Thursday, January 19, 2012

Questions about "Sweet 16" draw impassioned responses

Clearly, there's a deep well of emotion beneath the imposition of the new teacher evaluation model, "Sweet 16," on Sumter's education professionals this year. A note that attempted to root out some information and chase some rabbits toward answers earlier this week drew several responses from readers, including one from the editor of the Sumter Item.

If one subscribes to the old saw that for every person who complains, there are ten who wanted to but didn't, and another 20 who would if they knew how, then more than a few people are unhappy with what they're seeing and feeling in Sumter County.

Anonymous #1 writes,

Thank you so much for this public acknowledgement of what Sumter's educators are going through. One full semester has already been wasted on Sweet 16. Tax dollars and valuable time that should have been spent actually educating our students instead of practicing circus act audits. I pray that the school board will soon admit the error of their choice. The Item is obviously not interested in investigative reporting. Maybe The State or one of the Columbia TV stations will come to Sumter and start looking into what is going on. It's not pretty!

I didn't for a moment wonder why Anonymous didn't post under his/her own name. I've known many, many educators over many, many years who are bonafide experts in their subject areas and outright geniuses at teaching knowledge and skills to children, but who also have enough common sense to understand that life -- especially life in a small Southern community -- is a political matter, in the sense that people with power influence what power without power get to do. I felt precisely the same during my years in the classroom; it's a fool who invites the ire of a principal or a superintendent.

At the same time, none of us checks our expertises and our passions at the door when we get to work. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch what goes in in our classrooms, our worksites and our livelihoods, and we develop deeply-rooted opinions about these things.

After all, we didn't grow up in our communities, go off to college and earn degrees, jump through hoops to earn state certification and more hoops to keep certificates current, then subject ourselves to teaching and working in buildings of various quality, under circumstances of various stress, with children and parents who bring various challenges, in communities with various habits and traditions, all for nothing. Educators aren't missionaries or martyrs and shouldn't be treated as such, but we understand clearly that some things can be changed and others must be tolerated.

We value our profession and our livelihoods. So in the vast majority of challenging instances, we swallow our opinions or share them only with spouses and family.

Understanding these things, I didn't question for a moment that a reader chose to comment anonymously.

Anonymous #2 responded to the questions and answers I'd surfaced about the Broad Foundation and its influence on our public education system, because this correspondent has been pondering the same issues for a while. This writer, however, added more information to the dialogue.

Check out Parents Across America. They have many articles about the Broad Academy and the Gates Foundation and the havoc they have done to school districts nationwide. Teachers from Sumter have been asking for help since August when this was shoved down the throats and then were furloughed for 2 days at the start of school with the expectation that many would work over the weekend to catch up before students arrived. Teachers have been doing the research and sending the information out to people but the public and the board seem to want to put blinders on instead of dealing with the situation.

Furloughs to begin the year? Expectations that professionals would pick up the slack over their own weekends? And that educators themselves have been raising questions in hopes that someone would pick up on their concerns and address them?

From my earliest years, I recall hearing a successful man say that the secret to his success was this: He attended to the needs of his employees. Happy employees are productive ones, he said, and my young ears took that to heart. Conversely, I have seen in case after case since those days, unhappy employees -- men and women suffering real emotional pain over their work -- are not only less productive, but they're less healthy. They get less rest, and they burn out quicker.

I have, on occasion, seen these things happening and wondered if that result wasn't precisely what an administrator or supervisor desired from the start.

Anonymous #3 raised the specific issue of the school board's choice of the new administration, and he or she cast that choice as a "mistake." If that is a consensus view, it behooves the board to consider it. If a majority of diners concluded that a new chef and his sous chefs were turning out stomach-aches rather than satisfactory meals, the restaurant owners might reasonably revisit their personnel decisions.

Thank you for this article. It is urgent for everyone in Sumter, especially our school board, to realize that a huge mistake has been made. Virtually every decision made by this new administration has been hurtful to teachers and many decisions have made administrators' jobs more difficult. It is the students will will pay the price for this if something is not done to turn the tide. Sweet 16 has added unbelievable work and stress on educators, and no satisfactory explanation has been given to justify it. The reasons given simply do not hold water.

