Dr. William “Bill” Sroufe started a new chapter Monday when he assumed the role of superintendent for the Colonial Heights School division.
Before that, he spent five years at the helm of Patrick County Schools, working to raise performance and accreditation levels, put technology into the hands of students and lead by involving others.
The reasons for the successes Sroufe has had in the Patrick division are due to the people he worked with on a daily basis.
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and then listen to them,” Sroufe said in a recent interview about his exit from Patrick County.
As he prepared to leave his office here, Sroufe said he wrote each individual a note that said, in part, “I will cherish each moment and each of you as educators. The work we have done together has been extraordinary. The odds were sometimes against us, and while we may have stumbled, we never faltered in our common goal to do what is best for kids.
“As we move forward, I encourage you to always have that vision. As I have said to many of you in private conversations, and publicly ‘This is hard work.’ If it was not hard anyone could do it, but the facts remain that not anyone can be an educator. It takes special qualities and commitment. It takes resilience, fortitude, and a love for students. This is a great school system because of the work you are doing. Remember always your purpose, and do not let anyone tell you differently,” Sroufe wrote.
He said a good school system is a necessary component to economic development, and he hopes that a county which many times has called for its school superintendent to step down – dating at least back to the 1940s – will “individually and collectively stop criticizing a great school system where people are dedicated and spend a great amount of time” on their jobs.
Teacher pay is important, he said, because like everyone else, “teachers have things like mortgages, car payments, student loans and we don’t want people to undervalue themselves. There is an epidemic shortage of teachers.
“People ought to realize that when they publicly criticize the school system and me,” or whoever is serving as superintendent, “people can go almost anywhere to teach. Why would they want to stay here,” Sroufe asked.
As for the critics, “what do they know about it (running or working in the division),” Sroufe asked. “What do they really know about it? Because they went to school” they gained insight about how to manage a school division, he asked incredulously.
Quoting ‘The Man in the Arena,’ a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, Sroufe said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
He added “let the people at the schools run the schools. Be honest with them and support them. There is no reason to throw stones or be critical.”
Most of all, if the locality has financial problems, “don’t blame the school system. The school system doesn’t deserve that kind of chaos,” he said.
“Our elementary schools do a tremendous amount of work,” Sroufe said, adding each needs a full-time art teacher, guidance counselor, librarian and other support positions. “Just because we didn’t do it before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Embrace some change” that will help teachers and students.
Going forward, “keep the main thing the main thing and the main thing is to do what is best for our kids,” which also means taking care of teachers and other staff, Sroufe said. “We took care of adults a lot,” by making needed changes to health benefits, securing pay hikes, leasing computers to equip teachers with the most up-to-date technology available, providing Smart TVs to classrooms and the like.
“We were constantly looking out for adults so they could look out for our kids,” Sroufe said. “Teachers go above and beyond. They don’t deserve a board of supervisors who say they support them, but they really don’t.
“The school board has always advocated to pay people more and do what’s best for kids,” Sroufe said, and encouraged local leaders “to come together without a dog and pony show and do what’s best for kids. Even if we don’t have the money, even if you can’t give it to us, there is no need to criticize. Why not just communicate and then support the school system better when they can and when they’re solvent. It can work when people communicate. There is no need for criticism.”