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Happy Teachers Appreciation Week!

Dr. Torrance Choates and the Sumter County School Board of Education would would like to wish all of our great teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, secretaries, and custodians (as we are all in the business of teaching children) Happy Teachers Appreciation Week!

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ASHS tapped by state school head

By Beth Alston

ATLANTA — Americus-Sumter High School has been named as an Advanced Placement (AP) Honor School for 2019 by Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods. According to a press release sent out by the Georgia Department of Education, Americus-Sumter High is recognized in two categories: AP STEM Schools and AP Challenge Schools.
Woods named 230 AP Honor Schools for 2019. “It’s essential that we offer a robust set of opportunities to Georgia students, and Advanced Placement is an important part of that,” Woods said. “I congratulate the educators and leaders who worked to create strong AP programs in these 230 Georgia schools, ultimately connecting students with high-level coursework and the opportunity to gain college credit.”
AP exams are administered by the College Board, which also administers the SAT. AP courses are one of several ways Georgia students can access college-level learning at the high-school level; students who receive a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam may receive college credit. The 2019 AP Honor Schools are named in six categories, based on the results of 2018 AP courses and exams. A list of categories is below and a full list of schools in each category is linked in the description.
The Georgia Department of Education began recognizing AP Honor Schools in 2008. This recognition began with three categories: AP Access and Support Schools; AP Challenge Schools; and AP Merit Schools. AP STEM and AP STEM Achievement categories were added in 2011, and the AP Humanities category was added in 2015.

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.

Our animals of Sumter County need a voice

This has been a very wet and cold winter. Think about these cold days and how you enjoy snuggling up with family and maybe a nice warm fire or the heater blowing, and drinking a nice cup of coffee or hot chocolate or even eating a hot bowl of soup and enjoying family, and of course thanking God every day that you are warm and are not in the frigid cold.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the animals that reside in Sumter County. In this column, I am going to shift focus from education and schools to having an educational discussion about some of our poor animals and what they have to endure. Being that I am an animal lover, I see it as a fitting column while going through this rough weather.
It is easy for individuals to make sure that their needs are met and yet neglect their very own animals’ needs. Please keep in mind your animals are supposed to be an extended part of your family. Often times, while driving throughout the community, I have seen animals tied to chains and living in a poorly constructed doghouse. No hay or straw for warmth and just shivering in severely cold weather. (Please note: a plastic igloo dog house is nothing but plastic and can freeze and get cold during cold temperatures). As I look and see this, I often ask myself: does the owner understand that his animal needs warmth, especially in this 30-degree weather? Or, does the owner even give it any thought at all?
I am particularly concerned about the pit-bull species as they are short-haired dogs that do not have the fur as a German Sheppard to help insulate their body temperatures in frigid weather. In 30-degree weather, all pit bulls will shake from coldness due to not having the extra fur for insulation. Pit bulls are also the most common dogs in this area and yet, the most neglected. Tying a dog on a chain and calling that a life is insane! What actually is happening, the dog is being confined to a solitary life. These animals are in need of love and companionship. They want to play and hang out with their masters from day to day. In other words, they would love to be released from the chains and allowed to walk freely and enjoy the companionship. Honestly, most of these dogs are going through severe neglect, and I am not sure if the animals’ owners are even aware of it.
As the human race, God has given us a unique obligation to do the right thing to love and take care of all his living creations. I do not know if we have lived up to His expectations in this area.
The message that I would like to convey is that we, as a community, need to do a better job of taking care of our animals. Dogs have a right to feel love and affection from their owner who has decided to be their owner. The owner has an obligation to spend quality time with their animal to let the animal know that they are loved. And believe me, it is more than bringing food out to them. Also, many people are totally misinformed about giving animals bones to eat. Bones can actually break a dog’s teeth. The nerve endings in their mouth are no different from ours. The only difference they experience is they cannot ask for help; they cannot say, “I cracked a tooth and I need to go to the vet.” Also, ingesting bones causes severe constipation and bones sometimes get lodged in their throats which can splinter and be very detrimental and harmful to your beloved pets. In short, it is important to note that giving your dog bones to eat will also take years off of your dog’s life span.
It is my hope that many in the community will read this and yes, there needs to be action taken for this kind of neglect as I have a lot of conviction in my heart when it comes to animal neglect. These pets do not have a voice and we as a human race need to be a voice for them. We also must do a better job of taking care of our pets that we decided to raise. I also think that law enforcement needs to monitor these various animals that are chained and freezing at night. This can also be a start to a better community. Though I know that there are many citizens in Sumter County who do a tremendous job of taking care of their beloved animals, I am worried about the animals that rarely experience this kind of love!

Torrance Choates, Ed.D., is superintendent, Sumter County School system.

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.

Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates: Where has discipline gone?