This correspondent introduced another couple of concepts: Administrators as well as classroom professionals have concerns and may be swallowing their opinions out of self-preservation. Does, in fact, this new instrument add "work and stress" to educators generally? And given that educators have long labored under tedious evaluation systems, is the addition of a new one justified?

The questions raised by these readers are not unreasonable.

Anonymous #4 hopes for a school board that is "logical and well-read." Would that all school boards were logical and well-read; some of them are. But this reader has apparently seen concerns brought before board members, or the board collectively, that haven't been given a full airing, or a reasonable response.

It would be nice if the School Board were as logical and well-read as you are. Unfortunately anyone who brings any of these concerns to the new Board is given lip service and rationalizations. Also, the attitude of some Board members is very condescending as if we lowly educators could not possibly understand the importance of such red tape as sweet 16 and all that goes with it. If we educators question decisions being made or those we fear may come, we are told we must not support public education. I believe that is a propaganda technique taught in our schools. The bottom line is that the constant micromanagement by the new district leaders is making this school year the most stressful year that many educators in Sumter have ever had to endure.

This is what I have observed and come to accept as gospel truth: No classroom professional or education support professional enters their profession to become wealthy. With that motive removed, I conclude that these choices of livelihood arise from a collision of passions for subject areas, for the practice of teaching children, and for the intrinsic motivation that comes with developing expertise over time. Few who despise teaching stay in the field; there are too many other alternatives to it. So to be told that one doesn't support public education because one doesn't support a particular board decision or policy is offensive to the sound mind. Such a machination is symptomatic of disease.

This reader surfaced another dangerous word: Propaganda. This is truly frightening; throughout history, propaganda has been the tool of unscrupulous powers to divide psychologically and to destroy psychologically. It isn't a word to be used lightly. So when an education professional uses it to describe circumstances occurring within the profession, I take this as a red flag, and especially so when I see on its heels the words "micromanagement" and "most stressful year...ever."

To the reasonable ear, these voices seem to represent a vast pool of untreated pain. Is there no one in Sumter able or willing to recognize this pain and move rapidly to alleviate it?

Anonymous #5 concludes that alarms haven't yet rung loud enough.

Our school board and public in general needs to wake up at the totalitarian structure that has been put in place. Our teacher forums are restricted now, people are silenced at board meetings, we are told we are not allowed to contact the State Department of Education, to "be careful" about calling our Board members because there WILL BE consequences, and it goes on and on. It sounds a lot like a "culture of fear and intimidation" the Atlanta teachers talked about. All the while, we have 2 new assistant superintendent positions that have not existed before (both making well over $100,000)and every teacher has been furloughed 4 days. Additionally, several district office personnel took a trip to China. Although I have heard that China paid for it (not sure if that is true), it still does NOT look good for our "leaders" to be galavanting in the Chinese countryside when we (the ones responsible for the actual instruction of students) are sitting home on a furlough day. True leaders understand you roll up your sleeves and take your lumps the same as your people have to...unless you have an elitist view of leadership like Eli Broad, Randolph Bynum, and other cabinet positions at our District Office.

Look at the words: "Totalitarian" -- which fits perfectly to the previous reader's "propaganda." "Restricted." "Silenced." "Not allowed to contact..." "Consequences." Is this Poland? A gulag? North Korea?

It seems clear that Kafka would have no difficulty acclimating himself to Sumter today.

And this reader raises a perfectly good question of budgeting: Expensive new positions at the district office, and international travel to China, while furloughing classroom professionals? It echoes Governor Nikki Haley's $180,000-plus junket to Hotel de Talleyrand in Paris while the state suffers double-digit unemployment. Perception is reality; what doesn't look good probably isn't good.

Anonymous #6 declares "chaos."

Honestly, a reasonable person has to ask, of South Carolina's several-dozen school districts, would many professionals say that their high schools are in "near total chaos"? In any such district where this would occur, isn't it reasonable to ask why a professional would conclude this?

