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Torrance Choates: It is cheaper to educate than to incarcerate

In this week’s column, I will be discussing the impact education could have on lowering the crime rate as well as improving workforce and economic development. First of all, I want to express, as we all have opinions, this is solely my opinion. In this article, I want to be very transparent. Some of things that I am going to address, people may not want to hear. At best, I ask that you try to have an open mind and understand the dynamics that are taking shape here in Sumter County and across the United States.
Sumter County is a beautiful place to live and raise a family. The city of Americus is the perfect size, not too big and not too small. Just right! The Sumter County School District is making great strides toward student achievement and excellence. Academically, the System is tied for 3rd place in the Chattahoochee-Flint RESA District. We have increased from 59.6 to 70.9. Our goal is to lead the entire RESA District in academics. We are interested in developing every aspect of our students.
It is my attempt to bring awareness so that you may get a true understanding of what is actually taking place in Americus. The crime rate here seems to be on the increase. The average age range of individuals committing these crimes is between 18-24. The majority of the crimes that have been committed are by former students who have dropped out of school for one reason or another. I believe, due to social promotion and students constantly being placed in the next grade without the proper skills, they are ill equipped for the next level. Often times, when students are placed year after year, by the time they get to high school, they experience a rude awakening. Many of the prerequisite skills that they needed in order to thrive at the next level are totally lost and this vital element is hard to regain. This is due to the fact that these students are being placed in a grade level that they are not prepared for. As a direct result, some students struggle so hard that they become disenfranchised with school or going to school. As a result, the next step is dropping out. Once the student drops out, it is difficult for them to find their true purpose or goals in life. This, in turn, lends itself to delinquency which is followed by trouble.
As a society, we have lowered our standards and expectation level which is helping to create this type of future generation. As many of you see it, as it has already shown up in the workforce. Today, more than ever before, teenagers and young adults are entering the work force with less communication and interpersonal skills. These individuals lack respect, competence, eagerness, or assertiveness to learn or the will to want to be productive in society.
What is wrong with pushing a student to do better? This is how we were pushed growing up. In today’s society, it seems that we have been nurturing or over-nurturing in many instances. Frequently, by the time, a youth reaches teenage years, parents cannot do anything with them. And yes, I have seen it here in Americus time and time again! There are many parents who do an outstanding job of raising their children; however, there are some children who are raising their parents!
It is cheaper to educate than to incarcerate! While many parents would like to see their children progress to the next grade, sometimes a child may need an extra year in the same grade to become better prepared for the upcoming year. Sometimes, a student may need to be retained two years in the same grade level. The key word here is “progress.” We (parents, teachers, and the community) need to give our students ample time to make progress. No matter how long it takes, we have an obligation to make sure they are demonstrating progress.
The bottom line, what is happening in Sumter County is two-fold. We need to correct the problem and work together. The world is getting tougher to live in; therefore, it is imperative that we keep high expectations of our children and students. As many of you know, in adulthood nobody cares about the adversity one has to overcome. Companies and businesses are concerned about production and having the tenacity to make it happen!
Parental involvement is essential to the success of a child. It takes parents, grandparents, and other relatives to help children succeed in today’s world. With family members working closely with administrators, faculty, and staff, students will greatly benefit from this united effort. I believe if we work together, our System will be second to none.
This is still our community and I feel strongly that if we can set our frustrations aside and work together we can get this right. One thing is for sure, I promise you, as stated by Pastor Johnny H. Moore, “if things don’t change … things are going to change!” It is already happening!

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