In this week’s column, I will be discussing the importance of discipline — not just at school but at home as well ….
Back in the day, all it took was “one phone call home.” In this week’s column I would like to focus on the “one phone call home.” When a teacher and/or an administrator made a phone call, mom or dad would say, “you take care of Johnny at school and I will get him when he gets home.” An immediate change in Johnny’s behavior would occur.
In today’s time, too much inappropriate behavior is causing teachers to have a very difficult time delivering the level of instruction that they need to deliver. Often times, schools do not have any luck or help with parents pitching in to help get this under control. Instead, schools are left struggling trying to figure out how to handle severe issues of disrespect, disruptions, and constant accumulations of pity problems that turns into bigger problems. Not only is this a problem in Sumter County but this is a problem across the country. This is happening in nearly all schools whether it be charter, private, or public schools. The problem does seem more magnified in public schools because we open our doors to everyone!
Teachers are working in an environment where passing the state tests is very critical. Yes, I am referring to the accountability level. Unlike 30 years ago, when students did what they were expected to do with very little interruptions or problems, today the level of accountability is off the charts and yet teachers are expected to teach, have good test results, maintain total classroom control, and keep America’s future going in the right direction! All of this is expected while we watch the degradation in society being chipped away! Back in the day, “one phone call home” would have made the difference! The standards set by society back in the day were strong and much was expected from every citizen and student. That one phone call home meant something “back in the day!” That one phone call home meant, “you tear Johnny up at school and I will get him when he gets home!” As a result, everyone could see the difference it made. In short, inappropriate behaviors or actions just were not tolerated like they are today.
Parents, each year we will be “beefing up” the discipline in our schools. While we are stepping up the discipline, I would like to solicit your help. I would like to ask for your help from the local churches and pastors as well. We as a school system cannot just let the students or parents just come take over and run the show. In other words, we have to keep order. Believe me, sometimes this may be difficult in this day and time.
I have stated to my principals to make sure that all students are treated fairly and that they do not sway to the politics for the sake of keeping people happy. In short, I have asked them to do the right thing.
I have often seen parents uphold and reward their children when they are wrong. What is wrong with parents upholding their children for their actions? Well oftentimes, the child does not learn and recurrences may continue and parents may pay for it two-fold: whether it be in the prison system or just an unproductive citizen who does not want to work for anything.
I would like to point out that while so much is expected, we are dealing with many variables that oftentimes work against us. A degradation in society as a whole, the destruction of a generation by smart phones, babies having babies, a total lack of motivation for coming to school and doing school work, a breakdown in families, drugs, homes being destroyed, etc… Yes, educators are expected to handle all of this and at the same time have a life of their own. It is really a difficult task without the help of parents and community.
I would like for the days to return to how they used to be, where a community all worked together in raising children. Please remember to “thank” a teacher; this past week was “Teacher Appreciation Week!”

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

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School superintendent will have ‘dignified’ graduation ceremony


By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — Sumter County Schools Superintendent, Torrance Choates, Ed.D., is a no-nonsense type of leader. He has proven that on several occasions since he came to Americus three years ago. He has put a strong emphasis on teacher and student performance as well as discipline. Now he wants to make a change in the way the commencement ceremony will be conducted this year and in subsequent years.
The ceremony is slated for 8 p.m. Friday, May 24 at Alton Shell Stadium. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved inside to the Student Success Center on the Georgia Southwestern State University campus. The number of graduates will determine how many tickets each graduate will be allowed for family and friends, Choates advised.
Simply put, Choates wants this year’s graduation to be dignified. “I’ve been here three years and I have observed the degradation of graduation. Every year it seems to be getting worse than the previous year.” He refers to the screaming and yelling and general lack of decorum.
The superintendent said he has had concerned parents come to him and he has had his own concerns which he’s shared with the principal of Americus-Sumter High School, Kimothy Hadley. “It’s gotten to the point where everybody is just screaming, and it’s continuous. We have family members and relatives traveling from out of town, and out of state. They come all the way here to hear their relative’s name being called, and through all the chaos, the noise, you can’t hear it; it’s just one big blur.”
Choates said he’s had a teacher come to him who was upset that her own child graduated and she, too, were upset with the noise. “She told me it wasn’t fair for them to have to sit there and not even be able to hear their child’s name called out,” he said. “There’s a strong need to have a dignified graduation,” he said. “They [the audience] can hold their applause until the end and then they can celebrate as loud as they want.”
Choates was asked how he intends to control any disorder at graduation. He said ushers will be posted at the ceremony as well as law enforcement officers. He said audience members will not be allowed to talk or clap during the ceremony while the graduates’ names are being called.
“If they’re caught screaming out ‘that’s my baby … or whatever,’ a police officer is going to walk over to them and … they will be escorted out. … We’re going to be prepared,” he said, “because we know we’re going to have one, or two, or three to do this regardless. They think nothing’s going to happen. It’s not that we’re trying to be disrespectful or mean to them, we’re just trying to get them to understand that graduation is important. These kids have worked for four, solid years trying to complete high school, and their hard work needs to be shown by … hearing their name being called. Just wait and let everybody’s name be called.”
Choates said the names will be called one after the other to move things along and screaming only serves to slow the process and rob the graduates of their recognition.
“In the long run, people will appreciate it,” he said. “I know this won’t be a popular stance that we’re taking because they’ve been allowed to do this for so long. The message I’m trying to convey is to have respect for the graduation process. Deep down in my heart, if they don’t hear anything else I have to say, I want this system to be number one in everything: athletics, academics, respect, everything.”
Choates says he needs the help of the parents to make these changes in the way graduation is conducted. “We have a united front,” he said. “The administration at the high school understands the need for and importance of having a dignified graduation. … It’s hard to undo something when it’s been programmed into them for all these years to celebrate. They think it’s the new norm, when actually it shouldn’t have ever been allowed to begin with.”
Choates warns that action will be taken with those who refuse to go by the rules.
“We have the right mixture in this community to be number one, to become anything we want,” he said. “We’ve just got to realize the importance of working together and learning from each other and respecting and appreciating diversity. That’s our main hurdle. If we can cross that threshold, then Sumter County, in my opinion, is unstoppable.”

