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Furlow Charter School updates Sumter board of education

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — Elizabeth Kuipers, principal, and Jason Williams, assistant principal, updated the Sumter County board of education at its work session earlier this week, giving facts and figures about the school, which is a public school, during its third year of operation.
Kuipers reiterated that Furlow Charter School (FCS) is a public school and is part of the Sumter County School (SCS) system. The school differs from other schools in the system in that it employs project-based learning, looping, foreign language (French and Spanish), fine arts and service learning.
She briefly described a project-based learning project in which students, known as scholars, read the book “Love, Ruby Lavender,” and then watched eggs hatch and cared for the chicks. The lessons went across the curriculum to math and English language arts.
The FCS demographics were compared to those of the other schools in the system. According to the 2010 Census, SCS had 42 percent white, 51 percent African American and 7 percent other student population. As of November 2017, FCS’s enrollment had 61 percent white, 19 percent African America, 13 percent Hispanic and 7 percent other.
Academic successes at FCS were also highlighted. FCS was the first school to win Best Picture for K-2 and 3-5 films in the same year at the Georgia Movie Academy competition. In the area of dual enrollment, 45 percent of the Class of 2020 FCS scholars (19 current sophomore) are eligible for degree-levels class at Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College, and 20 percent of the Class of 2021 scholars (five freshmen) are eligible. Carmelo Volley was selected as a REACH Scholar for 2017 sponsored by Phoebe Sumter Medical Center.
In the area of CCRPI scores, FCS scored significantly higher than the other schools in the SCS system as well as the state average. (CCRPI scores were requested by this newspaper from the SCS Central Office but there was no response as of press time). FCS’s scores were also high in the Chattahoochee-Flint RESA, scoring third in the 15-county area.
“Furlow Charter School is a great ambassador for Sumter County Schools,” Kuipers told the board. The school’s Odyssey of the Mind teams were 2016 Regional and State Champions and 12th in the World Finals at Michigan State University. The school was recently recognized as the recipient of the Golden Radish Award (2017 Platinum, one of nine districts in Georgia); (2016 Gold, one of 19 districts in Georgia): and honorary in 2015, for its farm-to-table school nutrition program. In the 2016 GHSA Class A Public Area 6, FCS was a runner up in its literary competition. In 2016 and 2017, FCS was runner-up in one-act play competition.
FCS is represented in the Americus Kiwanis Club, the Americus Rotary Club and the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce. The school holds Furlow Nights as community fundraiser at local businesses such as Wendy’s, Zaxby’s, The 1800, Roman Oven, Monroe’s and Little Brother’s Bistro.
In the area of school athletics, FCS offers cross country, softball, basketball, tennis and baseball and will start archery, soccer, golf and disc golf will be added soon. Because of regulations, FCS cannot compete against other schools in the system. In the cross country program, Class of 2021 Scholar Athlete Maya Wynn was the GHSA Class A Public Area 1 Champion and third in the state.
Kuipers reported that parent involvement is of paramount importance at FCS. A group of parents recently trenched an area of the campus and laid PVC for water access to row crops.
In the financial realm, Kuipers reported that Sumter County Schools receive FTE funds, school tax portion of property tax, SPLOST and spent $8,509.36 per pupil in 2016 while Furlow receives the per pupil amount of $5,603 from SCS in FY18 ($5,669 in FY16, $5,633 in FY17 and $5,576 in FY19 and FY20). FCS attempts to bridge the gap with fundraisers and grants. The school provides English as a Second Language, a gifted program and special education services. It recently received a grant of $675,000 for Charter School Implementation.
Kuipers explained that prior the Furlow occupying the former Sarah Cobb School facility, the SCS system removed all furnishings from the building and all the books and equipment from the Media Center. Since then, Furlow has obtained tables, chairs, rugs and reading and math materials from Macon Charter Academy through Charter School Program Asset Redistribution. The school also has awarded grants to replace projectors and projector mounts and books for the Media Center. They also received grants to purchase computers and tablets.
While routinely maintaining the plumbing and lighting, etc. in the building, FCS has spent over $10,000 to improve security through updating security cameras and installing a front office door lock. They’ve cleaned up the entrance to the school and pressure washed the sidewalks. They have corrected plumbing issues and replaced several ballasts in classrooms. Harrowed an area for row crops and installed raised beds.
Kuipers also discussed the challenges and opportunities Furlow Charter School faces.
“We would love to have a stronger sense of stability because of our investment in the building,” she said, adding that there are constant maintenance issues with the building and if the cost is more than $100, it must be paid by the SCS system. She said there is little to no communication between FCS and the Central Office of SCS and the misperception remains that FCS is not a part of the system, but it is.