After decades with the Henry County Public School system and five years in her current post, Henry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sandy Strayer retired on July 1, and two days later, started her new job as the Harvest Foundation’s new health and education program officer.
Strayer worked in the school division for 31 years.
“I’m always telling my people that are apprehensive about making a change. Change is hard for people, (and) that they need to think about the impact they could have on people,” Strayer said.
But she was convinced it was time for a new leader to do things better, “but also, this is a change for me where I can meet a different group of people and have an impact in a different way,” she said.
Strayer said her father is also turning 85 years old in September and is completely blind.
“It’s hard. As a superintendent, I believe you need to be at all those evening events so that you know what’s happening and interact with people, and it’s hard to do those things with my father and the way he is,” she said.
Strayer attended school in Henry County and returned as a student teacher in 1991 at Bassett High School. She was hired there the following year, starting in August 1992. Strayer served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, assistant superintendent for operations administrative services, and superintendent.
“I love this place,” she said of the school division. “It’s hard. There’s been a lot of tears shed the last couple of months.”
Her husband has a saying that Strayer said she often repeats: “Life’s all about relationships and how you treat people. And I have been blessed with having so many people come into my life through my different jobs at the school system and forged a lot of lifelong friendships. This school system has given me so many opportunities and experiences,” she said.
Strayer believes her greatest accomplishment as superintendent was forging relationships with others. A firm believer in a person’s civic duty, Strayer thinks one of the problems in society is people who don’t feel they have a voice or don’t think they can say things.
“I think I have spent the last five years trying to encourage people that are in the trenches. Like, sometimes people that are above don’t know exactly what the problems are, but if people speak up and say, ‘here’s an issue or here’s something that’s not right,’ then we can affect change,” she said.
Strayer is also proud of her efforts to make the school’s salary scale equitable, instilling high expectations for academic achievement and behavior in everyone, and ensuring that everyone knows the division cares about the students.
“It’s not just that we have them from eight in the morning till three in the afternoon. We truly care about these students and” want them to “be able to look back and say, ‘Henry County schools helped me,’” she said.
Strayer said the bonds she developed with others, coworkers and students, are among her best memories of her time with the school division.
“I have so many students, they’ve included me in their lives. The last few months they’ve been ‘Oh, I can’t believe you’re leaving, you made such a difference in our lives,’” she said, tearing up.
Former students who have gone into education have reached out to her, including one she hadn’t heard from since 1995, as well as parents of those she taught.
“So, I would say that overall, it’s the relationships that when people have reached back out and said, ‘you made a difference because you took the time to listen and to encourage me to do my best or to try harder,’” she said.
Strayer said she feels blessed to have the opportunities, experiences, and the trust of the community.
“I look forward to continuing to work with our community, to let people know what a great community Martinsville-Henry County is and all the things that our community has to offer, and just try to keep enriching the community,” she said.