Surry sees sharp enrollment decline

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Surry County is one of eight public school systems in Virginia to see a 10% or higher drop in student enrollment from pre-pandemic levels.

Data the Virginia Department of Education released in November shows Surry County Public Schools began the current school year with 657 students, a decline of 81 students or 11% from the 738 enrolled in fall 2019.

According to a VDOE breakdown of the data by individual schools, the majority of Surry’s population losses occurred at Surry Elementary School, which dropped in enrollment by 19.5% over the past two years.

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Surry Elementary had begun the 2019-2020 school year with 298 students, then shuttered along with every other public school in the state in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic reached Virginia.

SCPS was one of a number of school divisions statewide that opted to continue virtual-only instruction through mid-2021. But as of September, despite having reopened for five-day-a-week, in-person instruction, Surry Elementary’s enrollment was down to 240 — lower than it had been in 2020 during virtual-only instruction.

Luther Porter Jackson Middle School also showed a 9.6% decline in enrollment over the past two years. It had 16 fewer students enrolled at the start of the current school year than had been enrolled during virtual-only instruction last year, leaving Surry County High as the division’s only school to show signs of rebounding now that in-person classes have resumed.

Surry County High School began the 2019-2020 school year with 231 students, then dropped to 219 in September 2020, but had 228 students as of this fall, for an overall two-year decline of just three students.

Even before the pandemic, Surry’s division-wide enrollment had been trending downward for years. According to past reporting by The Smithfield Times, the division had 826 students in 2016.

Superintendent Dr. Serbrenia Sims was unable to be reached for comments by press deadline, but had previously stated during a budget meeting last February that there is a nationwide and statewide trend of families moving from rural to suburban or urban areas, leaving small, rural divisions like Surry with fewer and fewer students. State law requires the division to provide and staff certain programs, whether there’s 50 students taking a particular class or 10, she’d said during budget talks with the county’s Board of Supervisors in April.