In celebration of International Day of Happiness on March 20th, Sumter County Intermediate School filled the wall of the cafeteria with happy thoughts. On walls decorated with purple paper, signs, balloons, and with happy music playing, (The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams), students posted sticky notes describing what made them happy or how they could share happiness with someone else. They did this after teachers led a discussion in each of their classrooms about the concept of happiness.
The notes posted tended to suggest that happiness was achieved by making someone else happy. They included such thoughts as “Giving present to someone” and “Praying to God for my family,” as well as “Help people and share.”
“Happiness is something that feeds back on itself,” said Therese McCoy, a speech teacher at Sumter Intermediate School who set the idea in motion. “If you project happiness, you are going to get happiness.
“Nothing is going to make you happy,” she continued. “If you decide to be happy, then you act on that decision.”
Mrs. McCoy stumbled upon the idea when she picked up a magazine dedicated to happiness while using the treadmill at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center's health club.
“‘Live Happy Magazine’ is a very upbeat and positive,” she said. “It encourages people to live happy lives. I bought a subscription for myself, then began giving gift subscriptions for my friends.” “International Day of Happiness” was founded by the United Nations in 2012, and it includes a yearly list of the most happy counties and the least happy countries, as measured by a series of indicators.
In 2017, Norway was listed as the happiest country, while the United States continued its steady slide down to 19th this year, after having been ranked as high as third in 2007.
A number of reasons were sighted for the decline, according to a report to the United Nations 2017 World Happiness Report:
“The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis— rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust—rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth."
The countries at the top of the list tended to be countries that focused on the social well being of its citizenry, such as Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden. Countries in Central Africa besieged with corruption, war, and economic hardship, tended to be at the bottom.
Other factors in the American decline include the social tensions created after 9/11, mounting student debt and the increasing difficulties of attaining an education, and the increasing disparity between rich and poor.
International Day of Happiness was founded by the United Nations in 2012. Since then, every March 20th, people all over the world are encouraged to consider happiness and its impact on our lives. We are also encouraged to think about what makes us happy, and about what we can do to spread happiness/well being in our own communities, families, places of employment and schools.
For Mrs. McCoy, the fundamental route to happiness is ensuring the happiness of others:
“I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ and believe we’re supposed to take care of each other,” she said.
It is sentiment oft repeated, including in the writing of Author Kurt Vonnegut in his book "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater:"
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-". . . you've got to be kind.”
#79: BOOK CHARACTER PARADE AT THE PRIMARY SCHOOL
As part of national Read Across America Week, the always imaginative folks at Sumter Primary School developed a Book Character Parade, whereby students in school were asked to dress as their favorite book characters. These ranged from Pinkalicious to Captain Underpants, with a particular emphasis on characters from Dr. Seuss, whose writings had been featured during the week. "Inviting students and teachers to dress up as their favorite book character, helps promote literacy and encourages students to develop a love of reading," said the event's creator, Media Specialist Jill Cochran. The students filed out of the school and paraded before the staff at central office,and also for the parents and others who braved the cold for the event.
#78: COMMUNITY MEMBERS READING TO CHILDREN
At Friday's Sumter County Kiwanis Club meeting, the organization celebrated a twenty-seven year tradition of sending its members into the public schools to read books to the children. As a special reminder of that ongoing commitment, Sumter County Primary School Media Specialist Jill Cochran read "A Cat In The Hat" to a group of students from Mrs. Mary Hammack's First Grade Class. Despite being assembled in front of many adults they didn't know, the children's attention never strayed from the words spoken and the pictures shown. This is part of an important relationship between the community and the schools that opens up the world of books to young minds. Also, through the introduction of the readers from the community, relationships are created and role models established. Participation is open to anyone, not just members of the Kiwanis Club. "Anytime somebody would like to read a book, we'd like for them to come in," said Principal Dr. Lezley Anderson. "If they want to better coordinate with a teacher's schedule before coming, they can contact Ms. Cochran at email@example.com or call her at 924-1012." Other groups who have sent readers include the Junior Service League, and students and athletes from both South Georgia Technical College and Georgia Southwestern State University. To complete the event on Friday, Sumter County Schools Board members Sylvia Roland and Meda Krenson passed out "Superhero" cookies to the listeners, consistent with the theme of the school's education model.
#77: VISIONS AT WORK FOR THE FUTURE
In the last post, Associate Superintendent Walter Knighton was recognized throughout the state for his visionary work developing comprehensive curriculum. In the WALB news clip posted below, (please click onto), Superintendent Torrance Choates begins to describe the vision for the new Sumter County High School, which will be located across from, and connected to, South Georgia Technical College, thus providing even greater educational and career opportunities for students. "The College and Career Pathways Program at the new high school combined with the connection to South Georgia Tech will provide students the opportunity to microscopically zoom in on their area of study or expertise," said Dr. Choates. He added that the school will become a focal point for growth for the entire school system and will unite the community.
#76: RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKERS’ PHYSICAL FITNESS
There are very few medical findings that are indisputable and won’t ever change. Here is one of them: physical fitness improves all aspects of your life, including work productivity. Sumter County Schools offer a variety of opportunities for teachers and staff to stay fit. A recently implemented “Walk with the Superintendent” on Tuesdays and Wednesdays beginning at 4 p.m. allows employees time to walk, jog, or run at the Middle School Track. Employees can talk with the Superintendent in the process if they so desire. The system also offers monthly gym memberships at Southwest Georgia Fitness Center for only $15 a month for the first family member and $9 a month for each additional one. The Hurricane Club at Georgia Southwestern State University offers year-long gym use and classes as a part of membership. Swimming programs are also available. Exercise helps worker productivity in the following ways: Increased blood flow to the brain increases alertness and energy. Increased cardiovascular health improves stamina to meet job demands. Exercise causes your brain to release serotonin that helps you feel better and improves your state of mind, making the stresses of work easier to handle. Regular exercise that includes power walking, running, weight lifting, swimming or jogging can help reduce your risk of developing certain types of illness and disease. This means fewer sick days at work. With an improved immunity, you minimize your chances for getting influenza and the common cold. For information about gym memberships, contact Lydia Gunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#75: SUPPORTING LOCAL CONTRACTORS AND VENDORS
When the Parrish Construction Group was interviewing for the position of project managers for the construction of the new high school and improvements to other schools, the Sumter County Board of Education asked repeatedly what their plan would be to include local contractors. Parrish was chosen after reassuring the board of their intention to try and do so. "Part of the Board of Education’s initiative is to include local businesses in the renovations to the old schools and the creation of the new high school,” said Sumter County School Superintendent Dr. Torrance Choates. In furtherance of this goal, Parrish will be holding an open house on January 26th at 4 p.m. at the Board of Education Building. The purpose of this meeting will be to introduce local businesses to the architect and to the project management team, and to provide information on the bidding process. Projects include not only the construction of the high school, but also renovations, modifications, and additions to current schools in the district. A condition for creating the new school is that all other schools have their construction needs addressed first. “Parrish Construction Group understands the importance of having local businesses participate in each of Sumter County Schools’ projects,” said Travis Miller, Senior Project Manager from Parrish Construction. “We are committed to helping Sumter County Schools employ as many local subcontractors on these projects as possible.”
#74: DISCIPLINE AND STUDENT BEHAVIOR
People who wonder about discipline problems in the Sumter County Schools should have attended the Sixth Grade Honors Ceremony, or the Primary School's or really any of the programs at any of the schools. At the Intermediate School, with hundreds of sixth graders and their parents packing the school gymnasium, there were times during the long program when the gym was absolutely silent as in “could have heard a pin drop.” Students lined up in an orderly manner and received their awards while watching attentively as others received theirs. “We have a wonderful team of educators and students at Sumter County Intermediate School,” said Principal Dr. Renee Mays. “It is reassuring when we hear compliments from parents.” Discipline will only get better with a new hands-on Superintendent who regularly visits the schools and makes safety and behavior a priority. Parents should know that their children are in good hands. Also, as part of the Superintendent’s Initiative, student achievements will be reinforced by recognition events every ninety days, giving parents even more opportunities to see what is really going on in the schools.
#73: LAPS WITH THE SUPERINTENDENT
Consistent with his open door policy for all employees and stakeholders, and as a way of stressing personal fitness, Sumter County School Superintendent Torrance Choates will be hosting a “Walk with the Superintendent” every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. at the Americus-Sumter County High School Track. Teachers and administrators, as well as parents and community members, are welcome to walk a lap or two with the Superintendent to catch up on business, express concerns, or simply to talk. School employees are encouraged to sign up for a lap time in advance. Please contact Tom DeTitta at email@example.com to arrange a lap-time. If weather cancels the event, those who have signed up by e-mail will be notified.
#72 HELPING STUDENTS REALIZE THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAYS
In the month of December, students at Sumter County Primary School were tuned into the goodness of the holiday season through a list of random acts of kindness they set out to do each day. Students and teachers were given a calendar that, from December 1st through December 24th, offered a new suggestion for how they could make the world better. For example, December 1st was "Make a card for a soldier." The second was "Pick up some litter." The seventh, "Give a compliment to a friend." Children were reminded each day where their goodness should be focused, and results were ongoing. For example, Pre-K student Maaliyah King said that she played with her friends and gave them hugs. First grader Nylah Robinson helped Mrs. Rush by handing out papers. Pre-K student Eli Parks donated his toys to children who didn't have any. After the tragedy involving officers Jody Smith and Nic Smarr, students in most classes sent happy notes to officers at the Americus Police Department and at Georgia Southwestern State University in keeping with the 12th suggestion, "Leave a happy note for someone to find." According to First Grade Teacher Sheryl Rush, some acts of kindness were easier to achieve than others. "Give a hug to someone" sent students scurrying to find Principal Dr. Lezley Anderson or Assistant Principal Jason Reese. "Let someone go ahead of you in line," proved to be a bit harder. All of this began with a reading of "Elf on the Shelf" by Dr. Anderson and Mr. Reese on their morning show to the students. In keeping with the tradition, "Elfie" appeared in various places during December, apparently engaged in various activities, including making a snowman or zip-lining through the hallways. Each day, students were reminded by Dr. Anderson what the day's challenge would be. Students were also read stories about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in order to understand that some people celebrate other holidays beside Christmas. "We want our children to understand that it's okay to be different," said Dr. Anderson. More pictures and information about this event can be found on the Sumter County Primary School's Facebook Page.
#71: "REACH" SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
A wonderful opportunity afforded Sumter County School students is the REACH Georgia scholarship which was first awarded last year to Sumter County Middle School students in the seventh grade. This year, the scholarship was awarded to eighth grade students. These scholarship not only provides a significant financial reward, but it also provides a commitment to the student throughout his or her academic career to ensure they remain on track and end up in college. Each student is awarded a scholarship of $10,000 and each one is assigned a mentor who regularly meets with the student to talk about college and career goals and to review their academic progress. This year’s winners are Keldrick Flemming, Jamira Jones, and Lauryn Carter, all eighth graders at Sumter County Middle School. They join last year’s winners, Keyandria Green and Alex Salazar-Sanchez. To win, the students had to be interviewed by a group of community members. They also had to fill out an application that asked about everything from future plans to current extracurricular activities. Students also had to get an academic reference and a community reference. Parents were also required to write about why their son or daughter deserved the scholarship. For Mr. Sanchez, now in his second year of the program and hoping to one day be a hardware engineer, the scholarship and the mentoring that goes with it have been both a motivating and guiding force in his education. The scholarship requires recipients to maintain a “B” average throughout their schools years: “I want to keep my grades up just to keep the scholarship, not to lose it,” he said. ”My mentor has guided me along the way, pointing out that if you want this career, you have to do these things.” Mr. Sanchez’s mentor is Seventh Grade Science Teacher Inez Wiggins.“Salazar and I spend a lot of time together talking about goals and objectives, what he likes to do and what he is good at,” said Ms. Wiggins. A goal of the scholarship, too, is to ensure that students are not held back from getting an education for financial reasons. The program is coordinated by Kristin Hollis, counselor at the middle school, who sees the effect it is having on the students: “Our REACH Scholars have held up their end of the commitment by staying out of trouble, having good attendance, maintaining, and even exceeding the 2.5 GPA the scholarship requires them to have,” she said. “Many times, students at this age aren’t thinking about which college they want to attend or what career they’d like to pursue. But, REACH has changed that.” The sentiment is echoed by Ms. Green.“It made me really want to get into a good college and to make better grades,” she said. Each of the winners say their grades have gone up as a result of the recognition and support the scholarship offers.The scholarship program is an initiative of Governor Nathan Deal, which translates to Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen. The program serves 41 school systems and is funded by state appropriations, private donations, and local community donations, Next year, eighth grade students will be selected by their teacher to apply for the REACH scholarship and then interviewed by a panel to determine who will earn the title of “REACH Scholar.” Some of the qualifications for eligibility include: • Have and agree to maintain above average attendance and behavior, • Have grade reports reflecting at least a 2.5 cumulative grade point average in all core course (English, mathematics, science, social studies and foreign language), • Have and agree to maintain a crime and drug-free record, • Have the support of a parent, legal guardian, or other caring adult.
