Sumter County Schools recognized as model for the state

Published 9:15 am Wednesday, February 8, 2017

AMERICUS — In the past few months, Sumter County Schools have twice been recognized by the Georgia Board of Education (GBE) for its comprehensive and innovative approach to curriculum development.
“Exciting work is taking place in Sumter County!” was the word proclaimed in the newsletter of GBE’s Division of School and District Effectiveness. That particular issue cited the comprehensive effort Sumter Schools was undertaking in examining its entire math and English Language curriculum from the kindergarten through 12th grade.
In another issue, the same publication noted the system’s efforts to make sure leaders in the schools have a shared understanding of what quality in education looks like so they can share those same goals with their teachers. The administrative team reviews lesson plans, identifies the kind of feedback necessary to increase the capacity of the teachers, discusses classroom observations, and compares lesson plans to actual instruction, all so they can develop a common language and provide consistent, high quality feedback to teachers.
This is a great practice that could be used as a model for other schools in the region, the publication noted, citing Sumter County Schools as being on the forefront of curriculum development.
These are some of the many ways the school district is working with teachers and administrators to ensure quality education for all students.
“The district has a responsibility to ensure that all students have a guaranteed and viable curriculum no matter whose class they are in,” said Associate Superintendent Walter Knighton, who is overseeing the improvement initiatives.
The curriculum assessment uses a wide variety of data sources in math and English language arts from grades K-12 to see where any curriculum imperfections might exist. One lost concept could hamper the successful progression of students from one grade to the next. That assessment is being facilitated by experts in each field who are also ensuring the system meets state and national standards.
“One thing we are seeing here that we don’t see in other districts is that they are developing a plan for the whole district,” said Content Expert Claire Pierce, an instruction reformer with the National Center on Education and the Economy. “I think that is very impressive.”
Typically, curriculum is assessed on a grade by grade level without attention to what had occurred before. Thus, deficiencies in the development of math skills in, say, the third grade, become problems in the fourth grade, which worsen. By the time the student gets to high school, the problems are insurmountable.
“Other districts may be working on high school curriculum, but really, the problems are with what they are doing in the earlier grades,” said Content Expert Deborah Craven, a 41-year educator. “This district is to be commended for looking at all grades because they are all inter-related.”
Craven had previously served as Arkansas Project Manager responsible for a $30 million School Improvement Initiative over 42 districts.
The results of the work in Sumter County has thus far been very constructive.
“After analyzing the data with teachers and leaders, we have finally found systematically what the issue is with mathematics,” said Knighton.
The benefits were echoed by Sumter Primary School Principal Lezley Anderson, Ed.D. “They helped us to think through what kind of strategies to use,” said Anderson. “It was really good. It doesn’t blame anybody.”
Said the magazine about Sumter County Schools: “The effort also includes the development of “Mindset Mondays” whereby teachers take the time to help students understand that they can solve complex math problems.
“A similar district-wide review of the English language arts is also taking place.
“As professional learning continues each month, teachers are working hard to implement new strategies for the new more rigorous curriculum the publication noted. School and district leaders are developing plans to monitor and support the work so it will continue with fidelity.”