Academic performance declines and voting gets complicated

Published 2:28 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

Nichole Buchanan, the General Manager of the Americus Times Recorder, indicated with over 1800 votes counted, Dr. Rene Mays was awarded the best principal in Sumter County. Dr. Mays was honored with a standing ovation and received the award along with a gift from the Board of Education. Dr. Mays has been with Sumter County Schools since 1989 when she served as a third-grade teacher. She stated, “Thank you for affording me the opportunity to serve our students, educators and parents. I would not trade my journey for any prize.” One of her favorite quotes is, “It’s not about how much you do but about how much love you put into what you do that counts.” Her future plans are to continue on with SCS and she stated it is her goal “to give my best everyday so we can continue to be Sumter strong!”

After many congratulations, the meeting moved forward into a report from Interim Superintendent, Walter Knighton. As determined by assessments, the learning has significantly dropped from last school year to current. The reading and math assessment for kindergarteners has dropped from 80% of students meeting proficient levels to 29% in this current year. For Grades 1-12, the reading assessment reports the proficiency rate has dropped from 40% to 15%. For this same age the math assessment has dropped from 61% proficiency to 7%proficiency. “Proficiency” indicates the number of students who are performing on grade level. While these are assessment results, SCS also looked at grades earned. From kindergarten to 12th grade the grades for reading have dropped from a 77 to 73%. English has dropped from 77 to 76%. Math has seen a significant loss as grades last year indicate 72% where this year, they are 63%. Science has seen a slight increase from 77 to 82% and Social Studies has also seen an increase from 73 to 80%. Knighton then reviewed the plans for addressing the issues. Carolyn Hamilton stated, “some data may look low right now, but that’s the trend across the whole state.”

The meeting moved forward in its typical manner. Curriculum committee recommended a math and reading curriculum license. It passed unanimously. Under finance, all reports were approved as was requested by the financial committee. The board unanimously passed to adjust the budget after a public hearing. They also will pay professional dues. Under policy, the Sumter County COVID-19 leave plan will be adopted after 30 days.

When the first item under the property committee was recommended, much conversation took place. Ignite College and Career Academy would like to be able to offer donors of $100,000 or more the opportunity to have a lab named after them. The vote was only for CCA to have the “capability” to offer such an honor to donors. There would be a memorandum of understanding between the company and the BOE which would require final approval by the board. Dr. Don Gillman states he has been tasked with ensuring our students “have a level playing field” with other CCAs. Monies from donors would go towards items such as transportation, fees associated with educational contests and upkeep of labs as equipment becomes technologically obsolete. Dr. Gillman had reported this as common practice among CCAs and indicated Ignite would be following a standard which has been used by many other CCAs. Gillman stated three other CCAs in the state who practiced this standard. Not only does it motivate giving to the CCA it would be time sensitive and have the potential to bring in yet another gift after say, five years. The monies would be put into the CCA budget and there would be transparency should the BOE ever want to see how the money is spent. Gillman indicated a business has already approached him wanting to make a donation and asked him for consideration of naming privileges. Unable to answer the question, Gillman now sought the BOE out to see if Ignite was capable of offering such a designation, perhaps motivating other donors/businesses to partner in such a manner. He was simply looking for permission to have the capability to make the option known, not a final say in actually naming a lab, as that vote would return to the BOE. At the work session Gillman entertained only 3 questions, Rick Barnes presented back to Gillman he was looking for a vote to indicate the capability to offer naming privileges. Gillman confirm yes. Bivins wanted to know more about the business Gillman currently is working with, however Gillman has not finalized the donation and to do so would be premature. Lastly Carolyn Hamilton wanted to know if he would be drilling holes in the wall to hold the signage. Gillman indicated he would not be damaging the building and likely would use paint in order to distinguish the name. Gillman established all these facts at the working meeting. During the regular meeting, confusion abound. To start off the questions, Hamilton asked about the memorandum of understanding (MOU). Kearse, the property committee chair assured her a MOU would be used. Hamilton wanted to know “what that would be.” Barnes reiterated the points Gillman made Monday night as to what would be in the MOU. Hamilton then wanted to know if the donations would be split between the CTAE and Ignite. The indication from Knighton and Barnes was no, the funds would belong to Ignite. Bivins then wanted to know if Ignite “was public and private, or just public?” Having trouble understanding the question even after a rephrase, Barnes answers that Ignite is supported by private funding as well as public funding. Hamilton then proposed more questions. She wasn’t able to recall the name of tax allocation indicating a non-profit status as a 501c3, however wanted to know if that had anything to do with the vote. Barnes then repeated what he understood the request and recommendation to be. Hamilton then wanted to know if businesses donated to the band could the band room be named after them. Barnes limited the request to Ignite, as that was the entity and vote at hand. Hamilton then stated allowing Ignite to do this “would set a precedent.” Barnes told her the precedent set would be limited to Ignite Academy. Barnes then explained the scenario of a donation and name being given. Hamilton then said “can’t separate Ignite from the high school.” Bivins then wanted to table it, and Barnes invited Kearse and Knighton to explain yet again the request. But before he gave the floor, he explained one more time the scenario they were approving. Barnes summed up, “just permission to accept an offer.” Then Bivins said, “The public side of the building– would we know anything about it (funding)?” and then put another hypothetical situation on the table. Kearse said, “I’m pretty sure we would know if we got a million dollars.” Barnes then said it was clear that questions lingered for some board members and yet again explained the request. Kearse and Knighton once again confirmed Barnes’ explanation. After they confirmed, then Barnes once again laid out exactly what the request was. There were no questions coming from Kearse, Roland or Harris. Bivins and Hamiliton continued to throw out hypotheticals not related to the motion and Barnes continued to explain the exact nature of the request. Still not understanding, Bivins continued to ask about the details of what the vote entailed. At this point Kearse took a turn at explaining the situation. After Kearse, Knighton then attempted to do the same. Hamilton then wanted to know about the business that wanted to make a donation to CCA. At this point, members cross talked, and nothing could be understood. Hamilton wanted to know “where does it stop?” Then Hamilton presented yet another hypothetical related to the band room. At this point Kearse offered some comic relief, and said, “Well, I’m going to say this, if somebody brings us 10 million dollars and say can we put J. Edgar Hoover’s name in the band room, I’m going to vote yea.” Hamilton stated she wanted to know all the details for the future so there would be no ramifications. With that Barnes called for a vote and Harris, Roland, Kearse and Barnes voted in favor of the request, Bivins opposed it and Hamilton abstained.  Further action under property had the BOE purchasing a gym flooring cover. Old and new business was discussed and after executive session the BOE accepted the recommendations. The meeting then adjourned.