#70: FACILITATING PARTICIPATION IN THE ARTS THROUGH EARLY EXPOSURE
“How many of you are interested in the saxophone?” Middle School Band Director Roy Eaddy called out to the crowd of second and third graders assembled before him and his marching band. Immediately, a number of hands shot into the air. It was all part of the Elementary School’s Arts in Action on Thursday which saw a number of individuals and arts groups performing at various times throughout the school day for the enjoyment and education of the students. This event serves as a springboard to later participation in the arts for many young students, who saw ten different groups or individuals perform that one day. Among them were the Americus-Sumter High Jazz Band, Master Musician Bond Anderson who gave a demonstration of non-traditional instruments, and Music Teacher Scott Young who played the French Horn as well as other more exotic instruments such as the Australian Aboriginal Digoridoo. Gifted Teacher Rachael Arnold gave young minds an opportunity to envision themselves as performers by creating a picture booth where students could pose with an instrument, while students from the high school were on hand to paint faces. Actors from the Columbus State Theater Department performed the play “Pinkalicious,” and story-tellers Tina Cook, Pat Turner, Jennifer Rupel , Hope Deriso, and Robbie Cordell all got dressed up to emphasize the narrative they presented. Band Director Eaddy explained to the students that each of his musicians had to earn their place in the band through both the hard work of learning an instrument and through keeping up good grades. Arts in Action was one of a week full of special events at the Elementary School that began with Motivational Monday, whereby each month, a member of the community is invited to help inspire the students. Also this week, parents were invited to a Thanksgiving lunch with their child, part of a “So Thankful” week whereby students dressed in different outfits in celebration of the many things for which they were thankful. Elementary School Principal Dr. Sharon Tullis institutes a number of exciting initiatives throughout the year to prove to students that, “School is the place to be.”
#69: HEALTHY LUNCH WITH YOUR CHILD ANY TIME OF YEAR
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, parents and guardians of Sumter County School students were invited to eat lunch with their child. Turnout in the schools was wonderful. But did you know that parents, guardians, and even grandparents can eat lunch with their child all year long at all of the Sumter County Schools? There is no need for a reservation. Just show up at the front office when your child eats lunch and you will be asked to sign in and will be given a visitor’s pass. Many parents take advantage of this opportunity throughout the year. Lunch is only $3.50 and always includes food from the five food groups including a fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.
#68: A POSITIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
As part of the Sumter County Schools’ District Improvement Plan, leadership teams at the district and school levels systematically review various aspects of the educational experience to see which areas need refinement according to standards established by the Georgia Department of Education. Most recently, principals, academic coaches and district directors made classroom observations to determine if there was a positive learning environment throughout the district. The leadership team felt this was the standard fundamental to the achievement of all other goals. Based on their assessment of ten criteria by which a class environment could be measured, and visiting a sampling of classrooms in a variety of schools, the district team determined that, overall, the Sumter County School System was providing a positive learning environment for students. Having gone through the process of assessment already and having met to develop a common lexicon and practice for assessment, the principals and academic coaches will follow up by looking at every classroom in their schools to make sure their findings are true throughout. If there is a problem found in a particular classroom, the school’s leadership team will make the changes required to ensure that all students in the district are working in an environment that facilitates learning. The standards of a positive academic environment used are: 1) The teacher arranges the classroom materials and resources to facilitate group and individual activities; 2) The teacher monitors and provides timely responses to meet the students’ academic needs; 3) The teacher responds to disruption in a timely and appropriate manner; 4) The teacher provides an inviting environment and has a positive attitude; 5) The teacher has established a well-managed and safe environment with smooth transitions; 6) The students display orderly behavior and practice the established rituals and routines; 7) The teacher displays respect for all students; 8) The students display respect for peers; 9) The teacher promotes a climate of trust and teamwork within the classroom; 10) Students take academic risks.
#67: CUTTING EDGE AND COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM ASSESSMENT
The Sumter County School system has received state-wide recognition for its innovative work in strengthening the academics of the district, a battle that is being waged on many fronts. Americus-Sumter High School was featured in the newsletter of Georgia Department of Education Division of School and District Effectiveness for their administrative efforts to define, then share with teachers, what quality means in their particular disciplines. At the same time, the school system is undertaking a massive assessment from a wide variety of data sources in Math and English Language Arts from grades K-12 to see where any curriculum imperfections might exist that could hamper the successful progression of students from one grade to the next. That assessment is being facilitated by experts in each field who are also ensuring the system meets state and national standards. “One thing we are seeing here that we don’t see in other districts is that they are developing a plan for the whole district,” said Content Expert Claire Pierce, an instruction reformer with the National Center on Education and the Economy. “I think that is very impressive.” The effort is being overseen by Associate Superintendent Walter Knighton, who is involving teachers and academic advisors in developing a uniform plan. “The district has a responsibility to ensure that all students have a guaranteed and viable curriculum no matter whose class they are in,” said Mr. Knighton. Typically, curriculum is assessed on a grade by grade level without attention to what had occurred before. Thus, deficiencies in the development of math skills in, say, the third grade, become problems in the fourth grade, which worsen. By the time the student gets to high school, the problems are insurmountable. “Other districts may be working on high school curriculum, but really, the problems are with what they are doing in the earlier grades,” said Content Expert Deborah Craven, a forty-one year educator. “This district is to be commended for looking at all grades because they are all inter-related.” Ms. Craven had previously served as Arkansas Project Manager responsible for a $30 million School Improvement Initiative over forty-two districts. The results of the work in Sumter County has thus far been very constructive. “After analyzing the data with teachers and leaders, we have finally found systematically what the issue is with mathematics,” said Mr. Knighton. The benefits were echoed by Sumter Primary School Principal Dr. Lezley Anderson. “They helped us to think through what kind of strategies to use,” said Dr. Anderson. “It was really good. It doesn’t blame anybody,” A similar district-wide review of the English Language Arts is also taking place. In their October publication, Georgia Department of Education praised the administrators at Americus-Sumter High School for their weekly assessments of curriculum and lesson plans in all classrooms in an effort to raise the quality of education:
They develop a common vocabulary of what quality looks like and identify what kind of feedback is necessary to increase capacity of their teachers. The team also discusses classroom observations and compares lesson plans to actual instruction. The goal is to build a knowledge base for administrators and to provide consistent, high quality feedback to teachers. This is a great practice that could be used as a model for other schools in the district.
#66: LITERACY WEEK
Twenty minutes of reading a day is all it takes. Literacy week in the Sumter County Schools drove home that point while celebrating books, the process of reading, and the students from each grade level who had read the most words. Retired teachers visited classrooms to read for twenty minutes. Free books were provided during the Panthers football game where the winning students were recognized by Mayor Barry Blount. One sixth-grade student, Xavier Gordon, had read two million, one-hundred and forty-seven thousand, four-hundred and eleven words—so far this year! Other activities in celebration of literacy week included story-telling, decorating classroom doors to look like favorite book covers, teachers and students dressing up as their favorite book characters, and also hat day. Winners from the schools were: Pre-Kindergarten, Aubrielle Coley; Kindergarten, Tobias Harris; First Grade, Tamea Hawkins; Second Grade, a tie between Elijah Cornwell and Mark Godwin; Third Grade, Laila Glover; Fourth Grade Timisha Walker; Fifth Grade, Aaliyah West; Sixth Grade, Xavier Gordon; Seventh Grade, Median Martinez-Carter; Eighth Grade, Brianna Page; Ninth Grade, Aqavious Brown; Tenth Grade, Jordan Long; Eleventh Grade, Ryan Mournighan; Twelfth Grade, Daisha Roberts.
#65: YOLANDA COLEY: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
Yolanda Coley believes in bringing the community into the classroom while taking back into the community the passion for change that drives her as an educator. The Sumter County Intermediate School Teacher of the Year finds ways to do both while teaching math to fifth graders. “I believe that students are most motivated and interested when they are given a voice in the learning process through finding connections between the curriculum and their own lives and interests,” she said. Ms. Coley uses recipes as a way to learn fractions and uses the duties of a pharmacist to teach whole numbers. “I believe these types of activities are the most memorable because they are hands on and not the traditional way of teaching.” A big fan of professional learning, Ms. Coley also sees community service as her responsibility for the change in the world she has committed to as a teacher. She is very active in the many service-related projects of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) and is involved in many ministries at her churches, including praise and worship team leader, children adult dance ministry leader, and children’s church teacher. Outside the sorority and the church, Ms. Coley finds even more ways to do as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For example: “After the death of a close friend, I founded the group ‘Lupus Trailblazers of Americus’ which hosts its annual ‘Walk to End Lupus’ event in May,” she said. Ms. Coley also has important insight into the trends and issues in her field, especially the attack on the public schools and how best to improve education in America. She says that politicians blame the schools for the society’s inability to solve various social problems such as poverty, crime, and the disappearing middle class. They offer solutions that further compromise the educational system. “It is my belief that, with the continued focus on privatizing public schools, America will fall behind in its race to compete with nations across the world,” she said. “The problem won’t be fixed with requiring teachers to only produce students with high test scores.” Ms. Coley’s solution, instead, is to have higher standards for teachers entering the field of education, a strong curriculum, and resources for children who enroll in the public school system. She is also a big fan of teacher accountability. “Without teacher accountability, we leave room for those who are not as devoted to the profession as they should be, to lurk and ruin the lives of our students.” If all of these issues are considered collectively, Ms. Coley is hopeful about the future of public education: “Once teachers are confident in the curriculum they are teaching, once they have higher standards to enter the field, and once children who are in poverty are provided with the resources they need to be successful, such as food and middle class values, then we have a shot at fixing our public schools.”
#64: SHERRI HARRIS: TEACHER OF THE YEAR AMERICUS-SUMTER HIGH SCHOOL
For Americus-Sumter County High School Teacher of the Year Sherri Harris, teaching extends in many directions. She is perhaps best known for the instruction she provides female athletes on the basketball court. Ms. Harris’ Panthers were AAAA State Champions last year with a remarkable record of thirty-one wins and only one loss. But she is equally passionate about the coaching she does in the classroom. “My personal philosophy of teaching is based on the foundational premise that all students can and want to learn,” Ms. Harris said, adding that she is committed to the growth of her students both academically and socially. “I strive daily to help the next generation become productive members of society,” she continued. “One of my greatest rewards as an educator is providing motivation and support for students as they realize their educational and personal goals.” But she doesn’t limit her passion for teaching to just the school environment. She is working with educators and community members to create reading camps for young children in the community. In addition, she utilizes the celebrity of her athletes to further support the youth of Sumter County. “I try to instill in the students who I coach that we must use sports as a pathway to reach our youth,” said Ms. Harris. “My belief is that if our youth see superstar athletes reading, they will want to read as well. I often pair the older girls with younger girls in the community to serve as mentors, as well as to better their craft. . . I spend much of my off time working with the young ladies outside of school to make them better citizens.” If all of that isn’t enough, Ms. Harris is also focused on helping those who are new to the field of education. “I have served as a mentor teacher at Americus-Sumter County High School,” she said. “I am charged with supporting new teachers as well as student interns from Georgia Southwestern State University. This role is significant because many teachers leave the profession within their first few years and it is largely because many of them feel there is a lack of support and many of them feel isolated.” To take it all even one step further, Ms. Harris believes that good teaching reverberates through the lives of all those who are taught and into the community as a whole: “I firmly believe that when we take pride in what we do and promote excellence in our students, the general public will take pride in our success.”
#63: MONISHA REN'A VOLLEY: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
Sumter County School Elementary School Teacher of the Year has been a teacher for as long as she can remember. As a child, Monisha Ren’a Volley—now at Sumter County Intermediate School due to reconfiguration—recognized the many values of the classroom and sought to replicate those values at home. “Even though both my parents worked, life was still hard on us,” the fourth grade teacher said. “I didn’t live in a house or travel outside of Americus with my family until I was in high school. We as educators know that school is a safe haven for many kids and this was no different for me. At school, I could forget about any issues that were going on at home. I had teachers that made school inviting and fun but structured. Once I made it back home, I would play teacher, imitating those same characteristics that attracted me to my teachers. My ‘students’ consisting of friends or stuffed animals , would get lessons filled with enthusiasm but would also get disciplined when needed.” She recalls the great teacher she had growing up, including her 7th grade teacher who would jump on desks to get students to understand a concept, and 4th grade teacher who cried while reading “A Taste of Blackberries.” From the 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Volley developed her love of math, while the 4th grade teacher inspired her to read aloud to her students. Twice named teacher of the year for her school, Mrs. Volley has attended a wide variety of professional learning activities and has helped with Beta Club and Odyssey of the Mind. She feels it is her duty to continue developing as a teacher because “To whom much is given, much is required.” Her goal is not only to produce great students, but also to produce productive adults that provide good to our universe in some form. In order to do so, Mrs. Volley stresses perseverance and attitude, teamwork, and respect. “I stress to students that we are all family and all families have issues and spats but most of the time we wouldn’t do anything to cause harm to them,” she said. “In the end, families still love each other and will work together to resolve differences.”
