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Perspective | Investing in school leadership: Surry County Schools’ commitment

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  • "Leadership in education extends far beyond the ability to manage a school. It encompasses the capacity to lead oneself, lead others, and affect meaningful change in our world," writes POY @DonnaBledsoe14 @SurryCoSchools. #bringthejoy #nced
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In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the role of a school leader has become increasingly complex and demanding. The ability to lead, inspire, and adapt to change is paramount in shaping the future of our students and communities.

Surry County Schools has a visionary approach to leadership development that has been yielding remarkable results and setting a shining example for other districts to follow.

By equipping all principals with a decade of intensive work partnering with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and other valuable leadership experiences, Surry County is investing in a brighter educational future for all.  

The recent culmination of this leadership journey took place on July 27, 2023, when Surry County’s school leaders gathered at the picturesque White Sulphur Springs, guided by the CCL in powerful professional development on “Better Conversations.”

Courtesy of Donna Bledsoe

This event marked not just a milestone, but it was a testament to Surry County Schools’ unwavering commitment to nurturing leadership capacity.

The impact of this investment in leadership development is evident in the holistic approach taken by the district. It’s not just about ticking off boxes or fulfilling requirements but about fostering leaders who can truly lead, inspire, and transform. By engaging in these programs, Surry County’s educational leaders are equipped with the tools they need to excel in the ever-changing landscape of education.

“Leadership in education extends far beyond the ability to manage a school. It encompasses the capacity to lead oneself, lead others, and affect meaningful change in our world.”

— Principal of the Year Donna Bledsoe

Surry County Schools’ commitment to nurturing these qualities in its principals is truly commendable. It is a recognition of the critical role that educational leaders play in shaping the future of our public school communities.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Surry County’s approach to leadership development is the view of leadership capacity as an investment, not an expense. Surry County Schools understands that by investing in the growth and development of its school leaders, they are investing in the future of their students and communities.

This forward-thinking approach not only benefits the district but also contributes to lower school leader turnover rates. Leaders who feel valued and empowered are more likely to stay committed to their roles. When educators are supported in their professional growth, they are better equipped to tackle the challenges that arise.

Surry County’s investment in leadership capacity helps create a stable and motivated leadership team, which in turn provides continuity and stability to school communities. Lower turnover rates among school leaders also lead to improved school cultures. When principals stay in their roles longer, they can build stronger relationships with teachers, students, and parents. This continuity allows for the implementation of long-term strategies and a deeper understanding of the unique needs of each school community. 

The impact of these initiatives on Surry County’s educational ecosystem is undeniable. The investment in leadership development has led to a positive feedback loop. As Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves notes, “Surry County Schools has been intentional in our work to build leadership in the culture and fabric of our school system.”

This intentionality benefits both students and staff. Superintendent Reeves goes on to emphasize the importance of continual growth and challenge in the realm of education leadership. The recent CCL session on “Better Conversations” underscores the significance of effective communication within the educational landscape. Indeed, educational leaders must not only be well-versed in pedagogy but also skilled in listening, asking powerful questions, challenging and supporting their teams, and establishing meaningful next steps.

In Surry County Schools, the mission goes beyond traditional education. Superintendent Reeves proudly proclaims, “In Surry County Schools, our mission is to help our students and employees design their dreams and grow as leaders.”

This mission is the driving force behind the district’s commitment to leadership development — a commitment that recognizes that leadership is not just a job title but a way to empower individuals to reach their full potential in order to thrive.

“Education leaders play a critical role in shaping the future of our public school communities.”

— Principal of the Year Donna Bledsoe

First year principal, Martha Arrington, states “As a first-year principal, the Better Conversations Everyday (BCE) session was very valuable as it addressed challenges that school leaders face daily. Also, it allowed me to collaborate with principals within my district and practice the skills needed to coach and provide feedback to my team. I look forward to applying the skills I learned to provide a trusting, positive, and thriving school culture.”

The positive gains in leadership capacity will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on Surry County’s public school communities and serve as a beacon for educational excellence.

Donna Bledsoe

Donna Bledsoe is the principal of Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Surry County and the 2023 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year. Before becoming principal of Cedar Ridge in 2015, Bledsoe served as a classroom teacher, instructional specialist, and assistant principal.