Sumter BOE chooses new superintendent

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2016


AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Education has chosen its new superintendent. Following an almost hour-long closed session, the board voted unanimously to offer the position to Torrance Choates, currently superintendent of Baker County Schools. Board member Alice Green made the motion which as seconded by Jim Reid and passed unanimously. Board member Sylvia Roland was absent at Thursday.
Choates has 20 years of experience in education, 16 of which are in administration. He earned a bachelor’s in early childhood education and a master’s in educational leadership from Valdosta State University. He received his doctorate degree in organizational leadership with
specialization in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. His former experience includes work as: a fifth-grade teacher and head wrestling coach in the Valdosta City Schools; an assistant principal of supervision at Cook County Elementary School; an assistant principal of administration and supervision at Cook County High School; a principal of Pelham Elementary School; an assistant principal of Freshman Academy at Thomas County High School; a principal in Baker County K12 Schools; and a superintendent of Baker County Schools from July 2013 until the present.
The board also took the following action at Thursday’s meeting.
• Approved a request by AmeriGospel to hold a workshop and concert in the Americus-Sumter High School gym, at a rate of $1,500 for rental.
• Approved the application for state funding of up to $14 million for the construction of a new high school. Interim Superintendent Larry Walters “highly recommended” board approval of the application. Greg Smith, an architect with Buckley & Associates, which was chosen for the new high school design and construction, told the board that student population will determine how much funding the system receives. “It will pay for a good portion of the cost,” Walters said, “with the rest coming from SPLOST revenues.” Edith Green made the motion to accept which was seconded by Meda Krenson and unanimously approved.
•  Greg Smith went over a document of criteria he wants the board to use in hiring a construction manager for the new high school project. He said the advertisement for RFP (request for proposal) would be published on Sept. 7 with the deadline for receipt on Oct. 6. The board would review the proposals on Oct. 12-13 and conduct interviews on Oct. 24-27. After making their choice, they will vote at the November board meeting. He said the $45 million high school will take two years to build. There is still no word on the site of the new high school. Board member Rick Barnes made the motion to approve the document which was seconded by Edith Green and passed unanimously.
• Assistant Superintendent Walter Knighton gave a presentation on an application for a grant. As a prelude to Knighton’s presentation, Interim Superintendent Walters said a group had been working in the application for several weeks and it must be in Atlanta by Sept. 5. He said it is a very competitive grant in which 29 other school systems are expressing interest. He praised the work done on the application and said, “This is a great step forward for the system if approved.”
Knighton explained that the grant funding is $32 million to be split among the awardees with amounts of $50,000 to $200,000 per year. He listed the Sumter County Schools’ three top priorities as focus in career academy high schools; accountability; and CCRPI. The basic premise of the plan is to increase student performance in the lower grades so they will be prepared when they get to the middle and high school levels.
Rick Barnes asked, “Aren’t we already doing this?” Knighton said “Yes, we’re already doing this but we don’t get the funding. It’s mandated but this grant would fund it.” A key ingredient for success is personnel and this grant would allow the system to hire better qualified personnel, according to Edith Green. The plan includes the hiring of content experts, professional learning, signing bonuses, and incentives for both personnel and students.
Knighton said the approximate $1.9 million budget proposal will be funded by the grant. The deadline for application is Sept. 5 and they should know by Sept. 10-23 if the system makes the first cut. The state board of education will vote at its November meeting and the funds will start coming into the system by July 2017.
Jim Reid commented that none of the system’s principals meet the criteria for rehire under the plan. Knighton said that methods are in place that “present the opportunity for us to meet those criteria by the end of the school year.” Reid commented that during the time he’s been on the board, two years, “We’ve been going backwards instead of forwards.” Walters commented that Dougherty County has this grant and “has had to make changes.”
“I just want everyone to know that tough decisions will be made if standards aren’t met,” Reid said. Rick Barnes said, “It all goes back to you can’t pass the problem on, by passing students [to the next grade].”
Barnes made the motion to approve the grant application which was seconded by Alice Green, and unanimously approved.