#62: CRYSTAL LINGEFELT: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
For Sumter County Elementary School Teacher of the Year Crystal Lingefelt, the emphasis on teaching more things to students at an earlier age has had a significant unintended consequence: “There is less focus on teaching social interaction and more on academics. Therefore, students do not know how to interact anymore,” said Mrs. Lingefelt, a Second Grade Special Education Teacher at the elementary school. “We’ve also pushed most of our character education out of schools because we don’t have time to teach it. We tried to make more time for academics, but we’ve created people who don’t know how to wait their turn or how to accept failure.” When she began her student teaching in Pre-K, she recalls that most of the state standards were about social skills and learning how to interact with other people in a group setting. “Academics were not to be taught explicitly, only through exposure,” She said. “The main focus was on social development. But now, with the higher expectation on students to know more material in kindergarten and first grade, many Pre-K teachers are forced to teach ABC’s and one, two, threes.” Often the behavior problems that develop from students not having enough social education gets in the way of their getting from school what Mrs. Lingefelt thinks to be the fundamental goal of education: “I believe teaching is all about proving how important and fun learning is to the children,” she said. “Once you prove it to them, you can teach them anything.” The challenge of making learning fun in the results-oriented schools of today require her to step outside the box in her presentation of the lesson plan. “You have to become a performance artist to keep lessons lively for the students to watch and engage in,” she said. “I’ve changed my voice, stood on desks, and dramatically over-reacted to events just to get the kids to remember something important. But I love doing it, and I know it is working because these kids go home and tell their parents how much they love school and want to come back again.” Still, she believes the most important thing a teacher can do is support and affirm all the many personalities that come into her life. “I also believe that every child needs to be told ‘I love you’” said Mrs. Lingefelt. “Some students ask for love in the wrong ways, like acting out or misbehaving. I make sure I tell each child I work with, no matter what their status, race, gender, disability, or personality is, that I love them.”
#61: JAY UMPLEBY: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL
The teacher of the year at Sumter County Middle School, Jay Umpleby, has been driven to learn by the example and the encouragement of his parents. Mr. Umpleby’s father had asked his dad to drop out of school in the tenth-grade. “His father told him he’d sign the papers, but that it would be ‘all work and no play’ from there on out,” said Umpleby. “My father had to work many physically taxing jobs during my childhood days. I remember us working together in the tobacco fields one summer. That experience made me appreciate the free education that I was receiving and it motivated me to further my education upon high school graduation.” Mr. Umpleby knows that learning is a lifelong pursuit, especially when it involves the training of young minds. He recognizes the importance of all the professional learning opportunities the school system offers to their educators. “Due to the constant changes and updates that occur in the field of education in Georgia, a certified teacher has to be sure to keep up with all of these changes,” said Mr. Umpleby. “The Sumter County School System and Sumter County Middle School make it a priority for all teachers to stay informed by having professional learning study groups so that we are abreast of the constant changes.” But Mr. Umpleby doesn’t stop there. He takes advantage of the educational opportunities offered by being a member of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). The physical education teacher and coach of three sports also attends the yearly “Share the Wealth Physical Education Conference” to keep up with the changes in his field of certification, as well as to help better plan, assess, and evaluate the lessons he has taught over the years. In addition, he utilizes the school system’s membership with the district RESA office in Ellaville by attending their seminars and workshops, including “Nature and Needs of the Middle School Learner” and “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” He has also been trained in the Georgia SHAPE program on how to use the Fitnessgram to test all students, which in turn teaches students how to be lifelong managers of their physical activities and stay healthy throughout life. With all of this training and continuing education, he is inspired by the words spoken by Associate Superintendent Walter Knighton: “Teachers have to adapt so that we do not become extinct.’” Mr. Umpleby welcomes accountability in his profession, and in demanding this accountability in teachers, he feels that Georgia is moving in the right direction. However, he thinks that limiting teachers’ accountability to test scores of their students is not a fair or accurate measure. “A combination of standardized tests, common classroom assessments, work ethic, and classroom management would be a great combination to use in measuring a teacher’s accountability,” he said. “As long as a teacher is willing to sacrifice their pride and humbly work toward becoming a better teacher, then he or she should have no problems becoming one who has a high level of accountability.”
#60: WHITNEY BOWEN: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY PRIMARY SCHOOL
Many teachers always knew they were going to be teachers. At six or seven years of age, they gathered makeshift students and stood at the front of improvised classrooms and began to play teacher. But for Mary Whitney Bowen, Teacher of the Year at Sumter Primary School, doing so would have been too intimidating. “I remember thinking, me, a young girl from Americus, Georgia, becoming a teacher? How could I ever have what it takes to change the lives of children? Even though I enjoyed school and loved just about every teacher I came in contact with, I just did not think I had what it took to be great like them.” It took Mrs. Bowen years and the challenges of several key people in her life to finally realize that she belonged among the ranks of those she idolized. “My younger sister had a learning disability that had gone unnoticed for years,” Mrs. Bowen said. “It was not until the fourth grade that a teacher finally noticed that something was just not right. . .Her struggle became our reality.” Later , she learned that her husband had been misdiagnosed with ADHD until his early teens, when they finally figured out that he was dyslexic. “To know that he hated school because nobody understood him and others made fun of him absolutely broke my heart.,” she said. “His story has taught me to be patient, forgiving, and caring, which are very important qualities to possess in a classroom full of deserving children. He taught me that sometimes you have to just take a deep breath and approach with different tactics. I have also learned that every child learns differently and in his own way. It is our job as teachers to help these children find their own strengths and help them to become great.” Ms. Bowen’s journey as an educator has involved a shift in focus away from teacher and toward the student. “When I first began teaching, my thoughts were about me as the educator and what I could do to educate the children in the classroom,” she said. “After teaching for a couple of years, I began to realize that teaching was about so much more. It was about equipping children with the tools that they will need to be successful on this journey called life.” Much of her success as a teacher involves creating the right environment for learning to take place. “Students need a place to feel safe from harm,” she continued. “They need a place where they can make mistakes and learn from them and not be punished. . .Today children come to us from all walks of life, but as long as we believe in them, they will rise above and do their very best.”
#59: SARINDA WOODSON: TEACHER OF THE YEAR AMERICUS-SUMTER NINTH GRADE ACADEMY
For Sarinda Woodson, the goal of education is to inspire students to look beyond their world.
“It has always been my belief that education can take a person anywhere their imagination will allow them to go,” said the Family and Consumer Sciences instructor and Teacher of the Year at the Sumter County Ninth-Grade Academy. “My philosophy of teaching includes a belief that if you want to get the students to ‘go’ somewhere in life, you must ‘take’ them somewhere during that part of your life that you share. This involves exposing them to another view of the world.”
The challenge for a teacher, as she sees it, is to build relationships with the students that allow them to look past their circumstances in life.
“There is no truer statement than ‘a child does not care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” said Ms. Woodson. “When you can relate to the child’s world, then you can encourage them to explore other worlds and other interests. The lack of exposure appears to be the main hindrance and direct cause of students’ limited interest in classroom activities.”
Ms. Woodson is concerned that an increasing number of regulations and restrictions may drive the passion out of teachers to the overall detriment of the educational system and the society in general.
“No profession can grow without an accountability tool, but it must be flexible enough to offer an opportunity for self-reflection,” she said. “An unknown author once said, ‘Teaching is the profession that teaches all other professions.’ Contrary to popular belief, knowledge is still power.”
Because of the importance of education to the overall social well-being, her message to educators and the general public is clear:
“We are in a state of emergency as it pertains to our children and educational system,” she said. “They are our future, and without the necessary set of skills, they will not be equipped to carry on the patterns in education we are attempting to establish.
“While we are making strides and moving in the right direction, we must re-establish in children the innate desire for learning and unearth what made teachers want to enter this profession in the first place.”
#58 TELEVISION PROGRAMMING THAT INFORMS THE COMMUNITY:
When things occur through the school system that are of broader interest to the entire community, Sumter County Schools partner with GSW TV at Georgia Southwestern State University, to make sure the public can benefit from it. Robert Slenker, Instructional Technology Coordinator, films the events and broadcasts them on channel 16 on Mediacom Cable. In this most recent program, eight human rights related organizations from Sumter County came together in celebration of a visit from our sister city in Japan, and in doing so, articulated an important aspect of our community that had never before come together in one place. Also as a part of the exchange, two men of vision from the community, former Mayor Russell Thomas and former Georgia Southwestern President Bill Capitan, spoke about what it took to create some of the most iconic hallmarks of Americus: The Windsor Hotel and Rylander Theater, as well as the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. The partnership between GSW TV and Sumter County Schools ensured that not only would people know about these events as they aired, but that the words spoken would remain an important archive for who we are as a community. Please click on the following link to watch the program:
#57: IDENTIFYING AND CELEBRATING PEOPLE OF VISION FROM SUMTER COUNTY
DAYS THREE FOUR AND FIVE OF JAPANESE DELEGATION'S VISIT
The second theme of the Japanese visit to Americus was to focus on people of vision from Sumter County and understand what it took to create something from nothing. Along this journey and for the last four days of their trip, the Japanese also flew in single engine planes from Souther Field, had dinner with principals and the Superintendent from the Sumter County School system, had dinner at the house of Americus Mayor Barry Blount, were hosted at Monroes by the city’s Main Street Program and Director Patrick Kay, were hosted by the local Shriner's Club, visited the high school and the middle school where they were greeted by choruses, culinary programs and cheerleaders, and just enjoyed the overwhelming hospitality of a community that opened their doors fully to their foreign guests. The group also performed a special karate and dance performance for middle and intermediate school students. The day before, they had learned the stories of Sumter County visionaries Millard Fuller who founded Habitat for Humanity; Clarence Jordan who founded Koinonia Farms; and Bill Harris who founded Café Campesino. At the Rylander Theater, the group was met by former Georgia Southwestern State University President Bill Capitan and former Americus Mayor Russell Thomas Jr. Dr. Capitan talked about the persistence required to create the Rosalynn Carter Center for Caregivers, while Mayor Thomas talked about the need to overcome the naysayers in his creation of the Windsor Hotel and the Rylander Theater. At Souther Field, the group saw the statue commemorating Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight. The story of Jimmy Carter’s rise to the presidency is certainly another example of the vision of someone from Sumter County causing great things to happen. The group was given a special treat when Kim Fuller, the daughter of Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy, met with them at the Carter National Historic Site and spoke about how the town had changed as a result of the Carter Presidency, as well as all the support the Carter family and citizens of Plains provided for the 39th President’s rise to fame. A more idiosyncratic visionary from South Georgia was Eddie Owen Martin, a self-taught artist from nearby Buena Vista, who created a unique visionary art environment at Pasaquan, which the group toured, as well as the Andersonville National Historic Site.
#56: HELPING DEVELOP CULTURAL TOURISM
On the second day of their visit, the Japanese contingent forged a path through Sumter County that was thematically and historically linked; a path of human rights that can be replicated by future visitors to the town. Their day began when they were met at the Americus Welcome Center by a contingent of city employees offering gifts and flowers. Inside, they visited the Civil Rights Display and a replica of the jail cell that held both Martin Luther King and Congressman John Lewis. They were told the history of the movement in Sumter County by Sam Mahone, Chairman of the Americus/Sumter County Civil Rights Institute. Then, they boarded the Americus City Trolley for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village and Discovery Center , where they were met by Center Director Larry Perrault. They learned about the organization’s charismatic founder, Millard Fuller, and they saw how most of the world lives, either in dilapidated poverty housing, or in the simple two or three room homes Habitat builds all over the world. Across the street, they visited Café Campesino and learned about the Fair Trade Coffee Movement that ensures Third World coffee farmers are paid fairly. They saw the process of roasting coffee beans and learned how the flavor and texture of the coffee was determined by the way the bean was cooked. Founder Bill Harris, explained how he was inspired to do all he had done after going on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Guatemala. Malcolm Argo offered a tour of historic Americus as the trolley made its way to Georgia Southwestern State University, where they were met by a contingent of administrators and faculty including University President Charles Patterson and Dr. Leisa Easom, Director of the Rosalynn Carter Center for Caregivers. Dr. Easom provided a book for the group written by her and Mrs. Carter about the organization’s fundamental purpose: to protect the rights of caregivers to lead meaningful and productive lives in the charge of their duties. At Koinonia Farm, they were met by Director Bren Dubay and had lunch before learning about the work this organization does in Human Rights. They also learned about the process of growing, shelling, and preparing pecans to support the organization’s humanitarian efforts. They learned about the organization’s founder, Clarence Jordan, and how Habitat founder, Millard Fuller, was inspired by the Fund for Humanity home building program at Koinonia, where Fuller and his wife Linda ended up after a crisis in their marriage. At the opening reception, the group learned about the human rights mission of both The National Historic Sites at Andersonville and the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, home of the Human Rights President. All of the stories could ultimately be traced back to the Civil Rights struggles that began the tour. All of the stories were interconnected in a variety of ways. Throughout their visits, the group was given presents from their hosts. The day that began with the city ended with the city, as Mayor Barry Blount presented the Japanese contingent with a flag of Americus at the City Council meeting.
