Surrency versus State

When Georgia wanted to overhaul its public schools in the 1950s, it unveiled the Minimum Foundation Program.

The program worked for both state and school systems. School systems got much needed money to upgrade and in exchange, the state got systems to agree to its conditions. Conditions were for equalization of white and black facilities, certain acreage and location of schools and if impartial surveys indicated that a school was small and losing population, there was a good chance Georgia would decree it be closed and consolidate with another.

In some cases, this led to a battle. Rural schools, especially high schools, were occasionally hesitant to lose their status. Systems like Washington County and Elbert County/Elberton city were late to start building programs because of wars over small high schools.

Others readily accepted Georgia’s offer of money and agreed to consolidate, but ultimately did not.

Ten years later, Georgia was not happy with the stragglers.

In 1963, the State Board of Education asked 11 school systems why they had taken the money, but not adhered to the terms. County systems of Appling, Carroll, Early, Emanuel, Dade, Greene, Randolph, Telfair, Tift, Wheeler and Wilcox were listed. (Others, including Johnson, Stewart and Walton would also be under scrutiny during the decade.)

A meeting was set up in Atlanta March 21. The affected systems were asked to send representatives and explain just why they had not finished the consolidations they had promised to do.

Each system had its own interesting story it told the state. Some went ahead and consolidated, some continued to hold out.

This entry is what happened in Appling County when the Georgia State Board of Education asked it to close Surrency High and Surrency Junior High, the latter a black school located in the town.

(Above: The former Surrency High School as it appears on Google Maps’ Street View.)

It is likely that a survey committee in early 1952 recommended the closure of Surrency High. The Baxley News-Banner did not print the complete survey, but soon after it was announced as having been done, Baxley High changed its name to Appling County High and plans were made to build a new high school with state funds. In doing so, Appling apparently promised the state that Surrency High’s students would go to the new school.

In October 1952, Surrency High petitioned – for the second time, The Baxley News-Banner said – to retain a high school in that town. An argument was made on the grounds of average daily attendance. Surrency High, at 173 students, was similar to other small area high schools.

It was noted in the petition an announcement had been made that Surrency was to be closed as a high school. Approximately 60 students, the petition said, that were to be at Surrency High were going elsewhere because of the announcement.

Surrency kept the high school. No further troubles seemed to arise during Appling’s building program. A handful of new school buildings opened in 1955. Among those were a brand new Appling County High and Appling County Consolidated.

By the time the March 21, 1963 meeting came to pass, Appling County was already in trouble.

In December 1962, the county had once again refused to consolidate Surrency High and had asked the state to reconsider its position. Appling officials then invited state school reps to visit and assess the situation for themselves.

That assessment became a nightmare for Appling County.

A committee composed of Alfred Davis, Joe DeFoor and John Morrison investigated the goings-on at Surrency High. Several things were noted:

Davis recommended the county use $127,000 available in State School Building funds to build an addition to Appling County Consolidated, a Baxley-based black school that served grades 1-3 and 7-12 (another building, Baxley Training, held grades 4-6). All Surrency black students would be sent to Baxley.

Surrency High had an enrollment large enough to support just six state-paid teachers. The school was using nine. In addition to the six from the state, two were being paid by the county. The other was a state-paid educator, but one who was supposed to actually be teaching elementary grades at Surrency.

DeFoor had set up at Fourth District Elementary, a school located near Surrency and which was a feeder for Surrency High. Besides the high school students at Fourth District riding the bus to Surrency was also a number of elementary students.

DeFoor said he counted 26 elementary students going from Fourth District to Surrency, a number he observed on two different days. Fourth District was not overcrowded and in fact, he said, had six empty classrooms. The 26 students bumped Surrency Elementary’s attendance enough to warrant an extra teacher it had not earned. The state allotted an elementary teacher to Appling for every 27 students. Surrency’s attendance had been surveyed at 169 students for grades 1-7 and at 134 for grades 8-12.

Upon hearing of the tricks to boost Surrency’s attendance, Georgia Department of Education officials came down hard on Appling County. Transportation funds in the figure of $1,311 were taken away.

State policy was quoted as, “That no pupils shall be transported from one attendance area to another attendance area when an appropriate school is located in their residential attendance area.”

Three survey committees were recommending consolidation and for it to take place as soon as an addition was building to Appling County High. The state was still dangling $127,000 for building upgrades for Appling County Consolidated.

The surveys pointed out the differences in education between the high schools at Appling County High and Surrency High. Appling offered 52 course units to Surrency’s 32. Appling held a better accredited status. No foreign language courses or industrial arts courses were offered at Surrency.