The high schools in Sumter County are in near total chaos. The Sweet 16 system is bad enough, but the district has seen fit to silence, bully and intimidate anyone who dares speak out. Teachers are told, in no uncertain terms, that they are not permitted to speak to board members, nor can they address the district superintendent directly about anything. The district staff has told principals that suspension of disruptive students is not permissible. Students are running rough-shod over teachers and are grossly disrupting the learning environment for those who want to learn. School administrators will not back teachers up with effective discipline because they have been been throttled by the district admin9istration. Teachers are disheartened and suffer emotionally on a daily basis under the yoke of oppression under the policies of the new superintendent. District administrators routinely lie to teachers and school level administrators and then respond by intimidating any teacher who dares to research the facts that would counter the lies. Leadership is totally absent in this new district administration and the children and professional staff are suffering. The Sumter School District Board needs to face the music and end this debacle NOW. If not the Board, then local media and community leaders need to stand up and force a change. Silence on these problems in the school district on the part of the local newspaper is deafening. CHAOS is the only word in the English language to describe what is going on in Sumter.

Words matter, and these are painful words: "Silence, bully and intimidate." "Not permitted to speak." Building administrators are "throttled by the district administration." "Disheartened." "Suffer emotionally." "Yoke of oppression." "Routinely lie." These are words and phrases that would be perfectly applicable to life in a concentration camp; they shouldn't represent the observations of professionals in a school district in South Carolina in the twenty-first century.

And these two conclusions: "Leadership is totally absent," and "the children and professional staff are suffering."

Strip away the specifics, look only at the common language and themes employed by seasoned education professionals, and the reasonable person may conclude that pain is being felt, damage is being done, and no one is yet taking seriously these concerns.

Later anonymous comments refer specifically and generally to the note left by Graham Osteen, editor of the Sumter Item. Candidly, it was heartening that Mr. Osteen commented, because it means that he is aware, or is being made aware, of the concerns of Sumter's education professionals. I take him at his word -- and appreciate it very much -- when he writes, "I admire teachers and want them to succeed on every level." In this, Sumter's education professionals and Mr. Osteen have a mutual goal to work toward.

In his comment, Mr. Osteen made two suggestions that warrant additional emphasis. One is that, to paraphrase in part, solving problems or helping to bring about changes "will take speaking out publicly about problems in a specific way and letting the chips fall."

Anonymity as a tool for self-preservation in a small Southern community has already been mentioned. All of us can cite multiple examples of retribution for daring to speak up and out, even against blatant injustice. We are where we are. But nothing stops the Item from inviting readers to submit specific questions for its education reporters and editors to ask of the district's leadership. Does it matter that they are submitted anonymously? Such questions, invited and received at the Item's website or through some other venue, might have their answers posted at the same website. What harm is there in asking questions, even if the source remains anonymous? We're talking about our friends and neighbors, the people we see at the drugstore and the grocery store and in Sunday school.

Initiating such a practice would acknowledge that the Item has a tremendous power that individual classroom professionals -- even groups of such professionals -- don't have: The power of newspaper editors and reporters to hold public officials accountable for their decisions.

Of course, nothing requires this of the Item, but nothing prevents it. Indeed, it might lead to richer, fuller coverage and greater readership among educators.

Mr. Osteen's second suggestion is more powerful: "Wholesale change would require the election of a new school board, because the board votes are what ultimately matters.....if people feel strongly enough about the need for change, they will organize and vote for it...." His logic is crystal-clear, and it represents an invitation to do what Eli Broad has done with billions of dollars and a massive organization, which is to take control of the public education system.

Who could oppose having education professionals governing the education professions? Attorneys govern their own professions, as do medical professionals and others. Total up Sumter County's education professionals and their families, and parents of children enrolled in Sumter's public schools, and you likely get to an electoral majority. All that's needed are candidates and organized campaigning. Surely there are some knowledgeable retired educators who would cherish the chance to extend their service to their profession, and who understand first-hand the concerns of classroom professionals.

