DOBSON — Graduation rates are up, teacher turnover is low, and families are saving money on college credits.
Those were some of the highlights from Monday’s status reports to the Surry County Schools’ Board of Education.
The county school district launched a three-year strategic plan starting with the fall 2015 semester, and now that plan has reached the midway point. The school board had members of the staff give updates on how different bullet points of the plan have been implemented.
School officials have said in the past that graduation rates are closely tied to how well students cope with the transition to high school as freshmen. The district created something it called its ninth grade academy to help students with the mental and emotional challenges associated with matriculating to high school.
For the 2015-16 school year, nearly all ninth-graders were promoted to the 10th grade, according to Neil Atkins, director of the Surry Virtual Academy and secondary education.
At North Surry 95 percent of freshmen became sophomores, while the rate was 98 percent at East Surry and Surry Central.
These kind of numbers were a dream 10 years ago, Atkins told the board.
Also, about 430 students are enrolled in dual-credit courses, where they not only advance toward high school graduation, but also earn credit hours for college.
Last year the district had 3,109 hours of credit for the whole year, noted Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent.
So far this year the system is well ahead of that pace with 2,020 hours earned in the first semester, Atkins said.
As for the Virtual Academy, Atkins said there are 28 course available to study online. There were 213 students enrolled in courses for the fall semester and 170 for the spring semester.
Surry County continues to be a leader in this field, with other schools wanting to know how it works, he said. A group from Alexander County is coming in April to learn about the program.
A similar program in its infancy is offering advanced learning for middle school students. Right now there are two high school-level courses being offered through Meadowview Magnet Middle School.
Atkins said both courses were designed by high school teachers and are a blended approach – meaning there are lessons online, but the teachers at the middle school understand the course subjects and can assist if the children struggle to understand the lessons.
This year there are 41 students taking English I and 37 taking World History.
With so many options available, Atkins said the district’s Commitment to Excellence survey given to parents and students was expanded to ask a question: do they understand that a child’s education can be personalized to suit their needs and interests? Atkins said 86.7 percent of students said yes, and 96.4 percent of parents.
Lucas Gillispie, director of academic and digital learning, spoke about the impact of online lessons for teachers to advance their own knowledge.
In January 2015, Gillispie launched the new online development pilot for teachers called Epic Academy.
“It’s a different way of looking at development,” he explained last year. “They can work on it in their own time. It’s choice-driven – what elements of the system do they want to learn about?”
Epic Academy, he explained, “is designed around a mastery approach. Say, a new Google tool. The teachers learn about the tool and apply it to the classroom and show how they’ve done it.” When the teacher not only learns about the idea, but applies it to learning, then this earns a mastery badge.
There is a digital badge that can be displayed online, but there also is a physical badge that educators can display on a banner outside their classrooms. The badges can become a point of pride for teachers to show off.
Teachers using the Epic Academy have checked out 1,400 lessons and earned more than 100 badges. Teachers have earned 62 continuing-education credits as well.
Assistant Superintendent Chuck Graham said he would keep his speech short since he gives monthly updates on staff development and retention already. However, he pointed out that the county school system ranks fourth out of 115 districts in the state in attrition rate by percentage; and the district is second in total teachers lost to attrition.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.