HUNT COLUMN: Looking back and looking forward

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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

Last time out I got into specifics about how our retiring superintendent, Dr. Brian Shumate, led us through the pandemic, made great progress toward offering “A Place for Every Kid” in our school system, and pushed instructional improvements. Today I’ll highlight some additional progress made during his tenure.

I was one of four new board members in 2017 who desired to get busy writing a better strategic plan. Despite our multiple requests to move forward on this, no steps were taken for the first year and a half. Then we had an interim superintendent for almost a year who rightly thought we should wait until a new leader was in place. Dr. Shumate was just getting his feet wet when the pandemic hit. But finally, in summer 2021, he was able to get the project rolling, and with lots of stakeholder input we had a finished, detailed document at the end of the calendar year. You can peruse the entirety of the plan on our website. Next, we tackled a comprehensive policy review, a process he also made possible.

The number one quality that the board and the community identified as essential for our new superintendent in 2019 was that he/she should be personable, approachable, and visible in our community. And we found that person in Dr. Shumate. He has become very involved in civic projects, serves on several important boards, attends school events, and jumps into partnerships with other educational entities. He is transparent with board members and does an excellent job of keeping us informed daily. A personal note: I had not seen the inside of the superintendent’s office until Dr. Shumate invited me to sit down with him during his first week here. Nor had I had a superintendent’s cell phone number until he joined us.

Our security measures have vastly improved under his leadership. We have security badges for staff, a full-time resource officer in every school, a system safety coordinator/investigator, weapon detectors at middle and high schools, and more secure main entrances at every school. These are sad signs of the times, but whatever we can do to ensure the safety of our students and staff must be done.

With student welfare being paramount, we now provide a nurse on every campus. Partnering with WellStar West Georgia and the Callaway Foundation, we have opened a health clinic in the Callaway Elementary/Middle area, and a second one is in the works to be located near West Point Elementary. Dr. Shumate was open to the idea of these centers and did much negotiating and planning to make them happen. Access to health care keeps students in school.

Another fantastic initiative inaugurated by our superintendent is his Principals for Tomorrow programs. These are three levels of leadership cohorts for teachers exploring leadership, teachers who already have certification in Leadership, and assistant principals looking to move to the next level. This will strengthen our ability to promote from within. Dr. Shumate has also made the hiring of leaders much more transparent. Teachers, parents and students are involved in principal selection, and those applying for system directorships are vetted by committees. School board members can always see score cards upon request.

I could keep going, but two columns devoted to this topic must suffice for now. It’s time to look forward. Let me quash rumors that any individual already has a leg up on becoming our next leader. This is absolutely untrue. We are embarking on a full search, led by a highly regarded firm, and there will be plenty of stakeholder input just as we had five years ago. We will hire the person who best algins with our needs, whether that candidate be internal or external. We covet your support.