By Johnny Jackson
Henry County's outgoing superintendent of schools has been receiving well-wishes since he declared his intentions to retire.
Michael Surma made the announcement in June that he would step down, effective Dec. 31, after more than 15 years in the Henry County School System. He served his last two-and-a-half years as superintendent.
"I have really enjoyed the past 15-and-a-half years working in the Henry County Schools," said Surma. "I will miss all of the wonderful colleagues and community members with whom I have had the good fortune to work.
"The Henry County community can be very proud of the excellent educators who work daily to ensure the educational success of its students," he said. "As I look forward to having more leisure time for recreational activities, I hope that I can continue to interact with many of these great people in the future."
Community leaders have collectively expressed appreciation for Surma, during his brief tenure as leader of the 40,000-plus student school system.
Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer said his office's deputies and school resource officers were able to work closely with the superintendent. "He has always been very supportive of our school resource officers," said McBrayer. "He made it much easier for us to do our job in trying to keep the kids safe at school. He was very supportive of law enforcement, and kept the kids' safety at heart."
Surma also has been a major player in Henry County's Outdoor Education Partnership with the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority, and other state and local agencies, to provide students with non-traditional outdoor enrichment opportunities, said Lindy Farmer, the water authority's general manager.
"He's always been very community-service-minded -- just an outstanding individual and professional," Farmer said. "He's done a tremendous job for the board of education, and has provided excellent leadership during difficult economic times. I hate to see Michael go."
"My first year has been a pleasure working in Henry County, and Michael Surma has been a big part of that," added Henry County Manager Butch Sanders.
Sanders said he has worked cooperatively with Surma over the past several months, discussing logistics of county projects involving transportation, capital improvements and recreation, as well as developing related plans for the county and the school system.
"We definitely will miss him, but commend him, and wish him the very best in his retirement," said June Wood, the education committee chairperson of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.
"Michael has been very dedicated in his tenure, not just with the school system but his commitment to engage in the business community," she continued. "We have definitely seen a great partnership with him."
Wood credited Surma with helping steer Henry County toward a higher quality of living, by expanding its educational opportunities. "The legacy that he leaves with us are the indicators for the 'measures of success' that are defined by the 'Ready By 21' education and workforce-development initiative," she said. "And that is commendable."
Ready By 21, Wood explained, is a community-wide initiative that will launch in the new year as a means to improve educational opportunities and workforce readiness. She said the initiative will complement other efforts and partnerships that Surma has been involved in over the years.
Surma was part of the planning process in providing local space for future higher education institutions. He also saw the school system's Academy for Advanced Studies come to fruition in 2009.
The outgoing superintendent said he began his educational mission nearly 35 years ago in Illinois. He said he amassed more than 19 years of teaching and administrative experience there, before joining the Henry County School System.
In a previous interview with the Henry Daily Herald, Surma noted that his retirement will give him and his wife, Marygrace, additional learning opportunities.
"I look forward to having more time available to explore other interests and learning activities in my retirement," said Surma. "I'm not retiring for another job. It's just an opportunity in my life to see what other opportunities are out there. After 35 years in education, I would like to spend some quality time with my wife, and be able to have the opportunity to travel, and do more of the things we like to do."