Shumate discusses plans for area schools at LaGrange City Council work session

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On Tuesday, Troup County School System Superintendent Brian Shumate discussed plans for the school system’s future with the LaGrange City Council. 

During the LaGrange City Council’s work session, Shumate outlined some of his plans for the school system moving forward as well as the problem points that he hopes to address. 

His address bore a strong similarity to speeches that he has made throughout the community in the last few weeks, but for many city council members, it was one of the first times that they had heard a local superintendent bring those plans and concerns before the council. 

“I applaud you for coming in today,” Council Member LeGree McCamey said. “I’ve been on the council for 12 years, and this is the first time that I have heard any superintendent sit down and actually give a vision.”

Council Member Mark Mitchell asked Shumate how he would recommend handling funding requests for education-based programs with no affiliation with the school system.

“We get proposals brought to us pretty frequently asking for funding for tutoring, after-school programs and different groups that don’t have a connection with the school board that I know of,” Mitchell said. “We don’t have the knowledge of whether they are doing the right studies or not. … Is that something that y’all can do as a school system to monitor those programs or advise us whether they need to be funded or not funded? Is that something that you have money to fund?”

Shumate pointed to the already in existence afterschool program through the school system that costs parents $7 a day and includes a third meal. He said that if other programs fill a need not met by the school system, he would like to know about the need and the program.

“If people come to you, certainly ask me,” Shumate said. 

“I don’t know if they are filling a gap that we are not providing. If that is the case, we’ve got to look at ourselves because I don’t know. I’ve only been here for eight weeks. I still don’t know what these programs look like and what they do. Typically, what I am looking for in an afterschool program is you typically want academic enhancement. You want kids to do actual school work that is related to what they did during the school day. It could be tutoring. It could be homework help. Second is enhancement with arts, music, engineering, robotics — something to engage the kid in a different way. The third is physical activity. That is what I would like to see in an afterschool program.”

Shumate has spoken on several occasions about the loss of students to surrounding counties, and Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked how many students who live in Troup County go to school in Harris and Heard counties. Shumate said that he did not have exact numbers on Tuesday, but he plans to look into it.

“The county has grown 10,000 people in the last 10 years or something like that,” Shumate said. “That is the census data that I saw. Over 70,000 residents now and the school district has lost about 800 or 900 kids during that same time period.”

Gaskin also criticized the school system for having buses that serve students in impoverished sections of the city that arrive at the schools after the time when those students could receive breakfast provided by the school. He said the situation leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth and leaves an opening for gangs to influence children.

“Those [predominately minority and economically challenged] children arrive at the Long Cane Middle School after breakfast, and they have to go straight to homeroom and straight to class,” Gaskin said. “Sometimes they are late to class because of the buses.”

Shumate thanked Gaskin for bringing the situation to his attention and said it would be addressed.

Shumate also discussed cultural changes already taking place in the school system, including efforts to foster better communication between his office and the principals.

TCSS began the year with a kickoff event that included all 1,800 school system employees and state and local officials including LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, West Point Mayor Steve Tramell, Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz and State Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange). Thornton said that he was impressed with the event, and he thanked Shumate for making a point of coming to a city council meeting.

“That sends such a huge message, that you are having meetings with your principals on a regular basis and making those points of contact and getting out in the community,” Thornton said. 

“I really appreciate you taking the time to come to us today and sit down with us just share a little bit about who you are but also a little bit about your goal for the system because I think I speak for the council unanimously when we say that we want the school system to be the absolute best it can be, and we want it to succeed. We want to see the best quality of education for the children in this community in the public system.”