By: Terry Harris | Twitter: @SSDispatch
Posted: May 18, 2020 | 3:30 p.m.
SURRY – Surry County’s own Troilen Seward recently received national acclaim when she was named Woman of the Month by The Professional Organization of Women of Excellence Recognized. In the 2020 winter issue of their P.O.W.E.R magazine, she was heralded as a leader among women, but the glowing article describing her career in education barely touched the surface of all that she has accomplished.
When asked about this most recent achievement over her long double career, she modestly said, “I have no idea how I was brought to the attention of this organization. I am humbled by the honor, but at this point in my life, I am not looking at my career. I’m trying to figure out how to retire! I thought I retired in June of 2001, but here I am still working. I’ve have been at it 57 years. I have promised myself I will retire at 80. My friends don’t believe me!”
When asked about two previous national awards, being included in the roster of Lifetime Achievement inductees in 2018 edition of the Marquis Who’s Who Top Professionals Series and receiving the 2016 Outstanding Advocate Award from the National Association of School Psychologists she said she was particularly touched by the latter because, “Inscribed on the plaque was ‘In Recognition of Your Dedication to the Rights, Welfare, Education and Mental Health of Children and Youth.’ That inscription spoke to the goals I set as a guide to the work I did.”
“I have spent 57 years either serving in or advocating for education,” she continued. “I have observed many changes. One that stands out is the number of women who are now division superintendents. When I was hired as Superintendent of Dinwiddie County Public Schools in 1995, there were five or six women and 132 school divisions. I do not know the number today, but when I attend the Superintendents’ Legislative Conference, it appears there are as many women as men!”
Seward, who did both graduate and undergraduate work at William and Mary, earning a Master’s degree and an Ed.S. also received a master’s from Virginia Commonwealth University, went on to pursue a 37-year career in school settings. She taught in both elementary and high school, served as a guidance counselor, school administrator, school psychologist, SPED Director, and held several other central office positions prior to serving for seven years as School Superintendent in Dinwiddie.
She has also served on a number of state Task Forces relating to psychology.
“People who know me recognize that I have a special passion for school psychology,” Seward related, adding that other psychology-related experiences have included serving as State President of the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists and a School Psychology Intern in Franklin in addition to having a Private Practice in Wakefield. She also was a Psychologist with the Peninsula Child Development Clinic in Newport News, a Virginia Delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists, and a Fellow in the Educational Policy Fellowship Program through the National Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, D.C.
When her retirement from Dinwiddie County Public Schools – where she was named Region I, Superintendent of the Year in 2001 – was brought up again, she smiled as she indicated that at a time when most people are stopping to reap the rewards of a lifetime of service she didn’t even slow down.
“I went down a new career path,” she said. “I became a lobbyist and have continued to follow that path.”
“Accountability in education is a focus today,” she said. “When I started teaching, the teachers were trusted to teach the text, make-up their tests, grade the child and determine if the child had achieved what he should have to move to the next grade. Today is a different story. All of the changes today can be frustrating, but the positive is that it keeps us focused on always striving to do what is best for students.”
With her continuing goal of striving to improve education for all, Seward worked for a number of years following her first retirement at John Tyler Community College in the Workforce Development arena . She helped to implement legislation to allow stop-arm cameras on school buses. Now she serves as a Legislative Consultant representing the Virginia Association of School Psychologists, the Virginia State Reading Association and the Virginia Association of Adult and Continuing Education. But she did not stop there.
A few of her other experiences include stints on the Adult Advisory committee of the Virginia Board of Education and the Legislative Committee of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and serving as Executive Chair of Southside Virginia Regional Technology Consortium. She also has served on the State and Local Advisory Team for Comprehensive Services Act as well as being selected as President of Virginia Academy of School Psychologists and serving as Legislative Chair of the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists where she was deeply involved with the bill to abolish corporal punishment in Virginia schools.
“I have enjoyed a very varied career,” she said, when it was pointed out that she has a great deal of experience under her belt. “I sometimes feeling like a jack of all trades, wondering what I mastered.”
Apparently she has mastered several, judging by just a few of the awards she has amassed over her career. A sampling includes Excellence in Education Leadership Award – The University Council for Education Administration, Commending Resolution – 2001 General Assembly, Distinguished Educational Contributions Award – The Virginia Psychological Foundation, Lifetime Achievement Award – The Virginia Academy of School Psychologists, Professionals Who Made a Difference Award – Longwood University of Education, Friends of Literacy Award – Virginia State Reading Association, and Distinguished Service Award – The Virginia Association of Adult and Continuing Education.
“I do have other interests and commitments outside of education,” Seward remarked. “I was appointed by the General Assembly to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Retirement System, and I am treasurer of the Virginia Literacy Foundation and serving on a Task Force studying mental health screenings for elementary students.”
Even with all of her professional accomplishments, she has still managed to find time to serve on the Town Council and as Mayor where she lives, in Claremont, as well as being involved with the Surry County Historical Society, the Surry County Board of Social Services, and as Trustee and Treasurer of Ritchie Memorial Episcopal Church.
And she practically beams when asked about her family.
“In June, Billy and I will have been married 57 years,” she said. “Our daughter, Susan, is a legislative consultant/lobbyist and Chair of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors and our son, William B. Seward IV runs the family business and serves on the on Surry County Planning Commission. I am just so proud of them. They have been a very supportive family and never complained about my being so busy.”
“Education is my passion,” she said. “It has been an avocation and a vocation. I was so involved that I developed very few hobbies. And it’s provided me with many experiences that I treasure. And those experiences involve students who stand out in my mind for some very special reasons.”
“There’s one story that I think of that points out the kind of satisfaction that I got from doing something that I really worked at, because I really wanted positive results,” she continued. “In 1966 I worked in the first Title 1 program back when Title 1 money was first released. My husband had gone back to college in North Carolina and I had a job in a rural county with a school that certainly was not affluent, and it qualified for Title 1 funds. I had a group of boys who were in what is now called middle school who could not read, so they were referred to this program, and they all wanted to get a drivers’ license. So of course we worked on all the words that would be in the driver training book.”
Describing her efforts to help these nearly grown boys learn to read, she continued, “I even took sand from the river and made a sandbox so they could make the shape of letters in the sand – sound them out – because they had no phonics background. You know, you couldn’t just take middle school boys and say, ‘OK, we’re going to practice these sounds.’ So we would make the sounds with them as they would make the sounds. Oh, gosh, we had money to spend in schools like I had never seen! And I had such a wonderful selection of high-interest, low-level-vocabulary books, so kids really learned to like books.”
“Near the end of the year, we were packing all that stuff up for the summer and I said, ‘You know, I wish I had some of those old flatirons to use as book-ends,’” she related. “Nobody said anything about it. We were just all talking. Well, at the end of the school year, one of those boys – I still remember his name all these years later – came in and brought me a pair of flat irons. I was just overwhelmed, because I knew where this child lived and I went to the homes and I knew the parents and, well, they had nothing. And I said, ‘Where did you get these?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I tie ‘em behind my bicycle and I pull ‘em through the ‘bacca fields.’ Those flat irons were just something for him to play with out in the middle of nowhere on a farm. Probably the closest thing to a toy he had. Then he said, ‘I’m bringin’ ‘em to you because you taught me to read and that’s all I have to give.’”
She paused for a moment, and finally said, “I still have them. Out in my den in my bookcase. Teachers don’t make much money. But you get those kind of experiences that certainly provide a sense of satisfaction.”
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