The Surry County Schools Board of Education held day one of its annual summer retreat Monday, introducing an “ignite the light” theme, which generated discussions of what the future holds as well as a sampling of success throughout the school system.
The board meeting began with a look toward the future and a chance for each board member to express his or her thoughts about what the future could hold for Surry County Schools.
Chairman Earlie Coe said he sees innovation as being an important component and a dream that all children would grow up and never have to leave the area to find a job.
“I’d like to see a place where children enjoy going to school as much in 12th grade as they do in kindergarten. I want to see the excitement and joy of being in school every day,” Coe expressed. This comment by Coe would be referred to several times throughout the retreat, as board members heard highlights of success and discussed areas they would like to help improve.
The majority of the items discussed and presented during the board retreat were available using Surry County Schools’ Haiku Learning Management System as a way to share information.
The board also discussed a need for community and business partnerships, the importance of expressing gratitude to teachers who succeed in the classroom, and heard presentations from Jill Reinhardt, director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction/CTE, and Jennifer Scott, director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction.
Reinhardt introduced the “boiling point theory” with a video, “one extra degree makes all the difference in business and life…it separates good from great.” Reinhardt explained that it wasn’t about “working harder, but working smarter” and it was a way to advance the school system to the next level, by striving to push past the boiling point.
Vice Chairman Brian Gates emphasized the importance of developing a positive relationship with each student, which, he emphasized, could be done by a teacher, a principal, a bus driver, and a cafeteria worker — any of the school staff.
“We talk about engaging students, and if we are talking about creating the best leaders and investing in the development of people, we have to remember that it is equally important to develop relationships. It may not be this laptop or this book, it may be the relationship established that inspires them. Students know when someone cares; you may not always remember everything you learned, but if you establish a relationship and feel like someone believes in you, there is no greater confidence builder.”
The school board was entertained and moved by the performance of autistic student Ben Journey and his mother Donna. He also was joined by his father Greg and rehab tech Tracy. Ben and Donna performed “Close to You” with Donna singing and Ben playing the keyboard. Donna explained that once Ben found what he loved, music, it enhanced his life greatly, even improving his reading skills. He poured through music books and magazines, despite an early diagnosis diagnosis that he would never develop an ability to even communicate.
Donna Journey is also a teacher at Copeland Elementary School and the connection between the learning skills of her son and her students was apparent. “It has been a long journey, sometimes a hard journey, but one that is really worthwhile. Everyone has different gifts, some academic and some gifts from God. Every one of our children in Surry County Schools have gifts, and we have to tap into that, tap into whatever they are interested in to help them succeed.”
Director of Accountability and Technology Dr. Jeff Tunstall addressed the board regarding the “bring your own device” policy in place for 11th- and 12th-graders, as well as staff, and asked the board to consider expanding the idea of what type of devices should be considered, moving beyond just laptops and perhaps allowing smart phones and other devices.
“The sustainability of our 1:1 program is one of our highest priorities. We are coming close to time to replace the laptops, especially for the initial group…the computers are starting to get old. If we can sustain this, bring your own devices is important. Now we only allow 11th- and 12th-graders, so perhaps we should consider expanding grade levels…I think the time has come. We are not ready for formal action tonight, but time has come to broaden the age groups, at least take it down to ninth grade and allow a discussion.”
Additional items discussed at board retreat:
• An expansion of virtual learning opportunities integrated with Haiku LMS, including virtual textbooks and online class offerings.
• An overview of preliminary dropout rates from Tunstall, which he described as “looking really good.”
• The addition of new READY assessment and accountability components, including the addition on the high school level of the ACT proficiency test for juniors, graduation rates, work-keys assessments, and more.
• An update on the Surry Early College High School, which had a retention rate of 62.2 percent, with some students reported to leave to join band, JROTC, sports teams, and other reasons.
• An overview of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), which the board adopted for the school system three years ago, and a reminder from Reinhardt that even though it usually takes five to seven years to see results, schools are already seeing improvements.
Reach Jessica Johnson at email@example.com or 719-1933.