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Americus High alumnus makes plea to school board

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — With barely a quorum present, the Sumter County Board of Education held its monthly work session Monday evening. Board members Jim Reid and Sylvia Roland were absent, as was board chair Dr. Mike Busman. Vice chair, Rick Barnes ran the meeting, and board members Alice Green, Meda Krenson and Edith A. Green were present.
Rusty Whaley, a local citizen of Americus, had requested and benen granted permission to address the board. He introduced himself as a 1976 graduate of Americus High School and a long-time supporter of the school.
“I am here to ask officials to legalize the Americus-Sumter Panthers for the future,” Whaley said. Whaley cited the “years of excellence” of the school’s team and said that because he was happy with the combined school system (when Americus City and Sumter County consolidated), he decided to move back to Americus to live.
Whaley appealed to the board to keep the name “Americus” in the identity of the new high school mascot. “History is important to our future,” he told them. “Don’t make us lose our identity.”
He concluded, “I’m begging you, folks, from the bottom of my heart: do not bury a major part of this area’s history.”
The board of education decided a couple of months ago to name the new high school “Sumter County High School.” No further decisions have been announced.
John LeJeune, chairman of the governing board of Furlow Charter School, also addressed the board, requesting permission for an enrollment increase, from 475 students, or “scholars” as the school calls them, to 600. LeJeune said the state Department of Education has informed the Furlow board that they must get local board approval for the increase, and also must submit a strategic diversity plan. His presentation to the board included information on the charter school’s performance on the CCRPI, as well as attendance. LeJeune stressed that this request for an increase in enrollment is not to be confused with a request for a renewal of the charter which will be made to the board in May or June.
The board will vote on the enrollment request at Thursday’s regular board meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Helen Ricketts, director of the Sumter County Schools’ human resources department, made a presentation to the board, describing all the functions of her department.
Cliff Hayes, director of the school system’s ombudsman alternative school program, also gave a presentation to the board, updating them on the successes of the program. Hayes noted that visibility and accountability are extremely important in any successful program. He said that discipline has been the focus of the first semester and has changed the entire culture of the program. He said daily assemblies provide opportunities for staff to urge students to discuss issues and make good choices. He said he is “big on appearance,” and requires students to tuck their shirts into pants worn correctly. He said the noise level has been dramatically reduced by having teachers change classes rather than students.
Hayes believes taking the right tack with students from the beginning is tantamount to success. “Instead of asking them ‘Why are you here? What did you do?’ We’re saying, ‘You’re here; let’s make some changes.’”
Hayes continued, “It’s a powerful incentive for students to realize that of they obtain goals, they can transition back out of the program.” He stressed that social and emotional issues must be addressed first with their students before even getting to academics.
Board member Alice Green asked about transitioning out of the program, being that some students prefer to stay.
“One of my goals is for students not to want to go back,” he said. “If we have space and the staff is in agreement, we will keep them. Some just don’t want to transition back.”
Sumter County Schools Superintendent Torrance Choates, Ed.D., commented that those who wish to not transition back into the classroom are eligible for extra-curricular activities.
Hayes said he “loves” the set up of the ombudsman program which is housed in the former Americus-Sumter High North building, because it is not “isolated but has a school atmosphere.”
During committee reports, Alice Green, chair of the curriculum committee, reported that AdvanceEd, which credentials the school system, has said the system’s doing so well that it will not be assessed again until after June 30, 2021.
Meda Krenson, chair of the property committee, said the committee will recommend the acceptance of Stage Front as consultant for integrated production systems design services for the new high school at a cost of $12,500. She said the consultant would oversee the $250,000 for the various equipment needed. This is a budgeted item, she said, in Parrish Construction’s budget for the project. The board will vote on this Thursday.
In other business, Rick Barnes discussed the necessity of having a separate bank account for SPLOST revenues for the construction of the new high school. He said this would allow the board to deposit funds into the account because they are anticipating a $3 million shortfall in the project. “The SPLOST funds will be exhausted before any funds in the account will be used,” he said. “Hopefully, we won’t need money from the account until the back end of the project. The state recommends we have this new account so it can be monitored. If the money is not needed, it will be returned to the General Fund. This will get us funded for our new school. It is an interest-bearing account blending local general funds and SPLOST revenues.”
The board will vote on this measure Th