“If you build it, they will come” was the approach the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce took in reinstating their popular “Lunch with Leaders” program, according to Chamber President Randy Collins.
“We anticipated 50 people, and we got 50 people,” said Collins of the first of the newly restored events on Thursday.
“It was very popular,” said Collins, “and a lot of people asked us to bring it back. Many members can’t make our after-hours events, and they wanted us to bring back lunch events.”
Collins said the chamber would identify community leaders and bring them in to speak at future events. But the first leaders chosen to speak were the superintendents of two local school systems: Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent of Mount Airy Schools, and Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent of Surry County Schools.
“The lives of thousands of our children are in your care every day,” said Collins to the two speakers. “Responsibility for students, staff and faculty rests on your shoulders.”
Dr. Kim Morrison
“We have 45 more students than last year. It’s the first time in a long time that has happened,” began Morrison. “Families have been moving out of the district.”
“We are small. We can cater to every child in our district,” she said.
Morrison said Mount Airy was one of only seven systems in the state meeting or exceeding growth expectations.
“When you build a good team, you just watch the miracles happen.”
Alongside academics and the arts which teach creativity, Morrison said the school system is working to give students a global perspective. Starting in kindergarten, student can elect a Spanish immersion program where 90 percent of their day is in Spanish. The program is for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking children.
“There’s a long waiting list,” said Morrison.
“In grades six through twelve, we offer Mandarin Chinese,” she added. Students learn the language and culture of China. Students partaking in both programs can leave high school fluent in three languages.
Recently, 24 students traveled to China on a school trip. Twelve of them had never been on a plane, and some of them had never been outside the county before going to China.
“Athletics create a well-rounded person,” said Morrison, adding that as a music person, athletics were not her strong suit, but that she was learning from her children.
“I do understand back-to-back state championships,” she said, briefly mentioning Lincoln Charter Academy, saying, “we won’t go down that road. We can’t recruit from a multi-county area,” and quickly ending her comments on the subject with a brisk, “Moving on.”
Morrison ended by saying the school system was halfway through a four-year strategic plan that runs until 2020.
Dr. Travis Reeves
Reeves began his talk by saying Surry County Schools were “lighting pathways to global success.”
Surry County Schools has 8,000 students in 19 schools, and with 1,100 employees, is the largest employer in Surry County, according to Reeves.
“That’s a title I would like to pass on,” he added, looking out into the audience of business leaders.
“The system ranks 13 out of 115 systems in the state in overall academic achievement,” said Reeves. “We have a 90.6-percent graduation rate, which is an all-time high. The high schools get credit for that, but it starts in elementary school.”
“We want to give kids the skills they will need. I’ve heard Todd Tucker (president of Surry Economic Development Partnership) talk a lot about the skills gap. We are giving kids skills that are transferable from the classroom to the boardroom.”
Reeves said that for graduating students “a high school diploma is the bare minimum you walk across the floor with,” adding that students were receiving college credits and career credentials while still in high school.
“Forty-three percent of juniors and seniors are enrolled in college courses, and that does not include the Early College,” said Reeves.
By taking college courses in high school, students have saved more than a million dollars in tuition costs since 2012, with $297,000 in tuition savings for 2017 alone.
“It’s easy to look at the younger generation and be concerned about what’s going to happen, but don’t give up on our teenagers.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.