Dr. Torrance Choates
Dr. Torrance Choates
Sumter test scores begin to soar

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The CCRPI (College, Career Ready Performance Index) test scores for Sumter County Schools have lifted off, are well off the ground, and reaching new highs. The results of the annual test, which lasts a week, were released earlier by the Georgia Department of Education.
The test is administered to all students in grades three and above. The test is also known as Georgia Milestones.
Torrance Choates, Ed.D., Sumter County Schools superintendent, has just begun his third year at the helm of the local school system and has already seen great strides in test scores and other areas since he first arrived.
Choates explained that the CCRPI is used to measure the entire school system’s academic performance. “The main criteria in the test is the achievement,” he said. “You’re looking at student growth — from where the student starts to where they are now.”
Choates said that the system’s CCRPI test scores were at a 59.6 percent for 2016-17, and are at 70.9 percent for 2017-18, the latest released scores. “We’ve been constantly putting structures in place, not just for the curriculum aspect, but for the entire school system to improve academic achievement,” he said. One of those changes is having awards ceremonies every nine weeks versus once annually. “We’re recognizing students who’re making high levels of academic achievement,” and they’re receiving rewards such as cash and prizes. “It’s our hope that parents get fully engaged” he added.
Another thing they’re doing, according to Choates, is “trying to excite the parents and the students in academic achievement, including attendance with incentives … so we’re hitting every corner of student improvement.”
Testing requires over 95 percent attendance on test days. He said the school truancy officer, Coach Jimmy Green, is doing a great job and has had to take several parents to court because they don’t require their children to go to school each day.
Since his tenure began here, Choates has implemented many changes, that are used to achieve desired results. He requires all teachers to make 30 parental contacts each month, meaning that each call must receive a response (phone, email, or text); not just leaving a message.
“We’ve also been working very hard on curriculum and instruction,” he said.
Choates has what he calls a “basic principle on teaching and instruction.”
“I feel that for anything to take place, discipline has to come first,” he said. “You’ve got to have strong discipline at these schools. In order for a teacher to even be able to lay the foundation for teaching, she’s got to have control of her classroom. I’m a huge proponent of strong discipline throughout all the schools.”
The superintendent said that two other policies — cell phone use and dress codes — which he and the board put in place, have led to less disciplinary problems.
“Discipline is stronger in the schools,” he said. “We have found a stronger need to go back to a foundational approach with good, old-fashioned teaching.”
“And of course, our board of education is big on academic achievement and they work hard,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for all the support they’ve given me to be able to lay some of this groundwork.”
One of the other changes Choates has made is the timing of the testing. Before his arrival, he said, the weeklong test was administered after students returned from spring break. He changed this immediately to have the testing done prior to spring break so that retention is not lost, and scores have improved.
“Every school has made strong academic strides,” Choates said. “We’ve gone from an F school system to a C in no time.”
Americus Sumter High has risen from 70.4 to 77.8.
Americus-Sumter Ninth Grade Academy is from 54.8 to 68.5
Sumter County Middle School has improved from 64.4 to 68.4.
Staley/Sumter County Intermediate School has risen from 54.4 to 67.2.
Furlow Charter School has improved from 70.7 to 76.
“We’ve seen incredible gains in test scores,” Choates said, “and we’re running a strong budget.”
Sumter County Schools is now ranked third in the RESA region, tied with  Schley County, and behind only Muscogee and Chattahoochee counties.
“True academic learning takes place when you have a change in attitude and behavior,” Choates said, “and follow-up with individual students is essential.” He used several examples of “problem” students with whom he has worked and they have returned to the classroom with new attitudes so the learning can occur. He said he “loves” to see the changes in these students when extra care and attention is given, and the bar is raised on expectations.
“My goal is for us to have the best clientele, the best culture, and to lead in test scores” in the RESA region,” Choates said.

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