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Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates: Success of Sumter Schools

In this week’s column, I am going attempt to break down some of the untold truths of the Sumter County School System. Sumter County Schools offer the most complete and comprehensive education in this entire community. It is also the driving force of keeping stability in this community. From an economic impact, without Sumter County Schools, the community, the local businesses and industry would be in ruins. Through the years, the Sumter County School System has received some negativity on her reputation.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is alive and well in Sumter County. The self-fulfilling prophecy is basically something that is not true, but if repeated over and over it becomes true even if it is not true. Some of our very own community members have talked about how the school system has not done a good job of educating students. The negative conversations have continued for many years, which have given the system a negative perception.
However, the truth be told, Sumter County Schools is flourishing. Americus Sumter High School has made drastic improvements. Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high of 89.3.  Our CCRPI is 70.4. Dual enrollment is being offered. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement data reveals that 60.4 percent of the seniors that graduate enroll in college. This proves that at least 60.4 percent of our students are college and career ready; however, it is much greater than that actual number. The high school has been honored as an Advanced Placement (A.P.) School during the 2014-2016 school years. Fifteen career pathways are being offered at this time in hopes of catching students who would normally be uninterested in school. Opening multiple pathways helps to give these students added career options. The high school as well as the 9th Grade Academy have been removed from the priority schools list.
Americus-Sumter High School graduated 44 Honor Graduates this past year. Many of these honor graduates have gone on to attend Ivy League and Division I universities across the nation. Students are currently attending the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Emory, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida State, Arkansas, and there are three students currently attending Princeton University. Additionally, we have graduates attending U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy and the Georgia Military Academy. The 44 Honor Graduates can compete with any student across this nation and are some of the brightest students in this entire community. In retrospect, this is due because of the enormity of rigor that has been placed in our curriculum.
Another concern that some of the community has is that students from the Sumter County School System are students with troubled lives. These students have been labeled as being very destructive, having no respect, and having major attitudes. This has driven some people to send their children elsewhere. Sumter County Schools does have some students who exhibit inappropriate behavior, but it is a very small percentage. The vast majority of the students that I have encountered have very positive and respectful attitudes.
Honestly speaking, the Sumter County Schools System does have some issues just like every system in our country. However, the challenges that we face are improving every day. We are making a solid commitment to bring this system back to prominence. The work effort that is being generated is remarkable. I am excited and cannot wait to see the upcoming test scores at the end of this school year. Academic rigor is being placed seamlessly; discipline is stronger than it has ever been. With that being said, we are teaching students to think about their actions and the immediate consequences that will await. Teachers are being able to teach more than ever. A stronger dress code policy has been put into place. Principals have been told to hold the line and support their teachers in the classroom. A productive teacher, parent advisory, and a student leadership team are meeting to discuss ways to improve the district. There is a plan to do much more with these groups than it be just rhetoric.
It has also troubled me and I have asked why are some of our employees opting to send their children to other systems. While this is totally a personal decision, I often wonder why some have chosen this direction. If I had children, my children would definitely attend this system. I am a little biased. This is an excellent system that will only get better. In the coming months, I plan to gently open this discussion to gain a better understanding.
A new high school is on the horizon! Sumter County board of education members, administrators, teachers, the community are involved in many discussions on what is needed in classrooms, gyms, cafeterias and other areas in the school. The three-tiered partnership with One Sumter, Sumter County Schools, and South Georgia Technical College to add a $3 million College and Career Academy to be located at the new high school is underway! This will open up unlimited pathways for our students who are searching for careers.
The last couple of years, this system placed an extra effort in embracing the community, local business leaders and stakeholders. The increased efforts of Mary Beth Bass and the One Sumter Foundation have solidified a community that can thrive for future generations. Hands are being held on many forefronts. One Sumter, Sumter County Schools, Sumter Chamber of Commerce, South Georgia Tech, Georgia Southwestern, Georgia Power, Sumter EMC, Family Connection, and other entities have built a strong and lasting network of working together. This is enough ammunition to fuel an entire county. I believe Sumter County can be the greatest county in this state. We have one major problem that needs to be addressed. People of all races need to set aside racial differences in order to work, live and play together!
Last but not least, we are bound together by the road that stands before us. It is a road which leads to hope, love and a desire to see all of our children learn, love, grow strong and free. We are Sumter County!

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

Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates: In black and white






In this week’s column, I am going to attempt to tackle the complex issue that America seems to be having over race and what we, as a nation, can do to deal with it. You are invited to read it with an open mind and clear understanding.