#55: OPEN HOUSE; THE BEGINNING OF A PARENT/TEACHER PARTNERSHIP
Open house sets in motion the model for how school should operate for the rest of the year. While the students are introduced to their teachers for the first time and anxiously check class lists to see if it is filled with friends, the parents have an opportunity to meet the teachers, see their child’s academic environment, and learn something about what and how the teacher will be teaching that year. The relationship between parents and teachers is crucial to the success of the child, and will continue throughout the year with parent/teacher conferences, parent resource centers, various stakeholder meetings, and through direct communication by e-mail, phone, or through to the school. Parental involvement is key to a student’s success. Learning is a lifelong process that continues well beyond school hours. It all begins at open house with teachers in the classroom extending a hand of friendship and partnership to the parents who are responsible for the child’s lifelong education. Over the next few weeks, we will be showing ways that parents can interact with teachers for the benefit of their children.
#54: TEACHER OFFERING ADVICE TO NEW TEACHERS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HER TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS IN THE SYSTEM
(NOTE: Below are pictures of the 2016/2017 new teachers with their principals and vice-principals)
Earlier on this Facebook page, we featured an article about Sumter Primary School Teacher Whitney Bowen, offering new teachers in Sumter County her thoughts on teaching, focusing mostly on the things she learned after her first year. Later at that same new teacher orientation, Americus-Sumter County High School Teacher Lynn Heath, offered the new teachers a perspective that was entering its twenty-ninth year. Together, the two speeches—along with a speech by Sumter County Schools’ Teacher of the Year Lynde Parker—offered a manual for success in the classroom. Ms. Heath’s points included: 1) Planning is the key to being successful in your classroom. Teachers should over-plan when possible: “It’s good to always have something that you can pull out,” she said. 2) Routines are important. Even establishing routines over students’ going to the bathroom or sharpening their pencils; little things make a difference. 3) Be fair and consistent. If you make a rule for one child you have to apply it to all of them. “If they know you treat everybody the same, they’re pretty much going to live with it.” 4) Have a sense of humor and learn to laugh at yourself. 5) Don’t wing it. “When you try to wing it, kids know what you’re doing and they’re going to tear you up.” 6) Find a small group of trusted people. Have three or four people you can blow off steam with. 7) Meet your deadlines. 8) Be careful how much work you take home. “Your home life should be just as important as your school life. If you need to, come thirty minutes early or stay thirty minutes late at work, instead.” 8) Learn to let things go. “Some days are not going to be perfect; there are some students you can’t reach. With a passion to change the world that most teachers bring to the profession, that is the hardest thing to do.” 9) Look for the pendulum effect in education. Old ways once discarded tend to come back with a different name. 10) Find a mentor teacher. Ask that person how they would deal with a situation. 11) Share. If you have a great lesson, share it with others. Share ideas, lessons, web sites. Know that everyone needs help 12) If you don’t know how to do something, ask somebody. 13) Do your job and enjoy it. “When you enjoy it, the kids will enjoy it.” 14) Look out for your health. “Do something to relieve your stress. Exercise, eat right. You’ve got a lot of little lives depending on you.” 15) Show kids you care. “It’s not about being their best friend; it’s about helping them learn to be successful. “ 16) You will never be able to go into town again without running into a parent or student. 17) Remember you are a representative of the school system. In conclusion, Ms. Heath said there was a reason she had stayed with this system as long as she had: “Sumter County Schools have been good to me,” she said. “If you do your job, they will support you.”
#53: LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT AT: BACK TO SCHOOL PEP RALLY
For one day each year, teachers and administrators who otherwise strive for order and who command respect, don multi-colored hair wigs and dance unabashedly in front of their peers, as the high school band rocks on and the cheerleaders rile up the crowd. Each school in the system is asked to perform a particular song with or without musical accompaniment, sometimes in costume or with props that support their particular funky message. While it is always hard to predict what will happen with any given school on any given year, what is absolutely certain is the sense of camaraderie, enthusiasm and shared purpose that all the participants carry into the upcoming school year.
#52: TEACHER OFFERING ADVICE TO NEW TEACHERS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HER SECOND YEAR IN THE SYSTEM
As school gets ready to begin, students aren’t the only ones about to tread upon new grounds. Teachers new to the system and often new to teaching, face a similar leap into “who knows what.” Those teachers met with school administrators and other teachers in the Sumter County school system in order to get headed in the right direction. Organized by Helen Ricketts, Director of Human Resources for the school system, the teachers learned about everything from Federal programs to intervention services. Of particular interest were the teachers who took the time to provide their perspective on the profession they share with the newbies. Kindergarten Teacher Whitney Bowen, now entering her third year in Sumter County Schools, described all she had learned in that first year of work. It began with misconceptions preceding her students even entering the classroom: “My thought was, ‘Don’t you get it? If I make my classroom super cute and organized, the rest of the year will go smoothly.’” This turned out not to be the case, as the power point presentation behind her flashed onto the image of Dorothy and her dog, along with the saying: “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” She then offered ten pieces of advice she wished someone had told her when she was about to take on the awesome responsibility of shaping young lives, which she offered in reverse order: 10) Establishing your rules and procedures takes more than a week. It is a year-long process. 9) Do not expect the students to know exactly what to expect from them. 8) Expect the unexpected. 7) Be flexible. If your lesson plan is a flop, try something new. 6) Let the children speak! 5) Set your expectations high! 4) Keep a journal; you will need a good laugh one day. 3) Admit your mistakes; students need to know it’s okay to be unsure. 2) Build relationships with kids. 1) Believe in the children. In her final remarks, she concluded: “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways” and “Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.”
#51: A WORLD-WIDE REACH
SUMTER COUNTY STUDENTS AND ADMINISTRATORS RETURN FROM JAPAN
This year a delegation from the Sumter County Schools were honored guests in Konu, Japan in the Hiroshima prefecture. Konu is the Sister City of Americus. The group consisted of eight students from the Middle School, Ninth Grade Academy, and the High School, as well as four adult administrators. The students were chosen based on their attendance, grades, and classroom behavior. They also were asked to submit an essay about something they learned about Japanese culture as well as the importance of travel. This is one of several study-abroad opportunities that have been, and will be offered through the school system. Before leaving, the Sumter County delegation learned about the many particulars of Japanese culture and etiquette. They also practiced using chopsticks and became familiar with Japanese food. In Japan, the group visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, and learned various aspects of Japanese culture such as calligraphy, while learning to play traditional Japanese instruments and to sing Japanese songs. Each member of the delegation was the guest of a Japanese household throughout their stay. A delegation from Konu City will be traveling to Americus on the seventeenth of August and will reside with homestay families here. This year’s group included Americus-Sumter High School Principal Kimothy Hadley; Ninth Grade Academy Principal James Coleman Price; former Middle School Principal Stacy Favors who now is Assessment Coordinator/Federal Programs; and Director of Federal Programs Gayla Braziel. Students traveling were Jamal Floyd, Bailey Roberson, Bentlee Roberson, Daisha Roberts, Jasmine Jordan, Morris Winters, Sharon Bullons, and Thomas Trinh. The Japanese sent more than five-hundred pictures of their esteemed American guests, and what follows on the Facebook Page are pictures from the first half of the trip. Keep posted for pictures from the second half.
#50: END OF THE YEAR RECOGNITION, FUN, AND CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE
In addition to Honors Day, Baccalaureate and Graduation at the high school, Sumter County Schools launches a series of events celebrating the efforts students have put in that year while setting their eyes on future challenges. Kindergarten graduation puts the end-goal in students’ minds at an early age. Each child who graduates get a “diploma” as they set off on a career of learning. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the students and their teachers was that an auditorium full of kindergartners was quiet and perfectly behaved for the duration of the ninety-minute event. At the middle school, “8th Grade Promise to Graduate Ceremony” recognizes the completion of the years before high school while challenging each student to also complete the next level. In addition, the middle school and intermediate school showcased their talented choirs and concert bands at Parent Night events, while each of the schools awarded outstanding achievement among students in special day time assemblies. Also, water slides and jumping castles could be found at the early learning center, the primary school, and the elementary school, while the intermediate school held a book fair. Field Days abounded as students tested their athletic skills in various fun events. Teachers created scrap books and DVD reflections on the year so that students remember and celebrate what got them to where they are going next.
#49: THE SENIOR WALK THROUGH
The Senior Walk Through is an event like no other. Graduating Seniors from Americus-Sumter High School are bussed to each school in the district and walk through the halls to the cheers and tears of students and teachers: cheers from the student who look to the graduates as a role model for their own future success; tears from the teachers who once taught a younger version of the men and women who were once children. Throughout the schools, graduates have the opportunity to thank their former teachers with cards and hugs. It also gives teachers an opportunity to see the grown up fruits of their labors. For the children lining the halls with handmade posters of congratulations for the graduates, it gives them an opportunity to see where their education is leading and inspires future success.
#48: LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEXT YEAR: FIELD TRIPS TO HELP CREATE AN EASY TRANSITION
The Sumter County Schools System goes the extra mile to ensure that students graduating to the next school in the district make a smooth and effective transition to their new environments. Before the end of the school year, all the kindergarteners graduating from Sumter Early Learning Center visit Sumter Primary School; second graders at the primary school are given a tour of the elementary school; fourth grade elementary school students go to Sumter Intermediate School; and sixth graders from the intermediate school walk across the street and visit Sumter Middle School. In each new environment, the children are shown, among other things, where they will eat lunch, take physical education, learn the arts, and get library books, while seeing what their classrooms will look like. Principals and teachers are on hand to welcome the students and at the Intermediate School, fourth grade students who had made the transition the year before led the tour of the school for the third-graders. Why spend the day running the buses and the students from one place to another? Sumter Intermediate School Principal Sharon Marcus explained: “Transitioning to a new school can be an overwhelming experience for students and parents,” she said. “Counselors lead the effort to provide a smooth transition for students by providing time for them to tour the new schools, meet new teachers and administrators. These activities help to calm fears and anxieties as students see their new environments and get a snapshot of the programs and activities offered."
#47: THE USE OF THE GEORGIA MILESTONES ASSESSMENT IN BETTERING THE CURRICULUM
Though often hated and very often misunderstood, the new Georgia Milestones Assessment provides a wealth of comprehensive information to help teachers and students know what they need to do in order to be college and career ready. It is especially an important tool in helping principals and school districts develop their curriculum. Earlier statewide tests only provided scores and were graded on a pass/fail basis. The Georgia Milestones spell out where each student’s competences and deficiencies lie, so students and teachers can better address the weaknesses and districts can better develop a curriculum to meet state and national standards. “We used to have to do guess work to figure out what the problems are and how to address them,” said Associate Superintendent Walter Knighton. “The Georgia Milestones are a huge tool in measuring the effectiveness of our curriculum.” Knighton and his team of school leaders and teachers will be busy this summer studying the Georgia Milestone results, along with a number of other indicators, to see what changes have to be made. While standards and testing for those standards are supplied by the State, it is up to each district to develop their own curriculum to meet those standards. In addition, the Georgia Milestone Assessment aligns itself more closely with national standards, which has raised the bar for what teachers in Georgia need to teach and what students need to know. A percentile is supplied on all tests in all areas showing how the student fares with other students across the nation. Thus, students from Sumter County Schools who score in the upper 90th-percentile—and there are a number of students from the district who have scored that well—can feel confident that they are getting as good of an education here as they would get anywhere else in the country. An ongoing issue with the test is how much it should matter in the evaluation of principals and teachers. Currently, the test is 70-percent of a principal’s evaluation and 50-percent of a teacher’s. A bill working its way through the Georgia House and Senate would reduce that amount to 40-percent for principals and 30-percent for teachers. In all cases, principals and teachers are evaluated not on the score their students make, but on the improvement they made from the year before. For students in high school, the test results account for 20-percent of their grade in their course areas. Students in the fifth and eighth grade have to show a proficiency in both reading and math to advance to the next grade. Students in third grade have to show a proficiency in reading, only. For first and second grades, a Sumter County Alternative Assessment is administered which serves in much the same way as the Georgia Milestones. Georgia Milestones is administered to all public school students in the State. Private school students are not administered the test.
