to be able to do redundance. So the message here is that we have a single point of failure that’s tied to CenturyLink, Lumen, Skybright [sic] — whatever you want to call it — that has to have some immediate attention even though you got this transition going on and everything’s gonna get better in six months.”

He continued, “But, we need some immediate attention from the leadership of both organizations now, because we have single point failure occurring today.”

Fant’s remarks received applause.

“I understand that we need to show you and not just talk about it,” said Brewer. “I am completely convinced that is about to happen. Again, there’s additional actions and work being taken to [improve] the customer service level standards... There is movement afoot to resolve the issues that you’re discussing here.”

Supervisor Zeke Anderson said to Brewer, “I guess you know we were excited that something different is happening other than CenturyLink, because it’s become a bad word in this county for a long time. But you’re hiring 120 people to take complaints, but you’re only hiring 10 to service those complaints, and it takes a good hour-and-a-half to get from one end of our county to the other.”

Anderson continued, “Could you guys reconsider your plan and maybe get some more technicians up here to to address these immediate issues? Because you’re going to take over in October, but the bills aren’t going to stop. We’re still going to be paying the same bills and get the same crappy service until something’s addressed. Is there any way you could take another look at that?”

“So please understand, these are additional technicians,” Brewer said. “We’re also bringing on additional contractors for the same purpose.”

Supervisor Keneth Belton informed Brewer that the problems are particularly bad on the western end of the county.

Fant asked Brewer to come back in 30 days and give the board an update.

“I’ll be happy to come back,” said Brewer.

“Thank you for your time and your effort,” said Fant. “Thanks for putting up with that. Thanks for hearing us.”

“I’ve certainly made notes,” Brewer said. “I understand your frustration. If you’ll just bear with us a bit longer, I’m convinced that we’re going to deliver you a product that you’ll be happy with.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Fant. “Thanks.”


News
featured
Willing Partners stamps out hunger

Willing Partners participated in the “Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive” in May, sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, according to Executive Director Kathy Cooley.

The Galax nonprofit with a food bank and thrift store has served this area for about 20 years, “and continues to do what they’ve done for many, many months now, day after day, as the needs arise,” said Cooley.

This year’s event was notable as it had been canceled for the past two years due to COVID-19. Stamp Out Hunger, a one-day food drive, is run by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The food drive, first held in 1993, helps feed millions of Americans.

Those who wish to participate simply leave their donation of non-perishable food items next to their mailbox. Letter carriers collect these donations on that day as they deliver mail along their postal routes, and distribute them to local food banks, pantries, shelters and churches.

“I was contacted by Wendy McGrady, the local coordinator for the Galax Post Office Food Drive this year, who told me that they were going ahead with the event for 2022,” Cooley said. “We began to scramble to put together volunteers to pick up and sort the food as it came in.”

As in past years, she said, “this has turned out to be a very strenuous but very worthwhile event for our food bank, so we jumped at the opportunity! Greg Taylor, the Galax postmaster, worked faithfully side by side with Wendy throughout the event to make everything would run smoothly and be successful.”

Taylor and McGrady reported 12 rural routes and three city routes, with all 15 carriers participating “and doing a great job,” said Cooley. A total of 7,677 pounds of food was collected.

Unfortunately, 1,412 pounds was out of date and would have been discarded, but local farmers requested it for their livestock. The remaining 6,265 pounds of viable food was donated to Willing Partners for their food bank. Cooley stated that this supplemented their food box distribution for a couple of months, and was a tremendous help.

Cooley named and thanked the workers who came to help sort food for this project, including Jerry Christenson, Judy Hackler, Evelyn Gilbert, Ralph Bennett, Ladonna Alley, Sharon Caudill, Kevin Spurlin, Anthony Monk, John Cooley, Ron Wright, Frank Ceary, Kathy Cooley, Mike Gilbert and Matthew Peckron.

Willing Partners is also planning a grand re-opening soon, Cooley said.

Anyone interested in information about Willing Partners may call Cooley’s office at 276-233-5416, the thrift store at 276-238-5500, or visit their thrift store at 972 E. Stuart Drive in Galax.


Back