By Tom Tolen /

With the hiring of a new Brighton Area Schools superintendent, Laura Surrey ended her duties as interim superintendent last week.

Surrey was brought out of retirement and approved for the temporary post on June 24th in a 7-0 board vote. She began her duties on July 1st, after the departure of highly respected former superintendent Greg Gray, who held the top job for 11 years.

Surrey, who is 60, has spent fully half of her 40 years in education in the Brighton Area Schools, but none have been as intense or stress-filled as her job as interim superintendent. Surrey says that being interim superintendent in Brighton right in the middle of the pandemic was “the hardest job…and the most important one” she has ever taken on. Surrey says the times we are in — with the coronavirus taking its toll on individuals and institutions — have been difficult on everybody, and her responsibility “was overwhelming at times.” Surrey reports that the district has had 10 positive coronavirus cases since July 31st, adding that some are adults and some students, most of them related to extracurricular or out-of-school social events.

Surrey has worked long hours during the last 3.5 months, and assisted the Return-to-School Committee and its instructional subcommittee in development of a plan of action for the resumption of classes. The hybrid program involves in-the-classroom instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays - with Wednesdays reserved for online instruction and as a deep cleaning day at district schools. The program, designed to help ensure the viability of the educational program in the middle of major medical crisis — seems to be working so far. And parents who had concerns about their children being in school physically have had the option of enrolling in the Brighton Virtual Academy, an all-online program.

Surrey says the 2-1-2 program “seems to be helping mitigate the spread of the virus.” In her words, “Wednesday gives us all one less day of transportation, lunch, passing times in the halls, etc.,” adding she is “pleased that we have not had an outbreak in our schools.” Despite ending her duties as interim supt., Surrey is staying on until the end of the year, assisting newly hired Superintendent Matthew Outlaw by helping him get acclimated in his new post.

Surrey has also taken on the role of acting director of the Brighton Virtual Academy, a position in which she will remain until the end of the year, when the board will be tasked with hiring a permanent director. Surrey says the BVA has been a surprising success, with about 875 students in grades junior kindergarten through eight. She says the fact that so many students signed up for the program “shows that (the) community wanted this option.” Surrey says some families chose the online program “because of their own health issues, and some chose it to help (the) schools achieve social distancing.” Surrey calls those families the district’s “unsung heroes.”

Board of Education members and fellow administrators have been universal in their praise of Surrey, calling her a person of extraordinary ability who brought the curriculum development program to the point where Brighton schools are now rated among the top 3% in the state and Brighton High School among in the top 3% in the nation. Asked whether she had any advice for new Supt. Matthew Outlaw, Surrey says he “doesn’t need any.” She says he is the right person for the job, and that “he’s going to do great things for the students, staff, and families of this district.”