#46: ODYSSEY OF THE MIND THROUGHOUT THE SYSTEM
Odyssey of the Mind theater competition is an intellectual opportunity that turns traditional learning upside down. Rather than being taught how to solve problems, students are presented problems and have to come up with creative solutions on their own. The problems range from building mechanical devices to presenting their interpretation of literary classics. They bring their solutions to competitions on the local, state and World level. This year, Sumter County Schools have actively promoted the program to their students, fielding teams from the elementary school, two teams from the intermediate school, and one team from the middle school. The team from the elementary school came in second place in their group and advanced to the state finals. Students are challenged on a number of levels ranging from the practical to the creative. They have to design and stich together their own costumes and design and build their own set and scenery in addition to writing their script which they are responsible for performing. Team coaches can only ask questions to help guide the students in solving their problems, thus facilitating the students’ creative decision making. Problems addressed and solved by this year’s groups included: “Aesop’s Gone Viral”, whereby one team from the Intermediate School led by Emily Strickland had to create a performance that showed three ways an Aesop’s Fable could go viral. At the Middle School, Dana Adams used the opportunity of the performance to bring in different instructors to further her student’s abilities in different areas. These included Dance Instructor Shernone Butts; Chorus Director William Aplin; and Band Instructor Roy Eaddy. Georgia Southwestern’s Dr. Elaine Cotter taught students how to sew fabric and materials for costumes and curtains while Ms. Dana Daniels supported the students while they developed the epilogue in iambic pentameter. Other Coaches included Rachel Sandal from the Elementary School and James Beckett from the Intermediate School. Each year, thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about twenty-five countries participate in the program.
#45: IN MEMORIAM
When Sumter Intermediate School Principal Sharon Marcus moved into her new building after the school realignment this year, she noticed a brick wall on the front lawn with the words “Eric Wilson Memorial Garden.” But she had no idea who Eric Wilson was. In time, she learned that he was a former sixth-grade student in what was then Sumter County Middle School, who died in a car crash in 1994. Not only that, but he was the son of the Intermediate School’s Bookkeeper, Ruby Wilson. Sumter County Board Member Sylvia Roland, also noticed that the “garden” had nothing but lawn in front of it and behind it. So the principal and the school board member set out to remedy the situation. Principal Marcus decided she wanted plants that would attract butterflies so the students could enjoy them. Mrs. Roland and her yardman, Johnny Mitchell, created a garden both in front of, and behind, the memorial plaque which features “Butterfly Plants,” designed to do exactly what Principal Marcus intended. When it was created in 1994 under the leadership of then Principal Carolyn Hamilton and the PTO, the garden had been an active bed for flowers and plants of all sorts. In fact, Mrs. Wilson said that through the years, other parents who had lost a child in the Sumter County School system would plant a flower or bush there in memory of the loved one. Eric Wilson died when a car driven by his cousin was on a road which was under construction and the driver attempted to turn back onto the higher part of the pavement. When the car hit the ridge, it flipped over. Eric was the only fatality. Mrs. Wilson remembers her son as someone who loved sports and who was a fun person to be around. She said that he loved his classmates and got along with just about everyone. When Mrs. Wilson came to work at the school in 2008 after having worked at the Elementary School, her parking place brought her face to face with her son’s name every morning, an occurrence that filled her with great joy: “When I first came in each day it just lifted my spirits,” she said. “Just knowing that someone was thinking about him, the memorial will always be out there so people will always remember his name.”
#44: NEW YOUNG VOICES RATED “SUPERIOR”
For years in the Sumter County School system, choir had been an activity that began in the seventh grade. But when the schools realigned, Choir Director Hugh Peacock found himself with fifth and sixth grade students at Sumter Intermediate School. So he took to training the young, sixth-grade voices a year ahead of schedule and the results have been remarkable. The choir recently participated in the District Two Choral Performance Evaluation sponsored by the Georgia Music Educators Association, where they received a superior rating in both performance and sight reading. Ratings are from one to five, with a superior being the highest rating given, signifying “an outstanding performance; worthy of distinction of being recognized as among the very best.” The choir performed two classical numbers for the judges: “God of Great and God of Small”, as well as “Kyrie Eleison.” Then, in the sight reading section, the thirty-five students in the group were given a song on sheet music and had five minutes to study it and sing it a cappella. On their sight-reading performance, the judges noted: “Not many Sixth Grade choirs can sight read as well as you. Keep improving- you’ll become fine musicians.” The tradition of excellent Sumter County singers seems to be pushing from the bottom-up. In addition to the Intermediate School’s outstanding performance, the Middle School Choir led by Greg Aplin also received superior ratings. The Intermediate School Choir has performances on April 23rd at Arts in the Park; at the Arts-a-Poppin’ at Sumter Elementary School on May 6th; and their Spring Concert is at the Intermediate School on May 10th. The Middle School's "Rythm and Rhyme Ensemble" will be performing on April 12th at the Middle School for the Social Studies Parent Workshop; May 5th at City Walk in Universal Studios for the Stars Performance Program; and May 10th at the Middle School for the Spring Spectacular.
#43: MAKING MOVIES AT ALL AGES
Each year, students from throughout the Sumter County School System have a wonderful opportunity to explore their creativity and talents through the Georgia Movie Academy productions. The Academy is a digital storytelling competition sponsored by the Educational Technology Centers in Georgia which recognizes student work in areas of video production and story-telling. Students also experience some of the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood opening when their three-minute videos are premiered on the big screen at the luxurious Rylander Theater with the students being escorted to and from the show by a stretch limousine. This year’s entrants began as young as Kindergarten with the film “Planets to the Rescue” whereby a polluted planet earth sent an Instagram to fellow planets to help save it. Under this year’s theme of “collaboration”, each of the planets offered their advice on how to save earth. The entrant from Sumter Primary School won second place in their division for the video “Oh the Places You’ll Go” based on the Dr. Seuss story. Sumter Elementary School and Intermediary School also had entrants, the Intermediary School's entitled "Hipster Hobos." Sumter Middle School’s story was “Final Chapter” about students not wanting to work together on a science project because of their interests in band, chorus and athletics. In the end, they decide to collaborate and complete the project as assigned. Sumter Elementary School had a similarly themed piece called "The Science Fair" in which each of the students wants to do the project their own way until they realize they have to work together to be successful. In the end, they win first place. The Americus-Sumter County High School’s Project was entitled “Collaborate: Making a Movie,” which was about exactly that.
#42: EXCELLENCE AT SUMTER COUNTY EARLY LEARNING CENTER RECOGNIZED
An outstanding student, teacher, and parent volunteer from Sumter County Early Learning Center were recognized by the Board of Education at their last meeting. Principal Lezley Anderson introduced all three, beginning with Pre-K student Neeha Gugulothu, who has already begun to master sight words and is reading some books. She is known for leading by example, being a good friend, never giving up, always staying on task, and being respectful. Involved, caring and committed were the words that described Mrs. Carla Smith, recognized for her volunteer efforts. She gets the day started by encouraging students, helping groups with morning work, monitoring the halls, and even singing and dancing with morning calendar math songs! She serves on the school council where she isn’t afraid to represent the interests of other parents. Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Whitney Bowen has excelled in many areas. She piloted the Governor’s Growing Readers Program and her classroom became a model for the district. Her class’s median growth percentile is higher than any other class from kindergarten through second grade. She has also shown great success and innovation implementing the district’s math curriculum and using interactive smartboard technology to engage students.
#41: CREATING JOBS FOR THE AREA
Yesterday’s inaugural Sumter County Schools Job Fair was a huge success. Prospective teachers and administrators had a chance to talk directly with principals and then to talk candidly with employees at the school to find out why they have committed themselves to teaching there. It all reinforced the important role the school system plays in the economy of the region. Sumter County Schools is by far the largest employer in the county, giving full-time jobs to more than 632 people. It is just another way that the school system helps drive forward the economy and quality of life in the area and another reason why "A Thriving Community Requires a Thriving Public School System."
#40: PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS IN ALL ASPECTS OF THEIR JOBS
A mother complains that her child was grabbed by a teacher inappropriately and that the child was injured in the process. The teacher says the accusation is false. The truth remains somewhere at the end of an investigation by the school into what really happened. But how do you conduct such an investigation for this, and for other allegations against staff or students? What are the key procedural methods to follow that will lead to a successful outcome? On Monday John Grant, Chief Investigator for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, presented a two hour presentation mostly to principals and administrators on how best to handle such situations. In addition, Chief Investigator Grant provided information about education in Georgia, including dispelling the myth that Georgia was ranked second to the bottom nationally. Those bottom two honors went to Mississippi and Nevada. In fact, Georgia has been steadily climbing and is currently ranked 33rd, above most neighboring Southern states. In the State, he said that 92-percent of all students attend public schools. There are 218 approved charter schools, 42,474 students are home schooled, and 107,505 students attend private schools. Mr. Grant also provided a refresher on the eleven ethical standards for educators in the State. Sumter County School Superintendent Lawrence T. Walters is one of eighteen commissioners who oversees the Professional Standards Commission.
#39: STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS GALORE!
As the Lady Panthers won the first State championship for the newly consolidated Americus-Sumter High School by beating Veterans 56-38, Americus High has a rich history of athletic champions. All told, the school has won a total of twenty-three state championships in the following sports: Boy’s baseball, nine; football, seven; boy’s golf, three; boy’s basketball, one; girl’s basketball, one; boy’s track, one; and girl’s track, one.
#38: BEYOND SCHOOL SPIRIT: DISTRICT SPIRIT
When the Lady Panthers Basketball Team headed for the first round of the State Championship at Fort Valley State University on Friday, their bus passed by every school in the district. Outside the schools, students and teachers lined up holding up signs and waving furiously, urging the team onto victory. The bus even stopped by the head office so Superintendent Larry Walters and other administrators could express their support. The show of spirit and unity worked. The Americus-Sumter Girls went on to beat Marist 63-56 in the quarterfinals, then beat sports powerhouse Buford in the semifinals 51-44. They will face Veterans in the AAAA Championship on Thursday at the Macon Coliseum.
#37: SUPER BOWL ALUMNI WHO STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
Former NFL star and Americus High alum Kent Hill claims it was his work in the classroom that got him ahead in sports. “I was nowhere nears the best athlete on the football field,” Hill said. “But one of the things that kept me ahead was the fact that I was a good student. It was about preparation and understanding the way you conduct yourself.” Hill, along with Leonard Pope and Dan Reeves were former ASHS alumni presented a golden football by the National Football League for participating in the Super Bowl, a football which the players in turn presented to the high school. This was part of the NFL’s High School Honor Roll initiative that recognizes schools and communities that have contributed to Super Bowl history. Hill played with the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV, Pope played with the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLILL. Reeves participated in an astonishing total of nine Super Bowls, two as a player for the Dallas Cowboys, three as an assistant coach for the Cowboys, three as head coach of the Denver Broncos and one as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Like Hill, Reeves stressed the importance of education in all he achieved on the gridiron. “I thank God every day for the teachers I had here who told me, ‘Dan, you can be the greatest athlete to come out of the state of Georgia, but if you don’t have the right grades, you’re not going to get into the college of your choice,” Reeves said. “The thing that I want to stress to you is your education. A sporting career can be gone in a New York second, but your education will stay with you throughout your life.” Pope recently went back to his alma mater the University of Georgia and completed his degree program. He advised students at ASHS to work hard to achieve their goals academically: “Keep going, keep doing your best, and keep your head down,” he said.
#36: LEARNING UNLIMITED: THE GIFTED PROGRAM
For some students, what they learn in the classroom is just the beginning of the learning process. Their minds take the information and race ahead, thinking of various possibilities and ramifications of what they learned and wanting to know even more. The Gifted Program in the Sumter County Schools allows students to charge ahead as far as their minds will take them, providing research tools for students to further explore what they learn in the class. “We are teaching them to be independent learners,” said Mrs. Rachel Arnold, the Gifted Teacher at Sumter Primary School. “If they do the research themselves they can accelerate at a rate appropriate for them.” The gifted program begins in the first grade, where the students meet for a gifted class once a day. This continues until the fifth grade, where gifted students tend to group together with gifted certified teachers. According to Director for Special Programs Dr. Sebrina Pitts, these students continue their independent quest for knowledge through project-based learning and independent research as assigned. Working together with other gifted students also provides an opportunity for these students: “It offers a deeper level of critical thinking by being around their intellectual peers,” said Mrs. Ashley Beaver, Accountability Specialist for Special Programs. By the time they reach high school, gifted students have the opportunities of Advanced Placement classes as well as Joint Enrollment classes with Georgia Southwestern.
#35: ADVOCATING ON BEHALF OF STUDENTS AND EMPLOYEES
Decisions made in the state capital effect the quality of the educational experience for students and quality of life for employees of the system. It is important to keep in face to face contact with area legislators and make the school district needs known. Here, Cafeteria Directors Diane Monts, from Sumter County Early Learning Center, and SeKeithia Lewis from Sumter County Middle School, meet with Area Representative Mike Cheokas on behalf of the Georgia School Nutrition Association and all public school employees. Their goals: 1) To support reform efforts led by Governor Deal that critical state funding for school nutrition be continued to maintain quality nutrition programs; 2) Maintain health insurance benefits for all school system employees; 3) Include funds in FY 2017 budget to ensure a pay raise for all school nutrition staff comparable to the pay raise increase proposed for teachers; 4) Increase the funding for the Public School Employee Retirement System from the current $14.75 to $15.25 per year of service.
