HUNT COLUMN: But wait, there’s more…

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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By Cathy Hunt
Retired Troup County teacher and current school board member

This school board member (and I’m pretty sure I can speak for the rest of the board in this instance) is going to be sorry to see our superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate retire in June. He’s one of the hardest-working, most knowledgeable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, and he’s a true champion of public education.

It’s normal to paint a person’s tenure in broad strokes, but in doing so the smaller components of each task, as well as less spotlighted projects, are often forgotten. I want to drill down a bit.

A broad stroke: Dr. Shumate was the right person at the right time (less than one year into his job here) to lead us through the pandemic. While many school systems across the country were entirely virtual for a large chunk or even the whole school year of 20-21, Troup County stayed open for business by incorporating important safety measures, following CDC guidelines, creating a virtual platform to give families options, feeding children both at school and at home, and strengthening our health services (including vaccinations for employees). We had a strong leader to manage an unprecedented challenge.

A church workshop I attended recently examined the question of which number is actually more important: average weekly attendance at worship, or average weekly engagement in not only worship but also other opportunities for learning, service, and fellowship. The answer should be evident. This ties in with one of Dr. Shumate’s key tenets – that school should offer “A Place for Every Kid” outside of the regular classroom. Students who are engaged in an activity or a challenge that inspires them are more likely to care about their grades, be in attendance, achieve more, and graduate on time. Test scores are only one measure of a school’s success. Engagement and nurture are harder to quantify.

So how has Dr. Shumate made that vision a reality? Here are a few examples: When orchestra proponents in LaGrange had previously garnered little traction within our system for strings instruction, new leadership supported their efforts and we now have a thriving Strings Attached program. We have Greenpower Racing county-wide. We have more middle school sports and clubs, and after school programs at the elementary level. We have more pathways to graduation with adjusted and expanded CTAE offerings, dual enrollment, Thinc programs, International Baccalaureate, the Troup County Career Center, and West Georgia Technical College partnerships. Every junior takes the ACT for free, to get that experience and a score under their belts. 

Okay, but what about academic achievement and standardized test scores? We all know that the pandemic and spotty school attendance set back achievement across the country. No excuses, just reality. But in clawing our way out of those deficits, numbers show that Troup County has made great gains in closing the gap with state of Georgia in most areas. Trust me, nobody believes that’s good enough; our goal is to best the region and the state. The board has stressed the importance of reviewing, piloting and implementing instructional programs that we can stick with for years to ensure gains, instead of jumping on a new bandwagon every couple of years. Dr. Shumate and his cabinet have overseen that with the addition of iReady programs and stronger curriculum alignments to the Georgia Standards for Excellence. 

But wait, there’s more. I still want to refresh people’s memories about how our superintendent has driven organizational improvements, safety upgrades, and equity initiatives, as well as how he has been a highly involved member of our community. That will have to wait until next time. Stay tuned.