Surry County Schools impressed the state superintendent during a visit Friday.
Mark Johnson had been eager to visit the district since winning his election in November, naming Surry County Schools one of the top places he wanted to visit.
Johnson’s first stop was at Meadowview Magnet Middle School. There Johnson toured the facility, including the recently added virtual reality room.
The school received the $800 VR system through a grant made possible by foundry10.com, earlier this year.
The system includes goggles and two hand controls; through this equipment and special device software, Johnson was able to take a trip undersea to explore a coral reef.
“Where was this when I was in school,” joked Johnson.
Also within the media center, Johnson was able to visit the Maker Space — a room where students are able to build, code and experiment with robotics.
One student was able to showcase a robotic ball moving across the room that was controlled by an iPad. While, another student was programming another miniature robot. All seemed “pretty cool” to the newly elected superintendent.
While showing off a room called the Science Institute, Dr. Jill Reinhardt, assistant superintendent, explained that Meadowview has one of the highest poverty rates in the district, with around 74 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
“It’s amazing to see a mix of students with such a wealth of experience,” stated Reinhardt.
Good experiences didn’t stop at the middle school level as next Johnson made a trip to Pilot Mountain to see East Surry High School.
College was the topic of discussion and how students in the Surry County School system were able to participate in college courses while still attending a traditional high school setting, thanks to the Virtual Academy.
Principal Lori Sawyers and Crystal Folger-Hawks, college liaison, gave a presentation about just how successful the integration has been for students thus far.
“Our goal is for every student to take at least one college course before they graduate,” explained Sawyers.
According to Folger-Hawks, students at East Surry High School pass their courses at an 89-percent success rate. “That rate is higher than community colleges,” stated Hawks, who claimed community colleges average a passing rate of 67 percent.
Johnson also heard from a three-student panel about how taking college classes allowed for a more flexible schedule, which gave those students more time to study.
A goal Johnson claims he plans to try and implement in school districts across the state.
Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent for Surry County Schools, did bring up a request to Johnson after the presentation, regarding the Virtual Academy.
“We need a principal,” claimed Reeves. “Someone to track and make sure each child is doing well.”
Reeves noted that currently state funding only allowed for 19 principal positions as the school system has 19 traditional high schools. However, the Virtual Academy was really an extra school not accounted for. “We currently offer 28 courses through the virtual academy,” said Reeves.
Reeves acknowledged that the request was sort of out-of-the-box thinking and that the position was something that had not been implemented before.
“That’s what we are all about at Surry County Schools, out-of-the-box thinking.”
Before Johnson’s departure, the official had a chance to explore the digital media academy mobile studio: an addition to Surry County Schools made in the 2015-16 school year after a partnership with Surry Telephone Membership Corporation.
The mobile studio allows for students to conduct video projects that are then aired at a later date on Surry TV.
Eliza Hart, an East Surry student, conducted a short interview with Johnson in part to show him how they students operated the studio.
During Hart’s interview process, she asked Johnson to speak on his experience while visiting the Surry County Schools, and to explain why he wanted he wanted to visit.
“I’ve heard about the Surry County Schools system, and I’ve always been impressed about what your schools are doing to reach students.”
After visiting Wake, Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties, Johnson knew he wanted to stop here.
In wrapping up his visit to the school system, Johnson said, “I can’t wait to share what you guys are doing here in Surry County and to share the model you have made with other school districts across the state.”
Reach Eva Winemiller at (336) 415-4739