Torrance Choates: Success of Sumter Schools

Published 3:20 pm Monday, February 5, 2018

In this week’s column, I am going attempt to break down some of the untold truths of the Sumter County School System. Sumter County Schools offer the most complete and comprehensive education in this entire community. It is also the driving force of keeping stability in this community. From an economic impact, without Sumter County Schools, the community, the local businesses and industry would be in ruins. Through the years, the Sumter County School System has received some negativity on her reputation.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is alive and well in Sumter County. The self-fulfilling prophecy is basically something that is not true, but if repeated over and over it becomes true even if it is not true. Some of our very own community members have talked about how the school system has not done a good job of educating students. The negative conversations have continued for many years, which have given the system a negative perception.
However, the truth be told, Sumter County Schools is flourishing. Americus Sumter High School has made drastic improvements. Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high of 89.3.  Our CCRPI is 70.4. Dual enrollment is being offered. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement data reveals that 60.4 percent of the seniors that graduate enroll in college. This proves that at least 60.4 percent of our students are college and career ready; however, it is much greater than that actual number. The high school has been honored as an Advanced Placement (A.P.) School during the 2014-2016 school years. Fifteen career pathways are being offered at this time in hopes of catching students who would normally be uninterested in school. Opening multiple pathways helps to give these students added career options. The high school as well as the 9th Grade Academy have been removed from the priority schools list.
Americus-Sumter High School graduated 44 Honor Graduates this past year. Many of these honor graduates have gone on to attend Ivy League and Division I universities across the nation. Students are currently attending the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Emory, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida State, Arkansas, and there are three students currently attending Princeton University. Additionally, we have graduates attending U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy and the Georgia Military Academy. The 44 Honor Graduates can compete with any student across this nation and are some of the brightest students in this entire community. In retrospect, this is due because of the enormity of rigor that has been placed in our curriculum.
Another concern that some of the community has is that students from the Sumter County School System are students with troubled lives. These students have been labeled as being very destructive, having no respect, and having major attitudes. This has driven some people to send their children elsewhere. Sumter County Schools does have some students who exhibit inappropriate behavior, but it is a very small percentage. The vast majority of the students that I have encountered have very positive and respectful attitudes.
Honestly speaking, the Sumter County Schools System does have some issues just like every system in our country. However, the challenges that we face are improving every day. We are making a solid commitment to bring this system back to prominence. The work effort that is being generated is remarkable. I am excited and cannot wait to see the upcoming test scores at the end of this school year. Academic rigor is being placed seamlessly; discipline is stronger than it has ever been. With that being said, we are teaching students to think about their actions and the immediate consequences that will await. Teachers are being able to teach more than ever. A stronger dress code policy has been put into place. Principals have been told to hold the line and support their teachers in the classroom. A productive teacher, parent advisory, and a student leadership team are meeting to discuss ways to improve the district. There is a plan to do much more with these groups than it be just rhetoric.
It has also troubled me and I have asked why are some of our employees opting to send their children to other systems. While this is totally a personal decision, I often wonder why some have chosen this direction. If I had children, my children would definitely attend this system. I am a little biased. This is an excellent system that will only get better. In the coming months, I plan to gently open this discussion to gain a better understanding.
A new high school is on the horizon! Sumter County board of education members, administrators, teachers, the community are involved in many discussions on what is needed in classrooms, gyms, cafeterias and other areas in the school. The three-tiered partnership with One Sumter, Sumter County Schools, and South Georgia Technical College to add a $3 million College and Career Academy to be located at the new high school is underway! This will open up unlimited pathways for our students who are searching for careers.
The last couple of years, this system placed an extra effort in embracing the community, local business leaders and stakeholders. The increased efforts of Mary Beth Bass and the One Sumter Foundation have solidified a community that can thrive for future generations. Hands are being held on many forefronts. One Sumter, Sumter County Schools, Sumter Chamber of Commerce, South Georgia Tech, Georgia Southwestern, Georgia Power, Sumter EMC, Family Connection, and other entities have built a strong and lasting network of working together. This is enough ammunition to fuel an entire county. I believe Sumter County can be the greatest county in this state. We have one major problem that needs to be addressed. People of all races need to set aside racial differences in order to work, live and play together!
Last but not least, we are bound together by the road that stands before us. It is a road which leads to hope, love and a desire to see all of our children learn, love, grow strong and free. We are Sumter County!

Torrance Choates, Ed.D., is superintendent of Sumter County Schools.