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Superintendent Brian Shumate: Reflecting on the first year

After living in Troup County and leading the Troup County School System (TCSS) for the past 11 months, I think the time is right for sharing a few thoughts, observations and goals for our school system in the coming year.

TCSS Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate

As many of you know, my wife and I are originally from Louisville, Kentucky, both worked for 27 years in the Jefferson County, Kentucky, school district, and then I served five years in Medford, Oregon, as the superintendent of schools. When I was considering a move back to this side of the country, I looked at many school systems and became intrigued with the Troup County School System and this community. In fact, it is the only job I applied for last year, and I am appreciative of the school board and the professionalism that was demonstrated throughout the entire process. If the superintendent search and hiring process had been less professional, I, and I’m sure other quality candidates, would not have applied for this position. I am thankful that the board, utilizing much community involvement, chose me to lead TCSS and likewise, I chose to come here because of all the professionalism and commitment demonstrated by the board, the warm receptions I received during the interview process from multiple stakeholders and the potential that is here in Troup County.

Upon my arrival, I hit the ground running on July 1, 2019. We immediately purchased a home, attended many community events and I met with all district leaders, principals, and many community leaders. I was inspired by the level of care and concern that people have for this school system and how desperately they want a school system of which they can be proud. I realize that as the school system goes, so goes many other aspects of this community, and I will not back up from the challenges and community expectations.

While the TCSS school system still lags behind the state and some of our neighboring school systems in GMAS test scores and CCRPI ratings, there has been much progress made by the district in recent years in graduation rates and overall CCRPI ratings in 2019. That is a tribute to the board and system leaders, teachers and staff. There is now an overall sense of internal pride and focus on continuous improvement, and I will guarantee that we will continue to improve in the coming years. Our staff is focused on the right things, we are streamlining many internal curricular and operational systems and services, our families and students are pushing us to provide high-quality educational opportunities and services, and our board is extremely supportive.

Further, I found that the community desperately wants a school system that makes our community shine and is unwavering in its support in assisting the school system in any way possible. I could list multiple community leaders, business and industry partners, and governmental leaders who have offered support in many different ways. Most everyone is pulling for us, and that is powerful.

While this pandemic has thrown all of us off stride and is certainly tragic on many levels, I have found that it has been unifying for the school system. I have watched our 1,800 plus employees do miraculous things throughout the past 12 weeks to assist students and families with maintaining the educational process, serving two meals a day, seven days a week, to over 1,500 students, and in providing other necessary services for students and families in need. And, not only has this pandemic changed our daily lives, but we are now expecting a huge budget shortfall.

Due to the pandemic, all governmental agencies in the state of Georgia are being asked to prepare for a 14% reduction in state funding. For TCSS, that will equate to $9.5 million. To offset the budget shortfall, we will be able to use the $2.5 million CARES grant (Federal stimulus funds), $3 million to $4 million in reserve funds (thank goodness for a reserve), and the rest will come from internal general fund reductions. This will take hard work in the next month, and we are all going to feel it, but again, our staff is focused and working collectively to create solutions that will have the least amount of impact on classrooms and students as we manage our way through this.

Throughout this year of assessing the school system, my vision for the future has become more clear, and we have created strategic objectives that we believe will set TCSS on a continuous improvement trajectory. In the budget message I presented at the April board meeting, prior to being notified of the 14% reduction, I laid out a plan and budget priorities for the 2020-2021 school year. They are:

1. Improve instructional and curricular coherence

2. Expand and enhance pathways

3. Expand dual enrollment, articulated credit offerings and work-based learning and blended learning opportunities

4. Enhance equitable opportunities

5. Enhance community partnerships

6. Improve professional capacity

7. Improve education effectiveness and efficiency

8. Educate the entire child

These objectives were well-received by our board, and even as we face a large reduction in anticipated funding, we will remain focused on these objectives in the coming year(s).

As I close, I want to remind folks that we need positive energy around this school system. I feed off of the positive energy and goodwill of the community and likewise, I know that people feed off of my energy. I will not get caught up in negativity, and I highly encourage our staff and supporters to do the same. We are sitting on something special here, and I am committed to pushing us forward in every metric while continuing to take care of all of our kids and employees!

Please know that I, and all of the TCSS staff, appreciate all of the support we receive in the community and we are working diligently to have a school system of which you can all be proud!