#34: ACADEMIC COMPETITION; THE DISTRICT SPELLING BEE
It’s one thing to go down in defeat as part of a team. Each player shares a bit of the responsibility. Even in individual sports such as wrestling or swimming there is cheering in the stands and an athletic atmosphere of competition that gives the defeat context and softens the blow. But to stand in an absolutely silent room and hear the pronouncer at the spelling bee say “I’m sorry, that is not correct,” has to be one of the hardest ways to go down, making the students who take on words some of the bravest competitors. So it was on Friday at the Sumter County School’s District Spelling Bee. The first and second rounds saw students fall amid words like “broadleaf” “bugle” and “crimson.” Eventually, it came down to two competitors, 5th Grade student Curtissa Evens and 6th Grade student Lauren Key, slugging it out for round after round. In the end, it was the word “futon” that captured the title for Ms. Key. Sixth Grade student Zy’kerria Dowdell took third place. Congratulations, too, to the other participants who were the winners from their respective schools. These included: Fourth Grade students Carl Manning and Torris Ingram from Sumter County Elementary; Fifth Grade student Kirsten Mack, who, along with the first through third place finishers is from Sumter Intermediary School; and 7th Grade students Ashiah Green and Messiah Hogan along with 8th Grade students Jaylen Mable and Jaheim Thomas from Sumter County Middle School.
#33: A TEAM THAT OVERWHELMS THE OPPOSITION
In a recent game of the Lady Panthers Varsity Basketball Team, the opposing team had tried four times to inbound the ball. Each time, the inbounds pass was stolen and the Lady Panthers converted the stolen pass into a basket. On the fifth attempt, nobody from the opposition was willing to take the ball out and it just sat on the floor until finally a frustrated player picked it up and threw it at one of the Lady Panthers, sending it back out of bounds. The Lady Panthers are a basketball team that not only wins but annihilates the opposition, beating Albany High earlier this year by a remarkable score of 84-9—a nearly unheard of win of seventy-five points. The intensity and enthusiasm that makes opponents wilt is clearly displayed at practice as scrambles for the ball continue down hallways adjacent to the gym and all the players scream at the top of their lungs urging their teammates to perform at their best. The team is led by Coach Sherri Harris who, over the last two years, has filled the very big shoes of Coach Evelyn Wright with a trip to the Elite Eight last year and a team that now has a record of 21-1. Despite the girl’s prowess on the court, Coach Harris is most proud of their behavior in the classroom: “For the most part, my girls are good academic students,” said Coach Harris. “It’s a tight knit group of girls who work together. When they are successful, that helps too.” The Lady Panthers take on Bainbridge tonight at 6 p.m. at Americus-Sumter High School. If they win, they will maintain home court advantage throughout the regional finals.
#32: AMERICUS HIGH SWIM TEAM
Swimming has long been considered one of the best overall sports for a lifetime of fitness. Relatively injury free, swimming works all muscle groups and swimmers tend to stay in shape for life. “It is a full body sport,” said Americus High Swim Coach Karen Kinnamon. “It tones all muscles, builds confidence and cardio-vascular stamina.” Plus, swimmers just seem to do well in school for some reason. “Swimming helps with academic focus and discipline,” continued Mrs. Kinnamon. “All of the students on our swim team are academically strong, enrolled in AP and honors classes.” Americus High’s swim team has the added advantage of working with the legendary Americus Blue Tide Swim Club and coach Tim DeMott. “Tim coaches the swimmers in technique and provides the workout schedule for the team,” said Mrs. Kinnamon. “He is very valuable to our success.” At the recent Region 1-AAAA Swimming Championships in Thomasville, Americus High swimmers Kalman DeMott placed first in the 100 meter butterfly and first in the 200 meter freestyle, while Jason Trujilo placed second in the boys 200 individual medley and second in the 100 meter backstroke.
#31: AN AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM THAT LETS KIDS BE KIDS
Increasingly, our children live in an overly-structured world. They join athletic leagues where coaches oversee their every move; fine arts programs where they are taught how to perform. At school, there is little time when they aren’t under the tutelage of teachers and other supervisors to follow a schedule or class plan. Lost are the types of social skills developed when children get together and decide for themselves what to do and what the rules of the game will be. Not so at the Sumter County Schools’ ASTEP program—After School Time Enrichment Program—available for students in Pre-K through 8th Grade. Its primary focus is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students in an atmosphere that “lets kids be kids,” according to program director Natasha Merritt. The program begins with a clear routine: Nobody can play until their homework is done. Once that happens, children are provided a variety of resources to create their own fun, from computers to soccer balls to toy race cars to basketballs. While there are rules and some direction is provided: children are taught valuable computer skills for example. But by and large, what the kids do is largely up to them. “Leaving the children to work things out brings about a mature, disciplined, well-roundedness in the students that enables them to strengthen their social skills and teaches them how to interact with others,” said Mrs. Merritt. “The children don’t lose their individuality. We are able to bring about personal development and growth.” The program is also very convenient for parents and for children: “Because each of the programs are held at the schools where the children attend, the children are able to remain with peers they are already accustomed to,” said Mrs. Merritt. Parents who work late have until 6:00 p.m. to pick up their children. ASTEP strives to be extremely user friendly because it is one of the only programs in the district that is self-sustaining, relying solely on parent fees, some donations, and in-kind infrastructure support from the school district. They do not receive any funds from the State or from other grants, but rely on customer satisfaction to pay the bills. “We run it like a business because the families are our customers,” said Mrs. Merritt. “We are going to provide excellent service. We know they have a choice.”
#30: FEDERAL PROGRAMS
There is a special code that allows Sumter County employees into the Central Office building after hours. Not a lot of people know the code; fewer still use it except on a rare occasion. But for Federal Programs Director Gayla Braziel and her assistant Sheree McDonald, the code is about as important as their Social Security numbers. The two are constantly racing against time at all hours of the day and night to meet the mandates of yet another Federal Program that brings resources to Sumter County. This year, the two are responsible for identifying and overseeing multiple grants totaling more than $4 million. The Federal monies are beyond what is required to run a school system, but are designed to help rural areas and economically disadvantaged students, providing money for everything from instructional staff, supplies and computers to programs designed to improve teacher and leader quality and parent/family engagement. Because these are not appropriations, success depends on the hard work and skills of those procuring the grants. In the case of Ms. Braziel and Mrs. McDonald, success comes from the relationship the two of them have forged since they began working together at Sumter County Middle School twenty-two years ago, as well as from the work ethic they share. “We don’t limit ourselves to 8-4:30 five days a week,” said Ms. Braziel. “Many days we’re here over the weekends. Whatever it takes to get the job done, we’re in it together.” When she was appointed Director of Federal Programs, Ms. Braziel immediately reached out for Mrs. McDonald as her assistant. “When she was in bookkeeping at Sumter Middle School and she was very good and supportive of the teachers,” said Ms. Braziel. “Her heart is in the right place. She knows what we do is for the children.”
#29: PRINCIPALS WHO HELP THE CHILDREN SING AND PLAY MUSIC
“You are seeing tonight the other part of your child’s education: music and the arts,” said Sumter Intermediate School Principal, Sharon Marcus, as she addressed a crowd of several hundred people packed into the school’s auditorium to see the school’s Christmas concert. It was one of a number of Christmas events throughout the community where the artistic talents and abilities of Sumter County students were given the opportunity to shine because of the support of these programs by the principals. “The Fine Arts promote well-rounded students by exposing them to the complexities of reading and performing music,” said Americus-Sumter High School Principal Kimothy Hadley, whose school boasts a number of bands and choirs, many of whom were featured at a Christmas concert at Central Baptist Church. In addition, Dr. Renee’Mays, Principal at Sumter Elementary School, hosted a special winter program that featured the school’s Fourth Grade Chorus and their play “Bring on the Snow,” as well as the Spirit Team performing a Cheer and Christmas dance. Principal Stacy Favors at Sumter Middle School hosted the schools’s Annual Winter Concert featuring the school’s band and choir. Principal, Dr. Sharon Tullis, at Sumter Primary School had a choir perform at a PTO event earlier in the year, and at the Early Learning Center, Principal Dr. Lezley Anderson and her music director Tim Beck had Kindergarten and Pre-K students singing Christmas songs for seniors in the community. Principal Marcus emphasized the importance of such programs: “While there have been significant cuts to art programs in schools, the research indicates that these programs have a positive impact on student achievement,” said Principal Marcus. “Schools must find creative ways to invest in these programs. The art programs at Sumter County Intermediate School (Art, Music, Band, Odyssey of the Mind) add value to student learning and promote a positive school culture.”
#28: MAKING LEARNING A LIFETIME ADVENTURE
They are the red-caped crusaders of the Sumter County Early Learning Center, doing whatever it takes to make sure that each student’s first exposure to education is a positive one. Principal Dr. Lezley Anderson and Assistant Principal Jason Reese will don their superhero capes to let students know that they, too, are superheroes when it comes to their education. “It’s important for kids to know they have control over their own learning,” said Dr. Anderson. “Superheroes each have their own little powers to control their own destiny. We want the students to feel that they do, too.” Teachers throughout the school have used the superhero theme to emphasize a positive approach to learning, one that is both fun and empowering to the students. Dr. Anderson stresses the importance of the first two years of education in shaping lives. “If we can make sure during these years we inspire their love and interest in learning, they’ll be set for the rest of their educational years.” Are there days when the imposing, six-foot-four-inch assistant principal is reluctant to don a red cape and go walking down the hallways at his work? “Never,” said Mr. Reese. “I get more hugs and high-fives from the kids this way. It is a fun place to be and I enjoy coming here each and every day.” It is an enthusiasm echoed by his principal, a former kindergarten teacher who moved last year from Sumter Elementary School to the Early Learning Center when the schools were reconfigured. Her more petite frame of five feet, when next to his, suggests a different image than the sidekicks of Batman and Robin, Superman and Supergirl, or Captain America and Bucky; but the work of these superheroes is quite special – very different than others. “I keep saying that working here is heaven,” said Dr. Anderson. “I keep worrying that I will wake up and find out it’s a dream.”
#27: GROWING FROM FAMILIAR MUSIC TRADITIONS: AMERICUS HIGH GOSPEL CHOIR
Of the many choir offerings through Sumter County Schools, the Americus-Sumter High School Gospel Choir does its own special magic to songs you’ve heard all of your life. At this year’s Christmas Concert at Central Baptist Church in Americus, the choir, along with the school’s concert choir, featured unique and wonderfully melodic versions of “Oh Holy Night,” as well as “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” as you’ve never heard them before, sung in a classical style. The choir returned to its roots performing more traditional gospel numbers, “Break Every Chain” “Spirits” and “For Your Glory.” It is an instructional design that Choir Director Kalynn Partridge uses to both celebrate the music with which students are familiar and then extend their musical knowledge and abilities in new and exciting directions. “Starting with what they know gives them a chance to branch out into a variety of repertoires such as classical,” said Ms. Partridge. Most of her students began singing gospel music in church choirs from an early age, many performing publically since they were five or six years old. Most of the students in the Gospel Choir also take Ms. Partridge’s course in African-American Music, a course designed both to show the importance of African Americans in shaping the musical landscape of the country, and also to show the range of musical genres and styles in which they have contributed, from A cappella to jazz. Once again, celebration of their past is used to teach new and exciting areas of music with which the students might not yet be familiar. Throughout, much of the music is taught by ear.. Students who have ability on piano and other instruments are encouraged to accompany the choir on particular songs.
# 26: STUDENT GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION OF AMERICUS-SUMTER HIGH SCHOOL ATTEND LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
God, family, country, academics, friends, PANTHERS! What does this mean to the Student Government Association (SGA) of Americus-Sumter High School? It means the standards of living, it means leadership, it means goal setting, and it means a way of life. On October 26, 2015, Conner and Spud Bowen, consultants with Herff Jones, came to conduct a leadership conference for the new 2015-2016 Student Government Association at ASHS; this meeting was not just a lecture, but a meeting that allowed the SGA council to train in ways to express their opinions effectively and productively. Herff Jones is a business that supports public school systems with graduation events and leadership organizations within the schools. The ASHS SGA has huge plans to make their school better than ever; stay tuned for their great accomplishments in the future. Thank you Herff Jones for everything you have done for our school; ASHS SGA will be more effective leaders and role models within the school. Pictured (left to right) are the newly elected SGA officers: Caterah Watts, Sophomore Secretary; Kahria Hadley, Junior Secretary; Na’Charlesia Floyd, Junior Vice President; Thomas Edge, SGA Treasurer; Jamiya Miles, SGA Secretary; Amiya Miles, SGA Vice President; Grace Cato, SGA President; Kennedy Roberts, Senior President; Bailey Roberson, Junior President; Kaniya Little, Sophomore Preside. (Not pictured is Destinee Swain, Sophomore Vice President).