As many of you know, our black ancestors have suffered at the hands of whites and white slave owners in years past. Some of the horrid things that happened would and could unnerve nearly anyone. Being an African American and learning about these horrible acts of human indignation bothered me to the utmost. And if I constantly thought about these acts and kept them in the forefront of my mind, I am sure that it could have an impact on my everyday character. And even today, I am sure that there are still injustices taking place in terms of human inequality.

The middle 1800s to the mid 1950s were years that I consider to be some of America’s darkest years. If you look back at history and even when the Indians were here, they had land that was stripped from them. Now let’s go across the continent to Europe and examine the Jewish people. Let’s look at the torture that they endured (confiscated wealth, imprisonment, and death in a gas chamber). The sad truth is, discrimination and race have made a direct impact on civilization since the beginning of time. Everyone can learn from history!

My question is, do we focus on all of these injustices or do we try to make life better and more meaningful? If we focus on these injustices, this may tend to shape our character to where we will always consider the race of people that did this are all bad. On the other hand, if we try to forgive and I did not say forget (history serves as a life lesson and a reminder for us all) and to make life better for everyone, we can overcome these race issues. Instead of holding one race accountable, we need to look at individual people. There is good and bad in every race.

My grandfather told me a story of how he fought in the Korean War and how much discrimination he encountered as a soldier in this country. He stated that when he left this country to fight on the battlefield in Korea that for the first time in his life, he felt that things had changed. His fellow white and black soldiers formed as a “band of brothers!” This brotherhood was important because they all knew it would keep them alive. As the war ended and they returned home they made a stop at a restaurant. The sign said, “No coloreds allowed!” He said that his fellow soldiers said, “Man wait right here; we will be back.” He stated that he felt that what he thought they should have said was, “Listen, this man just fought in a war for this country and if he cannot come in to eat, then none of us will!” He stated that only when he came back to the United States did he realize that things had not changed. What was so awesome about his story is he never held any sentiments towards this country or anyone for this. He shared that it was just the way things were and that back then, people were just very ignorant, insensitive, and mean when it came to things of that nature. He was a very successful man and just had a great disposition in life. He was a “winner” and to this day, he was and still is my hero!
In short, we can reflect all day about the many racial injustices across this great country. I am willing to bet anyone that despite all of this, this is still by far the greatest country to live in. If I were raising children in this day and time, I would teach them about these injustices for learning purposes. I would implore them to make sure they were never guilty of treating another human being in this manner. I would also teach them to move on and to love everyone despite all of this. I would teach them the importance and the need to be successful, to have a great outlook on life and to make the best of it. We have children and adults in every community, white and black, dying as the result of drug addiction, thefts, anger, jealousy, prostitution, etc — while we listen and look on helplessly.
Another question I have, with all of the issues that we hear in the media across our country, are we teaching our youth to be disrespectful? Many of the people who constantly push the race card use it as a paradigm. These people need to be looked at, because many of them do very little for their own community other than keep the hatred and blood boiling between the races. I am not pointing fingers at anyone; however, this is a plea, to attempt to get all of us to work together for a meaningful purpose which is to save our children and to love one another!

I find it of utmost importance to fix the immediate problems around us before we delve into other issues. There is so much work to be done but yet we face so many distractions which keep us from doing the necessary work of focusing on bringing up our youth, by teaching them to be respectful and to keep very positive attitudes no matter what.

People, we all have a job to do in this area because we all have fallen short!


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

Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates: Have smartphones destroyed a generation?


