Sumter County Board of Education discusses mental health and priorities for funding

Published 5:58 am Tuesday, November 8, 2022

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Tracy K. Hall

The Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) met for agenda setting meeting on Monday, November 7, 2022. To open the meeting Superintendent Walter Knighton presented some of the facts on mental health issues as they pertain to Georgia. As has become apparent especially since the pandemic, mental health has become an ever increasing issue for the country and Georgia. Since Sumter County Schools (SCS) deals primarily with adolescent ages the mental health of this demographic is of particular interest. Treatment availability as well as treatment providers are scarce in Georgia. Mental health disorders are the leading disability in the nation. Georgia’s Department of Corrections is the largest provider of mental health treatment for adults in the state. Likewise, the Department of Juvenile Justice is the largest provider of mental health treatment for youth. As such, to receive their treatment, an event landing a person in the corrections systems is prerequisite to accessing that treatment. Out of 153 Georgia Sheriffs, child suicide is the fifth concern for the law enforcement officer. Knighton reported that for every suicide there are 25 attempts. Georgia has 72 counties with a psychiatrist. Georgia only has 6 child adolescent psychiatrists for every 100, 000. Seventy percent of youth have no treatment for depression in the state. Overall, Georgia ranks 48 out of 50 for access to mental health treatment. SCS is looking into having resources for their students.

To follow Knighton, Associate Superintendent Kimothy Hadley gave data on discipline infractions of students, he reported on comparison data August to October of 2021, to August to October of 2022. He reported the years had some differences, as the 2021 was a transitioning quarter as students were coming back into the building after being on a virtual pathway. In the 2021 timeframe, 500 students remained on a virtual pathway. In 2022 everyone returned to school. While there was an increase in the 2022 year there are outside variables. Referrals for infractions are also subjective to the teacher, some of which are young teachers. There will be an effort to operationally define what constitutes an appropriate referral for infractions. SCS is asking teams to address these behavioral issues. Hadley reports as the training of the teams continues, the discipline issues should decrease. Discipline infractions is part of the data which goes into the “grade” a school system receives. SCS will continue to implement plans to address the discipline referrals and make an effort to “get to the root causes” of these infractions.

Under funding priorities for upgrading facilities, it is reported the middle school has the most significant needs to be met. However, there are several common areas across all the schools which need to be on top of the priority list. Some of these common needs as presented by Property Chair, Vincent Kearse are roofs, generators, water heaters, parking lots and lighting. There was consensus among those present at meeting the most pressing need with the middle school’s gym and locker room. Carolyn Hamilton reports this item as “number one priority” as the middle school is the oldest school in the SCS. It was emphasized there is work to be done, but the items need to be prioritized to take care of the most pressing issues first.

Carolyn Hamilton reports another issue which needs to be addressed is the students living outside the city limits of Americus do not have transportation to get to sports practice. While she does not see this issue as one of the priorities which needs addressing immediately it is something which needs to be on the forefront of consideration once the priorities are addressed. Last month Rick Barnes brought up the need to have transportation to job sites for Ignite CCA’s Work Based Learning Program. Work based learning is a class which gives the students credits towards graduation. In addition, the concept of work based learning is a backbone to the CCA curriculum as it provides a student with skills to make them career ready in a real life way. Without the work based leaning a big mission of the CCA goes unfulfilled. While student athletics are important, they do not fall under curriculum and earn no graduation credits. Work based learning, on the other hand does. No mention was made on the any progress or intention to address the ongoing transportation issue Ignite is facing in accomplishing their mission.

Under committee reports, the financial report went to the consent agenda. Technology would like to purchase an additional 500 Chrome Books. Personnel will be asking for a vote post executive session. All other committees have nothing pending for board action.

The regular voting meeting of the BOE will be held on Thursday, November 10, 2022, at 7pm at 100 Learning Lane. The meeting is open to the public. Typically, the meeting is also broadcasted on Facebook on the Sumter County Schools Facebook page. To contact your representative or school professionals please visit or call 229.931.8500.