-Article submitted by BAILEY ROBERSON (11)
#25: PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
Roy Eaddy is a unique as far as band directors go. The Sumter Middle School and Intermediary School Band Director doesn’t come from a background of notes, but instead comes from a background of rhythm. A drummer who is skilled in all areas of percussion, Mr. Eaddy's feel of the music gives him an ability to know it in a way others might not: “Because I’m rhythmically inclined, I can pick apart what is really going on in the music. I can dissect it and make it make sense,” he said. “I see music as a puzzle that I break down and put back together to find out how the pieces fit.” Mr. Eaddy remembered when he was eight years old seeing a marching band coming down the street and being overwhelmed by the feeling of the base drum in his chest. “I’ve been trying to replicate that feeling ever since.” His parents soon signed him up for private drum lessons, and he played in bands and at church throughout his school years. He then went to Albany State University where he played in jazz band and symphonic band, once even playing behind Frank Sinatra Junior. But his passion for education was sparked when he played in the band for the former Arena Football Team in Albany and the team left, but the band remained. Roy took the reins and created a marching band, finding that he enjoyed leading the other musicians and teaching them what to do, thus beginning a journey that continues each day he gets in front of his students. “I’m growing, learning more about myself as I see growth in the students,” he said. Teaching also provides him with a consistency that a career in music might not otherwise offer: “I have to come to work every day and take all I know and feel and it pour it all into the kids.”
#24: A TEACHER AND COACH COMMITTED TO THOSE WHO NEED HIM
Last year’s Teacher of the Year in the Sumter County Schools Rodney Shelton has a unique passion for middle school students. “The middle school kids need to understand things that they don’t know they need to understand,” said Mr. Shelton. “People know what they want when they come into a store or a restaurant. But they don’t know what they want when they come into school. As a teacher of a middle school student, you have to create the ‘want’.” He has been creating the want on the football and baseball fields as well, guiding his middle school teams to multiple conference championships in football and one in baseball. “I try to get the players to understand that to be successful as a student or a student/athlete, you must dedicate the time and effort,” he said. “Being focused is also a very important trait for success in the classroom and on the field.” With his success on the gridiron. Shelton has had the opportunity to move up. But his heart remains with the students he believes need him the most. “I been accosted by the community a thousand times to move to the high school in various sports, but it has never been something that I thought was a good move for me. And I was always confident in the coaches at the high school at the time,” said Mr. Shelton. “I began my career teaching and coaching at the Middle School level and I enjoy the children at that age. Many of them are new to the game and their skills are quite raw. I find joy in having the opportunity to teach the game to them. You see a great deal of growth as they begin their first opportunity to play the game on through the rest of the season.”
#23: EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM AT AMERICUS SUMTER NINTH GRADE ACADEMY
A new program was started for the 2015-16 school year at the Ninth Grade Academy. Once a month guest speakers from the community are invited to address the young men and women freshmen on issues of character, self-respect, and making positive choices to achieve their goals in life. Recent guest speakers have included Steven Wright, Associate Pastor Central Baptist Church and Stacy Favors, Principal of Sumter County Middle School.
Pictured: Ninth Grade Assistant Principal Mr. William Bell, Middle School Principal Stacy Favors, Rev. Steven Wright.
#22: STUDENT OF THE MONTH BREAKFAST AT SUMTER COUNTY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
Wednesday, October 28th, Sumter County Intermediate School had another great student of the Month Breakfast! The breakfast was well attended by students, parents, and family members. The cafeteria staff out did themselves with a delicious breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, grits, and biscuits. Mrs. Bettis and Ms. Hollis handed out Student of Month pencils and Sumter County Intermediate School lanyards. The students honored this month are: Candence Todd, Torrence Rush, Leah Minter, Ari’Yonna Clemons, Bryan Williams, Kavon Sims, Zaisha Fudge, Brandon Sanford, Andricka Franklin, Juan Alejo, Khalena Banks, Clifton Smith, Ahmad Majors, Nicolas Garcia, Kaylor Stone, Ricky Gorman, Jacob Abell, Shatoria Sumlin, Alyssa Josey-Durham, Azalea Evans, Lakendrick Wright, and Kendall Coley.
#21: A MARCHING BAND FOR THE AGES
As long as there has been a football team, there has been a marching band. Or at least as best as people can remember. But the high school marching band at Americus-Sumter High School has been so much more than an accompaniment to football games. They are the ambassadors of the school system at parades and festivals and the pride of the system at band competitions. At any given year, the high school marching band comes away with usually twenty to thirty trophies. When State School Superintendent Richard Woods came to visit Sumter County in August, he pointed out that 40-percent of the students at Georgia Tech had been in the band while they were in high school, highlighting the importance of Fine Arts to the development of young minds. “Research shows that these are the kids who go off to college,” said band director Debra Hughes. “Band teaches discipline, responsibility, determination, working toward a goal and being successful in achieving that goal.” Students who participate in the band also have to have good grades in their other classes to be allowed the opportunity to play. “The kids all know, if they want to be in the band, they have to do well in other classes,” Ms. Hughes said. “That gives them an added motivation.”
#20: BUILDING OUR COMMUNITY
Sumter County Schools are committed to supporting growth in our community. As Superintendent Donnie Smith has said repeatedly, “A thriving community requires a thriving public school system.” Here, Superintendent Smith meets with Americus Mayor Barry Blount and Sumter Early Learning Center School Principal Lezley Anderson to show the school to new physicians who are moving into the community and who have young children.
#19: ALNITA DOWDELL: TEACHER OF THE YEAR AMERICUS-SUMTER NINTH GRADE ACADEMY
Alnita Dowdell has a strong but simple idea of what being a teacher is all about: “My philosophy of education is to meet my students on their level and to pull them up to their potential one step at a time.” The Teacher of the Year at the Ninth Grade Academy is ready to name the educators in her life who, “went above and beyond for a young girl who was not the best dressed or the most liked,” she said. “Those teaches made it clear that I could be anything that I chose. Those teachers not only helped to influence my choice in teaching but also influenced my choice to work in the Sumter County School system.” In order to teach students, Ms. Dowdell believes that first you have to reach them. She will immerse herself in the unfamiliar worlds of teen pop culture, sports, and mechanics, and she is not afraid to look foolish in the process. In fact, she thinks it is necessary to do so. “You have to step outside your comfort zone,” said Ms. Dowdell. “To reach people, you must be willing to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Allowing ourselves to be taught things by our students in front of our students gives them the messages that ‘it’s okay to not know,’ and ‘it’s okay to make a mistake,’ and ‘it’s okay to get help from another.’” Failure of a teacher to allow him or herself to look like a fool can, according to Ms. Dowdell, greatly inhibit his or her success as a teacher: “You are muffling your creative voice. You’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment,” she said. “Your classroom is a dynamic place where things go right and wrong, where things that should go up will go down, and where things that should be black will be white. When you experience these events, welcome to the outside of your comfort zone.” It is all part of her selfless approach to teaching that sees learning as the most important thing. “When a child recognizes that you care enough to want better for them, they will want better for themselves,” said Ms. Dowdell. “I make it clearly known that we will work hard together, teacher, student and parent, to get the job of education completed. If it takes staying late or coming to work early, I assure my students that I will do what it takes. Because I expect great things from them, I do my best to deliver great things to them. It shows within my classroom that greatness expects greatness with no excuses.”
#18: KIMBERLY BACON-DAVIS: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL
Kimberly Bacon-Davis loved school as a little girl, but her shyness made it a lonely place for her. Then one day after she finished an assignment early, her teacher asked her to help others with their assignments and suddenly a career was born: “It was like an out-of-body experience as I heard my shy voice explaining to my classmates how to complete the assignment,” said Mrs. Bacon-Davis, Teacher of the Year at Sumter County Middle School. “To see the light bulb come on for each of my classmates filled me with an unexplained excitement. I began to use my strength of helping others to meet new people and gain new friends. With the isolation no longer present, school became my favorite place.” It was just a matter of time before Mrs. Bacon-Davis realized that the way she could stay in school forever would be to become a teacher. As a teacher, she recognizes that all students learn differently and so she incorporates a variety of teaching methods, including experienced-based learning techniques, to make sure everybody has an opportunity to learn. “I may begin a lesson simply stating information to students,” she said. “I will in turn give them an opportunity to see what I am teaching in action, and they are then given an opportunity to put what they have heard and seen in action and actually do it themselves.” Mrs. Bacon-Davis sees innovative teaching techniques as essential for preparing today’s students for the challenges they face. “The world of work requires that our students are preparing to enter require analytical minds and philosophical thinkers,” she said. “In order to properly prepare our students to be competitive in the world market, we must incorporate out-of-the-box thinking and real-world based activities which utilize current cutting edge technology.”
SUMTER SCHOOL SYSTEM HAS 'AN A-NUMBER ONE KITCHEN STAFF'
Published 10:21 am Monday, October 5, 2015
AMERICUS — When people talk about education, they talk about English and math, not baked chicken and sweet potatoes. But, as all of the staff of Sumter County Schools’ Nutrition Department know: “You can’t learn if you are hungry,” said SeKeithia Lewis, cafeteria manager of Sumter County Middle School.
Each day, the school system prepares more than 5,100 hot lunches. Foods have to be served at exactly the right temperature and stored in exactly the right way, knowing that at any moment, a state inspector might show up and shove a thermometer into a hamburger preparing to take off points. In celebration of September as National Food Safety Month, all of Sumter County Schools received an A-grade, with all but one scoring 100 percent from the state inspectors. This took place while the system added a whole new kitchen at Furlow Charter School, to the schools it serves. “To tell you the truth, I think the schools have some of the cleanest kitchens in the county,” said Martha Harvey, director of School Nutrition for Sumter County Schools. “I am very proud of the job we are doing in our kitchens.” The inspections for schools are even more rigorous than for other restaurants because children, along with older people and hospitals, are considered the three high-risk groups for serving food. “Children have not fully developed their immune systems, so food protection is very important,” said Harvey, who has been working with school nutrition for 25 years. “The thing that I love about this job is that we are not only supplying the nutritional needs of the students, but we are teaching nutrition by what and how we serve foods in the school cafeteria,” said Harvey. In addition to serving lunch, the schools also serve breakfast to about half of the students in the system, as well as an after-school snack. Beginning at the Intermediate School, students have an increasing number of choices as to what they can eat, with students at the high school able to choose from five different options, making it a challenge to figure out what to offer on any given day. “USDA and Georgia Department of Education Review Teams do not like us to over-produce,” said Harvey. “We have to anticipate the interests of the students when deciding what to offer.” The menu is made up entirely by Harvey and her staff according to increasingly rigid federal guidelines as to what can and cannot be served. It is no longer enough for schools to offer the right number of calories to the right number of kids. Now, mandates from the government are forcing schools throughout the country to develop more nutritious menus. “We have to add fiber to the diet of the students,” said Harvey. “All grains have to be 100 percent whole grain. We have to reduce sugars and reduce the amount of sodium.And whereas once it was sufficient to have a certain amount of vegetables, now there are five categories of vegetables we have to address, including green vegetables, red vegetables and legumes.” As the kitchen staff across the district assembles to have their photo taken in the cafeteria of Sumter Primary School, they talk about the rewards of their job. “We serve 5,100 lunches a day, and all those children want to give us a hug,” said Lewis. “We feel that we are just as much a part of the school system as anyone because we have to get the students prepared to get to the classroom to learn.”
#16: LEAH HENDERSON: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
For Sumter Intermediary School Teacher of the Year Leah Henderson, teaching is a combination of big challenges and big rewards, rewards that might not always be easy to quantify, but that resonate to the core of a teacher’s being: “The growth that I see in my students is what drives me to come to work every day,” said Ms. Henderson. “Whether that growth is from benchmark tests, behavior improvements, taking an interest in school, or coming out of their shell, it is worth all the time and effort exerted on my part. Though some of this growth can’t truly be measured, my heart has found a way to measure, pack, and fit all of that growth inside and it fills me with the joy I need to be the best teacher that I can.” On being a good teacher, Ms. Henderson’s solution is simple: “Teaching is for the hard working individuals that know how to do the possible with the impossible for their students,” she said. Ms. Henderson likes to be challenged in the classroom and sees that as an essential part of the education of her students: “As a science teacher, I don’t shy away from the “why” questions that make some of the other teachers think their teaching ability or authority have been questioned,” she said. “I enjoy enlightening my students on the “whys” of the science world and of life. I think the time I take to explain the reasons behind the rules, school activities, and other things help to convey to my students that they are an equal partner in their education because they know why they do what they do.”
