This year saw many changes in the area of education, especially in personnel as many top officials moved around.
Back in January, the year started off with a nice positive.
“The security in Surry County Schools is good.”
That was the assessment that Sheriff Graham Atkinson gave to the county Board of Education.
The sheriff and his department had run drills at the 18 campuses to test responsiveness.
“We have finished conducting lockdown drills,” said Atkinson. “Over time they have become progressively more intense. The schools have responded outstandingly.”
• Also over the winter, North Surry officials appeared before the county board to get permission for work on its baseball and softball fields.
Coming off a 2015 baseball season that was the best in school history, the Greyhounds renovated the area. This included a brick backstop, netting above the backstop and outfield fencing. Some spot repairs were made to the softball fence, and all the dugouts were fixed up.
• North Surry’s baseball work was finished before the season started, but Mount Airy baseball wasn’t so lucky.
Six light poles were supposed to be replaced in fall 2015, but they were still lying on the ground as opening day approached. The Bears had to juggle their schedule as the work was finished shortly after the season started.
• The first major personnel announcement came in January when the county school board announced the hiring of a new student success coach. Bryan Taylor, Mount Airy’s assistant superintendent, accepted a position.
As the student success coach, Taylor, 44, assists administrators with compulsory attendance law violations; consults and collaborates with social workers; provides direct services to families in need; and advocates for at-risk children at all grade spans, with a special focus on college and career readiness.
• In the midst of a winter snow storm, a dozen students arrived from China for a 10-day stay. Local families volunteered to house the students so they could be immersed in American life.
This was the second time in four months that Mount Airy City Schools hosted a delegation from China. In October 2015, the city schools hosted 23 principals from the city of XuZhou in Jiangsu Province.
• In February, Copeland Elementary faculty members puckered up for a good cause.
Several school teachers and principal Margaret Spicer kissed a pig after school children raised the first $1,000 toward the installation of air conditioning in the school gym. The school said the final cost of the system would be around $30,000.
• Another big job announcement came when Dr. Greg Little announced he was leaving Mount Airy for a school system in South Carolina. He would stay on for a couple more months to help with the transition.
• In March, the city district added a new position, chief operations officer. The board promoted Jason Dorsett, Jones Intermediate principal, to the new role effective at the end of the school year.
In 2012 Dorsett had been promoted to principal at Jones, winning the Wells Fargo District Principal of the Year in 2014.
• In April, Surry County Schools found out it would be losing $277,000 in state funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent, warned the county board that it would get less low-wealth funding. In the state’s most-recent rankings of poor counties, Surry improved from 28th worst to 44th and became less of a priority to the state.
• In early May, the city district welcomed Dr. Don Martin, a retired superintendent, to take Dr. Little’s spot. He filled in for two months as the city board searched for a replacement superintendent. In June, the board selected Dr. Kim Morrison, who had been serving as chief academic and innovation officer.
• Then Mount Airy announced a replacement for Dorsett at Jones, picking Sherry Cox, the assistant principal from Central Middle. This kicked off a job carousel as retirements and promotions created several openings in both school systems.
• The city board was already planning to replace a chiller at the middle school, but when the unit suddenly died, emergency measures were needed.
The school rented a temporary chiller at $3,600 a week for three weeks to finish the school year and teacher workdays. Then Stanley Heating and Cooling installed the new chiller with a contract price of $150,000.
• Near the end of the school year, county school officials gathered at Meadowview Magnet Middle School for the unveiling of a solar panel array. Twelve panels, each roughly the size of a door, produce a combined 5.22 kW of solar energy.
• After summer vacation began, three local Food Lion stores made a surprise delivery to Cedar Ridge Elementary.
Store #1347 on U.S. 52, Store #288 on West Pine Street, and Store #441 on West Lebanon Street donated items to support the school’s backpack program, providing food to needy families when kids aren’t in school.
• Longtime teacher and football coach David Diamont was among the 46 county school employees honored with a retirement dinner over the summer.
Earlie Coe, who chairs the school board, said, “If you add up the years of service from each of the 46 retirees listed on the program that would come to 888 years.”
For Diamont, 46 is also the number of years he served in education. Others with the most experience include teacher Gail Shelton with 37 years, Brenda Whitaker in the central office with 33 years, and teachers Angie Graham, Cathy Howlett, Donna Journey and Sheila McHone with 30 years each. Another eight employees had 25 to 29 years of experience.
• In July, Surry Central athletic director Myles Wilmoth received permission to do some work for the sports programs such as renovating the old weight room and drainage work for the baseball field.
At the same meeting, Rockford Elementary said it was getting new playground equipment. School officials said a new piece of equipment had been purchased for $14,530 — thanks to donations from Carolina Carports and the Herrera and Ochoa families. Also, the school got a new blacktop area, 40×60 size, at a cost of $7,500.
• More work could have been on tap, but local sports teams struck out on county funding.
School districts had several sports projects in the works, but the Surry County Board of Commissioners shot them all down.
These proposed projects included resurfacing cracked tennis courts, replacing worn electrical wiring at a baseball field and bleacher repairs at football stadiums. Easily the most expensive project up for consideration was renovating Elkin High’s elderly gym. Far older (and less accessible for the handicapped) than the four high schools on the north side of the county, Phase I of the project would have cost $5.82 million.
• A local educator traveled to Singapore to study the teaching methods used by his fellow math teachers.
Shane Castevens is a North Surry alumnus who lives in Surry County, but works at the Stokes Early College near Walnut Cove. Castevens and 10 other teachers from across the state left in mid-July.
• State school officials approved athletic participation for sixth-graders for all sports but football.
Stokes County was quick to approve sixth-graders on a local level, and Surry County followed.
• At the end of August as students had a few days to learn their new schedules, the county district launched a new security system at East Surry, soon to be followed by North Surry and Surry Central.
The district’s elementary and middle schools already installed the Trilogy door system by Alarm Lock. These doors have three ways to be opened: by a key, a numbered punch code or a keyless microchip that can be attached to a student ID card to slide in a pocket or wear on a lanyard.
• Also at the start of school, the county district unveiled eight school buses with seat belts built in; the county also provided one bus for the city district to use. It didn’t take long before the students were fully complying with wearing the belts, and other drivers said they wanted safety harnesses for their buses.
• In September, the city schools kicked off a series of meetings to brainstorm on a new four-year strategic plan. This new initiative was unveiled in December.
• In late September, the city schools announced that it was deepening its partnership with Richard Childress Racing, thanks to a $169,650 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
The RCR Future Drivers Project will engage students in sixth to 12th grades in relevant learning experiences focused on engineering, manufacturing, quality control and analytics. This project is possible due to the high school’s partnership with RCR, which is projected to expand over the next three years.
• In November, the city school system announced the hiring of Dr. Phillip Brown as executive director for teaching and learning, which had been vacant. Dr. Morrison had originally held this title three years earlier, but was given the new title of chief academic and innovation officer before becoming superintendent over the summer.
• After having visiting principals in October 2015 and visiting students in January 2016, a group from Mount Airy reciprocated with an educational trip to China.
Like the first trip in 2014, the local delegation traveled to China to strengthen the growing connection, including a Mandarin foreign-language class at the high school. School leaders spent 10 days traveling and learning. They visited seven different schools in Province Tianjin.
• In December a school from both the city and county school systems were honored by the Piedmont Triad Education Consortium.
B.H. Tharrington Primary School and Rockford Elementary School received the Signature School Award, given to schools that have experienced significant improvements over the past academic year.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.