Francis Zehr and Sandy Strayer

Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer (right) makes a point during the school board's planning meeting July 25 at Chatmoss Country Club. Board Chair Francis Zehr is at left.

Henry County School Board Chair Francis Zehr said his board is pleased with the performance of Superintendent Sandy Strayer in her first nine months since landing the job on a permanent basis.

On Monday, Zehr provided a summary of the school board’s recent annual evaluation of Strayer, which was discussed in closed session during a planning meeting on July 25.

The Bulletin had requested a copy of that evaluation, but Zehr said the school board attorney had said that a performance review is not a public document. Zehr volunteered to provide a summary.

He did so on Monday, when he wrote in an email: “The board is very pleased with the leadership Mrs. Strayer has exhibited since assuming the role of superintendent of Henry County Public Schools last fall. She has worked diligently to ensure that the practices and procedures in place in each department and school of our division are supporting student growth and success.

“It has been her request that the board provide her with suggestions for further growth and improvement. We are asking her to continue to focus on enhancing reading and writing instruction for students at all levels so that their skills continue to increase. Additionally, we have asked her to work with the staff to continue to streamline the budget and work toward increasing salaries for our high-quality professionals.”

The school board named Strayer superintendent on Nov. 1 after she had served as the interim superintendent since May 2018, when Jared Cotton left to take over Chesapeake Public Schools. Strayer became the second female superintendent in the history of HCPS.

In a follow-up phone interview, Zehr said that on Virginia Standards of Learning test scores, the school division is “a little weak in reading and writing, so … our main emphasis is to work on those skills.”

At the school board’s planning meeting, Lisa Millner, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, presented preliminary data from this past school year that indicated students had showed improvement in six academic “success indicators” from 2017-18 and declines in three.

Millner said improvements were in third-grade reading, fifth-grade math and Algebra I on Standards of Learning tests, as well as fifth-grade Scholastic Reading Inventory (which tests reading comprehension), on-time graduation rate and seniors who earned one of more career/professional credentials with a standard diploma.

There were declines in third-grade Scholastic Reading Inventory and in fifth-grade reading and eighth-grade writing in Standards of Learning tests.

On the issue of salaries, Zehr said the school board wants to make sure salaries are fair and equitable to everybody and to try to increase salaries to be competitive. He said he has been told some school divisions are having trouble filling some teacher positions. Henry County Public Schools has some vacancies, he said, such as some foreign language teachers.

He described Strayer as very dedicated and said he fears she might be working too many hours.

“She’s almost too dedicated. We don’t want her to get burned out,” Zehr said, describing how Strayer, 50, arrives at work early in the morning and is working late at night.

Zehr said that, from what he can tell, the business community likes that the school board appointed Strayer. “They like it when you promote local people. It’s good for everyone’s morale,” Zehr said.

A graduate of Drewry Mason High School, except for time she spent earning degrees at Radford University (bachelor’s), George Mason (master’s) and the University of Virginia (education administration specialist), her entire educational career has been spent in Henry County. She joined HCPS in 1992 as a teacher at Bassett High School.

Strayer’s contract runs through 2022. Her salary at the time of her appointment was $135,000, $10,000 more than what she had earned on an interim basis.

Her current salary is $139,725, Monica Hatchett, a spokeswoman for the school division, said Strayer told her.

According to Hatchett, Strayer also said that “her contract states that she will receive an annual increase of 1% or the average percentage increase approved by the board for instructional personnel.”

For 2019-20 instructional personnel received an increase of 3.5%. “This increase was also applied to Mrs. Strayer’s salary,” Hatchett said.

In addition to her salary, Strayer receives an annuity and a monthly transportation allowance.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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