#15: LYNDE PARKER: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY PRIMARY SCHOOL
From an early age, Sumter County Primary School Teacher of the Year Lynde Parker discovered the special magic of a public library: “I found it amazing that I could go there and get as many books as I wanted for free,” she said. “Reading could take me places I otherwise could not visit.” Years later as she struggled with a decision over whether to pursue a medical career or one in education, “My education advisor convinced me that I had a special gift that could really make a difference in the lives of children,” Mrs. Parker said. “As I thought about teachers who had made a difference in my life, I decided teaching was what I was called to do. I was given a scholarship working with children and have never looked back.” As Media Center Specialist for the Primary School, Mrs. Parker gets children when they are first learning the magic of words on the page. She does everything she can to utilize that opportunity in a variety of creative ways, from games to projects to special events: “When studying the continents, I used green screen photography to replace the solid colored backgrounds with iconic landmarks,” she said. “Students were given pictures of themselves wearing berets in front of the Eiffel Tower, donning rice hats standing by the Great Wall of China, and sporting pith helmets in front of the Amazon Rain Forest.” In addition, Mrs. Parker has worked with teachers to make a digital movie on famous Georgians, and has used puppets and scavenger hunts to make books come alive. “I make learning fun and relevant,” said Mrs. Parker. “My reward is seeing the joy on children’s faces when they are successful and knowing that giving them the love of reading will have a huge impact on their future.”
#13: PUSHNG TOWARD PERFECT ATTENDENCE
Coach Jimmy Green, as he is known throughout Sumter County, has had his hand in the development of local youths for forty-one years. He was a Physical Education Teacher at Cherokee Elementary School, where he was twice named Teacher of the Year, and then was Assistant to the Principal at Crossroads Academy, where he was also in charge of physical education. But it wasn’t until former Superintendent Dennis McMahon pulled him from his planned retirement that he found his latest calling as Sumter County School District Attendance Officer. If a child misses school, he or she doesn’t learn. If he or she misses too much school, their chance to get ahead in life diminishes considerably. Last month through his efforts, Sumter County achieved a remarkably 98-percent attendance rate. Coach Green does all he can to keep any children from falling through the cracks. “Parents know now if a child has ten unexcused absences, I will file a warrant and take them to court,” said Coach Green. Prior to that point, Coach Green will have gone to the home and met with the parents after a child has had five unexcused absences. After six unexcused absences, Coach will have set up a hearing with the parents and the school principal to find out what is going on. The forty-one years he has spent helping children in the community aids him considerably as he visits parents he might have once taught in school. “I have been in Americus all my life,” he said. “Most parents know me and know I’m coming for a reason.” The message Coach Green has for parents is simple: “You are responsible for getting your child to school,” he said. If a parent forgets that message for whatever reason, it will just be a matter of time before Coach Green will be there to remind them.
#12: ALICIA GREEN: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY AMERICUS-SUMTER HIGH SCHOOL
Marketing Teacher Alicia Green gives herself a unique form of homework each day after she leaves work: “I make it my personal business to know the latest dance moves, songs, videos, readings, and trends that influence my students,” said the Teacher of the Year at Americus-Sumter High School. “When they learn that I know all of those things it immediately sparks their interest and I have a captive audience. My greatest strengths or contribution as an educator is my ability to relate to the students and to use a variety of instructional strategies,” said Ms. Green. It is all a part of her desire to create an environment where learning can occur for a whole range of students. “I base my teaching philosophy on the belief that all children can and will learn and be successful with their unique and individual talents that all students possess. They only must be given the appropriate learning opportunities. When students feel that they are loved by their teacher they will strive to invest in themselves and their education, taking ownership in their academic success.” Ms. Green is not the type of teacher who stands at her lectern and talks at students. She aims to create a give and take that to her is the essence of the learning process: “I allow students to have the freedom of expression and creativity, to ask questions, learn from their mistakes, and do their best,” said Ms. Green. “Together we can celebrate each other’s successes and build from our failures and inspire each other to be all we can be.”
#11: JAKERA DAWSON: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY EARLY LEARNING CENTER
Like Lauren Shemwell, Teacher of the Year at Sumter County Elementary School, Jakera Dawson knew early on that she wanted to be an educator: “When I was six, I would find myself lining up my dolls in my bedroom and pretend to be their teacher,” said the Teacher of the Year at Sumter County Early Learning Center. An experience with bullying in middle school strengthened her resolve to oversee the lives of children. “I knew then that I wanted to make a difference and would never allow or tolerate anyone being mistreated or bullied,” said Mrs. Dawson. Since taking up the cause she was destined for, she is determined to do whatever it takes to have her students reach their potential. “The children are our future,” said Ms. Dawson. “When obstacles come and times get tough, I quote Linda Cliatt-Wayman: ‘So what, now what?’ There is always a solution if you think a little harder and look a little closer.” For Ms. Dawson, it all comes down to commitment to teaching and to learning: “The teachers should teach like they mean it. The students should learn like they want it. And in the end we all must strive to be the best we can be.”
#10: INNOVATIVE SCIENCE INITIATIVES
Americus-Sumter High School has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Monsanto Corporation to enhance the CTAE and science department. The grant is meant to strengthen student’s problem solving skills by identifying problems and using science to fix them.
“The grant will encourage students to take on science projects that show how science is applicable to real world issues,” said Sumter County Schools CTAE Director, Sharon Jackson. “We want to apply research-based scientific method to offer solutions for world and community problems. Although they are high school students, there are problems going on in the world for which our students may offer viable solutions.”
The grant was made possible when local farmer Jim Reid nominated the school to apply. Reid serves on the board for Sumter County Schools.
Dr. Jackson had been a judge at science fairs in the past and saw how good ideas were often undermined by a lack of resources to execute those ideas. This grant will help solve that problem.
“I wanted the students to have the supplies and materials that would allow them to be more presentable and competitive,” said Dr. Jackson. “I would like to see more of our students advancing to competitions outside of the region.”
The grant also allows for teacher collaboration and instruction to help teachers integrate core educational content with CTAE programs. CTAE stands for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program, and focuses on real world skills such as agriculture, automotive, and health care. This grant will allow teachers the opportunity to figure out ways that core science knowledge may be integrated into the instruction of practical vocations.
“The whole point of the program is to go from science through CTAE to life,” said Dr. Jackson.
#9: LAUREN SHEMWELL: TEACHER OF THE YEAR SUMTER COUNTY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Lauren Shemwell’s earliest memories involved teaching her sister and stuffed animals. “I barely knew how to read myself, but I would teach them the things that I had learned in school with the passion that my teachers used to teach me. Some children pretend to be princesses or singers, a president or professional athlete, but all I ever wanted to be was anelementary school teacher.” Ms. Shemwell’s desire to recognize each student for who they are and make them realize their individual potential makes teaching not just a job, but a passion. “No two students are exactly the same, and it is our job as teachers to get to know the students we teach,” she said. “If we understand our students’ individual needs, we can provide them with a quality education tailored to meet those needs. I expect my students to succeed. That success may look different for every child.” Her advice to other teachers? “Remember the inquisitiveness and innocence you had as a child. We must be humble and allow ourselves to learn from our students. We should be silly, be creative, be fearless and think outside the box.”
#8: TEACHERS WHO AREN’T AFRAID TO CARE
When teachers who had worked with Sheryl Rush saw this picture of her on Facebook and in the newspaper, their response was uniform. “That’s just exactly who she is,” said Angela Meadows who worked with her at Sumter Elementary School and also at Sumter Primary. “She hugs her babies.” Ms. Rush has been teaching elementary school for twenty-five years and is a champion of positive reinforcement. “I treat the children like I would want someone to treat mine,” she said. “I wouldn’t want my child crying and nobody do anything about it.” She is always looking for new ways to uncover a student’s abilities, often using “manipulatives” as she calls them. “Students don’t want a piece of paper and a worksheet. They are boring,” she said. With one student she used Legos to uncover his talent and he turned out testing into the gifted program. “Looking at the remarkable work he did, it was unbelievable to look through his eyes and see what he saw.” Her advice to new teachers: “Keep a notebook and write down all the funny things the students say.” Her advice to parents: “Keep a notebook for your children; call it a companion, and write down all the words they encounter. Then return to it again and again.”
#7: CAN DO ATTITUDE
When Sumter County Schools was reconfigured this summer, more than 100 teachers’ classrooms were boxed up and reestablished in a new location, bus routes had to be redesigned, virtually all computers were reformatted, and at least three media centers were moved in their entirety. It all went off without a hitch because teachers and administrators were willing to do whatever it took to make sure students didn’t notice there had been a major change. When Ninth Grade Academy Principal Coleman Price and Assistant Principal William Bell saw that about a thousand books had to be moved from their former media center at Americus/Sumter North to their new location at the former Staley School, they put on their work clothes and spent more than a week-and-a-half boxing books and moving them to their new home. "We never would have got this move done if everyone didn't roll up their sleeves and do a lot more than what was expected of them," said Principal Price. "It is times like these you see how committed our staff and teachers are to education."
#6: SUMTER COUNTY SCHOOLS MOST FAMOUS ALUMNI AND FORMER BOARD MEMBER JIMMY CARTER
President Jimmy Carter began his political career as a member of the Sumter County School Board in 1956 en route to becoming State Senator, Governor of Georgia, and the 39th President of the United States. He was a graduate of Sumter County Schools in Plains and credits his grade school principal, Julia Coleman, as being one of the most important influences in his life. For years, Carter has supported the school district by hosting students and adults from the Japanese exchange program with our sister city in Japan. An ongoing ambassador for issues of injustice and suffering world-wide both through his work with the Carter Center and with Habitat for Humanity, Jimmy Carter has redefined what it means to be an ex-president of the United States.
#5: FISCAL OVERSIGHT AND RESPONSIBILITY
Sumter County Board Member Jim Reid takes his position as head of the Finance Committee very seriously: “We are stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” said Mr. Reid. “Based on the definition, a steward takes better care of someone else’s money than they do their own.” Since joining the school board this year, Reid has been impressed with the level of fiscal oversight exercised by the school system, and he is particularly impressed with the work of Sumter County Schools Financial Director Earleen Tracy, who oversees a budget of about $60 million. “She is excellent,” said Mr. Reid. “I doubt anybody in the county other than the financial committee can appreciate the scope of her job and her responsibility.” Mrs. Tracy has been working for the Sumter County System for twenty-eight years. The last increase in the school millage rate was in 2006 when it went up from 15.890 to 17.640. However, that was followed by a decrease in the millage rate in 2007 to 17.533. Since then, there has not been an increase in the school millage rate.
#4: THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON FOR A GREAT FOOTBALL TRADITION
The cheerleaders are calling out, the band is playing, the captains meet at midfield and the coin is flipped. At that moment, the team is undefeated and anything is possible for the next ten games. This year’s team features the return of storied Americus football coach Erik Soliday, who had won State Championships at Americus High School in 2000 and 2001. These were two of seven state championships the team has claimed through a storied football program that has placed eight players in the NFL including Victor Green, Kent Hill, Alonzo Jackson, Otis Leverette, Leonard Pope, Dan Reeves, Roy Reeves, and Tommy Sims. Americus/Sumter County also has the remarkable feat of placing two coaches in the NFL: Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey. Gailey also played at Americus High School and then went on to the play for the University of Florida. Home football games this year include: Smiths Station, August 21st; Shaw on September 4th; Thomas County Central on September 11th; Bainbridge on October 2nd; and Worth County on October 23rd.
#3: JAPANESE CULTURAL EXCHANGE
Each year for about twenty-five years, Sumter County Schools have been hosting a delegation of Japanese students and dignitaries as part of a cultural exchange between Americus and its sister city in Japan, Miyoshi City. The program also allows Sumter County students the opportunity to visit Japan as guests of the Japanese delegation. This year, the Japanese will visit four of the schools in the district, giving the Sumter County students an opportunity to know more about worlds outside their own. The group will also be hosted for dinner at the home of Americus Mayor Barry Blount as well as a dinner with the local chapter of the Shriner’s Club. The delegation has often met with President Carter and has visited the national historic sites at Plains and Andersonville. This year’s trip begins in Atlanta where the students and adults will visit the Carter Center and the Martin Luther King Historic Site before arriving at a welcome ceremony in Americus at the Board of Education Building On Wednesday, August 17th at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
#2: ACADEMIC COACHES
Sumter County Schools provide teachers with layers of support to ensure that students get the very best education possible. Academic coaches focusing on specific subject areas can visit a teacher’s classroom daily to help the teacher in their development of instructional strategies and lesson plans. The coaches observe teachers and provide feedback to ensure the best possible instruction in the classroom. They organize and oversee study groups where teachers can come together and look at instructional data and strategize on how better to reach students. Sumter County Academic Coaches include, row one, left to right: Jerry Sanders, Mohan Gugulothu, Marnie Dutcher, Lillie Taylor, and Morgan Brown. Row two, left to right: LaShaunda Thomas, Jerita Stalvey, Shana Griffin, Dee Studdard, Sabrina Stephens, and Tina Cook. Not pictured are Shirley Waymon and Uvonda Mitchell. THERE ARE ONE-HUNDRED THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT SUMTER COUNTY SCHOOLS. THIS IS NUMBER 2. (In no particular order)
#1: ARMY OF SPECIAL NEEDS TEACHERS MEET TO PREPARE FOR NEW YEAR
The Sumter County School System employs at least fifty teachers for students with special needs, all of whom are certified by the state. There are teachers to help special needs students integrate into the mainstream population and teachers who work in separate classrooms with students who need more intensive one-on-one support. The system also provides occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and speech therapy.