Staff development a key to Surry Schools’ success

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: December 18, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.

SURRY – On Dec. 6, after Surry County School students went home following a half day of instruction, a very important part of what keeps Surry County Schools ahead of the pack was just beginning. That’s when the schools’ staff, including faculty, bus drivers, custodians, and administration got busy with their ongoing determination to learn ways to make the school system even better for the students, according to Dr. Serbrenia Sims, Assistant School Superintendent. In fact, the staff development training started even earlier for bus drivers, as Dr. Sims explained. 

“The day began as a typical school day,” Sims said, “but instead of leaving the campus after dropping off the students at 7:45, the bus drivers found their way to The Cougar Center at Surry County High School to participate in the first of four trainings for the school year.  After sharing a light breakfast, they were introduced to the guest speaker, Ms. Holly Flood.”

Sims said that she introduced Flood with excerpts from her very impressive bio.  And the bus drivers could immediately relate as Ms. Flood, who is an international speaker, award winning television producer, coach and trainer, grew up right next door in Isle of Wight County. 

Holly Flood speaking to Surry County Public Schools staff members about relationship building as a tool to guide education and student success. (Terry Harris)

“Ms. Flood spoke to the transportation staff members for two hours about relationship building with students,” Sims explained. “The training was an interactive experience where the bus drivers were challenged to reflect on their own favorite bus driver and then identify characteristics that made that individual stand out.  As the process unfurled, the drivers soon realized that they were able to remember these drivers because of the relationship or bond that had been developed at the time.”  

Sims shared that after the presentation, she worked with the drivers, collaborating and completing posters on ways to establish relationship with students.  They talked about important strategies like listening and being respectful of students, communicating and engaging – all ways to help establish positive, lasting relationships with the kids they take to and from school each day.  Sims said that the importance of this training is obvious, as the bus drivers are there for the beginning and the end of each student’s day, and their interaction can have a sizeable effect on the way each child’s day – and education – goes. 

Later in the day, Sims said, Flood conducted similar training with a variety of staff members including teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, school counselors – everyone involved with the schools was eligible to attend because the students were gone for the day, which was an important factor in planning the sessions. 

“As the training progressed, it soon became clear that many of the realizations that the bus drivers identified were pertinent to other staff members as well,” she said. “Everyone readily connected with the need to establish relationships with the students, and realized that this connection is another tool to use to ensure that students are being served according to their needs.”  

Dr. Sims shared a book, You’ve Gotta Connect, as the day concluded with a question and answer period where attendees offered their reflections on the need to connect and establish positive relationship with students.  That book will be their next book study, Sims said.

Dr. Sims and Holly Flood with the next book for Surry County Schools’ study – You’ve Gotta Connect

The professional development activities were sponsored by a grant Sims wrote from Virginia Tiered Systems of Support, which has supported the development of school and bus expectations:  Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Ready to Learn/Ride. 

“I think staff development is just so critical for making sure that our staff members have the necessary skills in order to serve our students,” Sims explained afterward, when asked about the ongoing staff development programs she incorporates into the schedule for staff four times a year. “And it’s not just teachers or staff members because I train bus drivers, maintenance, custodians – no matter what type of training it is, if we need it at Surry County I do my best to bring it to Surry.  And we’re just so grateful that most of our ongoing staff development has been funded because of grants that I’ve written – like this one from VTS.  Because sometimes you just have to say, ‘We might not have the money for this, but it’s critical for us and our students’ – so you find it. Because it is so important that through programs like this, our teachers are competitive with teachers in other school divisions that might have more funding for staff development.  I don’t want our staff members ever not to have what they need – all the tools necessary to serve the students in Surry County.”

“I think the Surry County Education System is truly a great educational system,” she continued. “We have great teachers. We hire teachers of highly quality who know their subject area, which is one big reason why we’ve been fully accredited for multiple successive years.  Yesterday’s training was presenting our staff members with yet another tool that they can use to better interact with the students.  Relationship development for bus drivers, custodians, teachers – everyone had the opportunity to come into that training because it is so critical to what we do in education in Surry County. We started this year focusing on not just the academic component but adding that relationship building and mental health support – all that’s needed to make sure that our students are successful.  Building relationships with the students that we serve is all part of the edge that’s going to take us from greatness to excellence.” 

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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