With a new high school in their future, a unified Sumter County School Board set out to express their passions to recently named Superintendent Torrance Choates, Ed.D., through a series of one-on-one meetings. While each board member had particular areas of discussion, all were enthusiastically supportive of raising test scores throughout the district and making the public schools in Sumter County the place to be for a quality and well-rounded education.
“I’d like to see us becoming the number one district in the region,” said assistant board chair, Rick Barnes. “I’d like to see us move to the top 20 or 30 percent in the state on test scores.” It was a sentiment echoed throughout the meetings with Choates, including by school board member, Sylvia Roland.
“I want the school system to be the envy of schools around us,” she said. “That’s where I see us heading.”
Board chairman, Dr. Michael Busman is interested in improving the overall operations of the school and seeing academics and athletics rise to the forefront.
These desires coincide with Choate’s plan for “Unified Culture and Goal Congruence” which brings together all employees of the system to make student achievement the number-one priority. “Everyone in the school has a job to do and everyone is united for the best interest of the school,” explained Choates. “This will also include pushing administrators to push his or her staff to higher levels of academic achievement and instructional leadership for teachers will be used to obtain these higher levels of achievement.”
Part of Choates’ strategy has been to meet individually with each board member and each administrator to listen to their concerns while undergoing an overall assessment of all aspects of the system. Key components of his plan include strong discipline throughout all schools so teachers can teach without disruptions; stronger parental involvement and improved teacher/parent communication, including increasing parent/teacher contacts to at least thirty per-month; improving communication within the system, and developing strategies to address deficient areas of student achievement.
Essential to the future of Sumter County Schools is the way this school board has been able to work together. Their effectiveness was apparent over the past year as the board accomplished a number of initiatives, including the significant cost-saving measures of consolidating the schools and reducing bus miles, while eliminating the five furlough days imposed on employees for the past five years.
“This board is functioning well,” said school board member and finance chair, Jim Reid. “We’re getting along. We’re making progress. I don’t think there has been a decision made that hasn’t been in the best interest of our schools.
“We had been spending $12-15,000 a month for lawyers (to address lawsuits),” he continued. “Now we’ve got it down to $1,000 a month. We’re trying to heal and we’re trying to move forward. We are continuing to persevere.”
With a one-percent SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) approved by voters for a new high school, the board brings a unique and helpful set of skills to the construction of the facility. Board member, Meda Krenson is an architect; Reid is an entrepreneurial businessman; Barnes is a businessman/consultant who has been responsible for turning around failed businesses, and Busman is a 14-year, seasoned board member and a physician responsible for overseeing his own business. Board members Alice Green, Edith Ann Green, and Sylvia Roland all have extensive education backgrounds and have demonstrated commitments to the community.
In the meetings with Choates, each board member also brought his or her vision and expertise to the discussion of the system’s future. Their input has made a significant impact on the new superintendent.
“I am continually impressed with the fact that this board is working together for students’ best interests,” said Choates. “One common thread is that all board members want to see Sumter Schools rise to the forefront of academic achievement. Believe me, that is going to happen.”