In this week’s column, I will be raising the question, “Have smartphones destroyed a generation?” If you are reading this column please pay close attention. This is a deep concern of mine.
The smartphone generation, post millennial, or Generation X as some may call it, seems to be in grave danger. While there are some serious benefits to smartphones, there is also a crisis going on as we adults sit and helplessly watch it unfold. An average family ride to grandma’s house or to the store used to be filled with conversation. In the good ol’ days (about 30 years ago or more) we used to sit in the car and enjoy the trip and have candid discussions. While driving down the road it was easy to admire nature, scenic landscapes and yards, look at cars, and see many animals. At the same time, we were enjoying the beauty that God created, we were having great conversations about life and future plans and just enjoying the company of our parents. These were the days where life was really worth living. At a slower pace, the world was not so technologically advanced.
Fast forward to today. The entire world is at your fingertips. The smartphone generation knows and understands that better than any of us. One must keep in mind while reading this column that the smartphone generation does not know life without their smartphones. Also, most conversations and interactions with parents are non-existent while driving. While there are some benefits, we will examine some of the potential damage that it may be causing. Many experts believe that this generation is on the brink of a mental health crisis. You see children as young as nine years old on the smartphones without any adult supervision. They can join adult chat groups and pick up pornography that is easily and readily available.
Some researchers have found children dating less, being less social, and less athletic. This may be largely due to children having their entire world wrapped around the phone, again, social media (with all of the social networks they can become involved in). Studies have also found that today’s teens and young adults are living at home with their parents at a much later age. Independence and getting around on our own used to be an urgent matter for us; however, many of today’s teens are not that ambitious. This could also be partly due to the economy downturn that started back in 2007 and lasted to 2009.
Obesity is on the rise. The smartphone generation is helping to lead this trend due to being less involved in exercise and being sedentary and eating which causes them to take in more calories.
Back in the day, children ate anything they wanted to and were still in great shape because they played so hard from sunup to sundown. You rarely see children playing football in the yards or baseball in a baseball field. Most summer days, many children are in the house playing video games or of course on their smartphones. It is so addicting to some that they will waste a whole day away by being on their phones.
Parents, there are a lot of things we can do. It is hard for me to fathom a nine-year-old with a smartphone, but I know it is happening. Give cell phone privileges at certain times instead all day. Taking a supervisory role and monitoring cell phone activity may be very helpful. Encourage and make your children go outside without a cell phone to encourage some physical activities. I believe this is where we went wrong; we just gave the cell phones to our children without putting restrictions and limitations to them and this is the monster which we have created. One thing is for sure: the days of going to the skating rink and hanging out with our friends and looking to date a nice girl are no more. Most of this can be done on social media now.
Finally, I close by saying that sadly, some researchers are predicting many smartphone generation children will not live as long as our generation.

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

Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates: What is wrong with honesty over being politically correct?






Political correctness is everywhere. You see it in the news media with politicians and we deal with it every day. From an educational standpoint, I am afraid that sometimes political correctness may be dumbing down the actual effect that a situation needs to have. Take for instance a student; we will call him “Johnny.” Johnny has been wreaking havoc on teachers, principals, and just causing chaos to the entire school climate. The teachers and administrators are at their wits’ end. At that time, the parents are called to come to the school for a conference regarding Johnny’s behavior. While having the conference, everyone wants to stay positive and to be liked by the parents, so everyone states good things about the child. They also talk about what the child is doing wrong; however, the need to be positive dominates the entire meeting.
One teacher speaks out and says, “Johnny has been acting up in my classroom all year and I need him to stop! I cannot teach and I am afraid that it is hindering other students’ learning!” All of the teachers are aware that this is actually taking place in their classrooms, too. Other teachers chime in and continue talking about all of Johnny’s positive attributes. The principal listens to all of it and yet does not say a word about how Johnny is misbehaving and that this type of behavior is interfering with the climate of his school. The mother and father are now wondering, “Well, the teachers did say that Johnny had some issues, but look at all of his positives. Let’s take Johnny to get some pizza and thank him for all of his goodness and just lightly touch on the things he is not doing well.”
People, after reading this, I would like for everyone to understand that this is a lost opportunity. There should have been a very strong message to convey, that Johnny should stop being disrespectful and acting out at school. The principal should have stated, that he will not continue to tolerate this type of behavior and that if it continues the disciplinary consequences will become more severe.
So, my question is, what is wrong with telling a parent, “Mama, your child is wrong; we need your help to correct this inappropriate behavior”? Oftentimes telling it like it is needs to happen more often than not. This is how it used to be in the old days! In my opinion, it made better students and those students became better adults later in life.
Helping parents to see the real story as opposed to sugar coating the reality will oftentimes assist in turning the child around. Parents play an integral part in helping teachers and administrators to achieve proper school climate in the classrooms, especially when parents are united with the school officials in this effort of maintaining order in school.
I have encouraged my principals to be honest without being extremely careful not to offend the child when he/she exhibits inappropriate behavior. There are times when teachers and administrators can be a little lenient with minor infractions but when a child shows continuous disregard for following rules and obeying adults, he or she should be held accountable for that inappropriate behavior. At this point, honesty overrules political correctness.
Parents, when teachers and administrators are expressing their concerns about a child’s behavior, we need for you to join in with us to deter negative behavior and help us in solving these issues. We need to return to the days of old when action was taken, not only by administrators but by the parents as well. The situations were handled with efficiency and promptness and most of the time these types of concerns were resolved with parents, teachers and administrators being on the same page. This type of cohesiveness may be unpopular for some students but it will help the child in the long run.

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

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