At Surrency Junior High, the survey deemed the facilities as very unsatisfactory and that they should be abandoned. Attendance at the school was 144 students, with only 11 in eighth grade.

1963-02-07 The Baxley News-Banner (Surrency black school)
Beside a hazy photo of Appling County Consolidated is an image of how Surrency Junior High appeared in 1963. The caption incorrectly states high school students were still in Surrency. Surrency went through eighth grade in 1963 and was also a junior high at the time Appling County Consolidated opened in 1955. (From the February 7, 1963 Baxley News-Banner.)

Appling County had agreed in 1961 to consolidate Surrency Junior High with schools in Baxley and had applied for funds to build on to Appling County Consolidated. However, the stance by the county system for consolidation of Surrency Junior High would harden.

After these assessments, the Appling County Board of Education declined to take action in February. Superintendent Joe Pritchard did reach out to Lonnie Sweat, a member of the State Board of Education from the same district. Sweat advised consolidation.

The March 21 meeting rolled around, but Appling County was able to postpone its appearance. Appling was also fighting the state on the loss of the $1,311 for transportation.

Finally, on May 30, 1963, the State Board of Education made a ruling: Surrency High and Surrency Junior High were to consolidate with schools in Baxley.

Judge Peyton Miles, who spoke for Appling, asked about the legality of the deal made between the system and the state in the 1950s. Miles also asked Surrency schools remain open because Baxley schools were already overcrowded.

Neither of Miles’ arguments worked, but Appling was not through with its appeals.

Surrency High teachers plead their case to Georgia Attorney General Eugene Cook in mid-June. Cook had spoken kindly for rural schools in the past.

Teachers were worried that not only would they not have jobs at Appling County High, that since most faculties had already been named at area schools, they were likely out of luck.

They plead for their students. Class rings had been ordered for the Class of 1964. If they graduated from Appling County, their rings would bear the name of Surrency.

Even Cook could not help. He told a Surrency teacher in a letter their school’s livelihood was in the hands of the State Board of Education.

More details were released about conditions at Surrency Junior High.

Area supervisor J.H. Morrison said doors to the school were open. All materials in the school, including a television set, could be taken by anyone. Morrison said overcrowding was better than remaining in the building.

Appling County made no decisions in mid-June.

State School Superintendent Claude Purcell told the county to consolidate or risk the loss of state funds for breaking the agreement with the state from 10 years earlier.

On July 9, 1963, Appling agreed to consolidate, on certain conditions.

The county school system wanted more time to prepare for consolidation. Board members wanted an addition at Appling County High built before students were moved. They also voted to ask for a new black school at Surrency, instead of consolidating at Baxley.

Board member Curtis Herndon said it would be “a burden” on Surrency’s black students to attend schools at Baxley.

The State Board of Education refused Appling’s requests. Appling finally acquiesced to consolidate both schools. Registration dates for Surrency students at Appling County High were announced.

Soon after, paperwork was signed to build additions at Appling County High and Appling County Consolidated to relieve the overcrowding from the influx of Surrency students that arrived in 1963.

Surrency Elementary (nee Surrency High) is no longer a school. It held on until c. 1977. The main building and lunchroom still stand. A gymnasium, completed in early 1954, seems to have been torn down.

Amazingly, Fourth District, the school whose students Surrency was bringing in to boost its own attendance, is still open as an elementary.

Appling County High, constructed in 1955 and added onto after Surrency High’s arrival, was in use for around 50 years. A new building has been constructed on the same site.

The location of Surrency Junior High has not been verified. It is not labeled on a 1950 census enumeration map of Appling County. Other black schools are, indicating it was located within the city limits of Surrency. Considering the photograph printed in The Baxley News-Banner in 1963, it has likely long been demolished.

Nearly all of Appling County Consolidated was demolished between 2010-14. The gymnasium has been extensively renovated. Upon total integration, its name was changed to Appling Junior High. A new middle school was built in c. 1994 at a different location.

Sources: Wheeler County Eagle – Mar. 3, 1963; The Baxley News-Banner – June 12, 1952, Oct. 16, 1952, Jan. 17, 1963, Jan. 31, 1963, Feb. 14, 1963, Mar. 21, 1963, June 6, 1963, June 13, 1963, June 20, 1963, July 11, 1963, July 25, 1963, Aug. 15, 1963; The Atlanta Constitution – June 12, 1963; Waycross Journal-Herald – Feb. 13, 1954. Multiple editions of the Georgia Education Directory.

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