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Sumter County Board of Education to discuss the name of new high school

Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) held its monthly work session on January 11, 2021. To begin the meeting, Herschel Smith addressed the board and requested they reconsider the name of the new high school. He listed several reasons for such, including a lack of opportunity for the community to have input into the vote, a recent Sumter County Chamber of Commerce survey, a resolution submitted by the Americus City Council, and several dictated speeches made in favor of the name remaining Americus-Sumter County High. Smith contends there is no record of these citizens speaking in the minutes and the community, as per BOE policy, would not be allowed to voice their wishes until a month after the name was voted upon, thus essentially silencing the constituents. Smith made an argument the community may withhold their support of the school system should Americus be dropped from the name and such an action would further the system’s struggle to improve. Smith reports the “majority population of the county are residents of Americus and there are more alumni of AHS (Americus High School) or ASHS (Americus-Sumter High School) than all the other past county high schools combined. They are proud of the 145-year-old legacy of significant accomplishment by their small-town high school that should be remembered and treasured, not left behind.” After adjourning executive session, Vincent Kearse initially requested a vote be taken on the naming of the school during the work session on January 14, 2021. He said that keeping the name as Americus-Sumter County High would “bring the school closer together.” Carolyn Hamilton added the community should have an opportunity to be heard on the issue. When thinking this would be an item voted upon, several of the BOE members expressed their opinions on the issue. By the end of the work session, it was determined further discussion on the issue, not a vote, should take place at the regular meeting.

Jim Reid cited One Sumter’s vision as having a united Sumter County and the grant for the Ignite College and Career Academy being awarded based on this vision. One Sumter is a locally funded initiative to bring progress to Sumter County on several key issues. Many individuals as well as businesses have made significant pledges to the campaign. As part of their mission, they took on preparing a grant proposal which ultimately awarded nearly three million dollars for a college and career academy.  Reid eventually started bringing up personalities in the community as well as governing bodies who were opposed to dropping Americus out of the name and/or in his opinion oppositional to the BOE. He likened the situation to having a new car in the parking lot and “somebody just constantly keys the new car.” While he named particular people in the community, he also mentioned the Payroll Development Authority, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners and the Americus City Council as being difficult to work with. He questioned, “why does Americus deserve special billing?” He reminded the BOE that in 1994 Americus High School was declared insolvent and “dumped it on the Sumter County Board of Education. At that point, the name ceased to exist, so we are turning a new page.”  He went on further to remind the BOE that as a compromise, the BOE had agreed to keep the panther as the school mascot.

Rick Barnes emphasized the title of One Sumter also. He admits to always being a panther and the community holds many opinions on the name. He reports he is “glad it will be brought up for discussion.” Patricia Harris questioned the costs associated with a name change. Barnes said he had “no idea” but mentioned having invested dollars into the rebranding and the name “Sumter County High School” as literally carved in stone on the building. Included in Herschel Smith’s handouts to the BOE, Smith addressed this issue and claims to leave out Americus in the name would require rebranding, new uniforms, new signage, and labor- intensive efforts to contact various entities of the new branding/name change. Smith contends there will be no additional charge to leave the name as Americus-Sumter County High School. Abbis Bivins then took the floor and indicated she leaned towards keeping Americus in the name. “I don’t see reason for name change. You dropped Americus like we didn’t exist. I think Americus-Sumter should still be in the name.” Barnes closed the discussion by reiterating the BOE’s primary responsibility was to see about the education of the children. In response, Hamilton expressed that the name of the high school falls within the parameters of addressing the education of Sumter County students.

Also presented in the work session was a construction update, indicating the new high school is 75% complete and initial phases of opening may start as early as the beginning of August. There is also a “construction related expenses” grant covering about a million dollars of expenses, leaving local monies to cover about 2 million in expenses. The BOE was updated on school nutrition as well.

For board action on Thursday, the finance committee will seek to enter their reports into record, the property committee will address the local funds needed for expenses not covered by the construction grant, a bus lift station, auditorium seating, landscaping and possibly replacing 52 GPS units on buses. Technology committee is requesting funds to provide Wi-Fi hotspots for up to 150 homes, 130 of which have indicated they have no internet access. Technology is also looking to purchase an anti-virus package and an “e-rate” not to exceed $90, 000. Personnel committee went into executive session.

To express an opinion on the school name, please contact the appropriate board representative. Voting on the committee items as well as continued discussion on the high school name will take place on Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 7pm. The meeting is open to the public and held in the administration building. COVID-19 precautions must be followed. In lieu of attending the meeting in person, those interested may view it on Facebook Live on the Sumter County Schools page. This meeting, as well as past meetings are archived on the Facebook page. The BOE representatives are as follows:

District 1: Abbis Bivins

District 2: Patricia Harris

District 3: Jim Reid

District 4: Rick Barnes

District 5: Carolyn Hamilton

District 6: Vincent Kearse

District 7: Sylvia Roland

Please visit the school’s website at www. sumterschools.org for further contact information.

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