That is, of course, a direction to take for the long term. Meanwhile, how might we determine whether these few anonymous readers have made valid points, and if their perspectives represent a consensus view?

What about having a simple poll question posted at the Item's website and inviting all comers to answer: Should the decision to implement a complex new evaluation instrument, and the "audits" and related activities, be rescinded while parents, educators and board members seek input from the public -- through a series of town hall meetings and other venues -- to determine what new instrument, if any, is necessary?

Leaving such a poll open for a week would likely be sufficient.

No, there's probably no way to prevent someone from voting multiple times, but it certainly demonstrates that the Item is listening for input from educators and parents.

In the meantime, here's an invitation from Educating South Carolina: Educators, if you have specific questions that you wish the Item would ask of appropriate district leaders, elected or otherwise, feel free to post them here. Be brief. Be specific. Be respectful. We'll invite the Item to use them as, and if, it will.

Here's to fostering meaningful dialogue and seeking to help educators -- and students -- succeed on every level.


  1. Management of change is the most challenging aspect of any management/leadership position. A competent leader understands that "selling" is much more important than "telling." An effective leader tells key subordinate leaders the facts of the necessary change and sells them on the need for the actions and elicits their support. "Telling," as in publishing new policies and procedures, is part of the process, but "selling" the change is what makes it work. There has been no visible attempt to get the professional educators of Sumter County to buy into any aspect of the bloated disorganization that is currently responsible for the mission, vision, and goals for education in our schools. Management by fear and intimidation is a mark of weakness and incompetence. It is not a mark of strength or ability. A competent and effective leader and manager knows how to guide and inspire people towards a common goal. Randolph Bynum was exposed to all of the elements of what it takes to be an effective leader and manager as an officer in the United States Army. Why is there no evidence of that in his occupation of the big chair at "headquarters?" We're supposed to call it that, rather than "district office." Putting the two districts together into one has not happened. Almost everyone from both districts is still employed at one of the two original buildings. It is understandable that more staff is required to support the total number of schools, but some weeding needs to be done rather than creating positions just to keep people employed. How many headquarters jobs were saved by teachers and administrators being furloughed and having their pay frozen? A large problem coming from the total lack of leadership is the the apparent absence of an understanding of the concept of synergy. Both districts had things that were done well, along with things that needed improving. As things stand, everything in most areas is now being done "the way we've always done it." Unfortunately, that means that whoever is in charge of a particular program insists that everyone do things the way they were used to doing it in their old district. In several areas we have seen zero effort to determine existing capabilities and assess the merits of how the "other guys" did it. Rather, we are simply required to adopt district X's procedures regardless of how things work or have been done here in old district Y. How do we know we're getting old news? We're given/sent materials that still have one of the old district's names on them and are dated two or more years ago. Fine if they work, but there have been pedagogical changes ordered that would cause us to adopt methods and procedures that produced consistently lower state test scores in the areas concerned. Why do it? Because "that's the way we've always done it." That's in quotes becuase it IS a quote. Lack of leadership from the top has worked its way to the lowest levels of headquarters managers. From top to bottom, the pervasive theme is "why ask questions when the answers might not agree with what we've already determined they should be?" All of that being said, I must add that there are some excellent people working in one or the other of the two cohabitating district offices. They are just keeping a very, very low profile out of the same fear we feel in the classrooms. It is time for change before too much harm comes to our children.

  2. It seems that the manner in which the new Sumter School District is being run is a mirror image of the way it was created. Senator Leventis sponsored legislation to consolidate the two school districts without consultation with either of the previous boards. Previous boards asked for a pause to have the South Carolina Schools Board's Association to study the consolidation proposal. This request was ignored by Senator Leventis. High-handed decisions have been the order of the day since this whole matter began. Senator Leventis packed the 25 member committee with his political supporters to begin implementation. They merely did his bidding as they tried to work through the consolidation process. Mr. Bynum was the ideal candidate with the ideal philosophy to further the consolidation in a way that met the image local legislators envisioned.

  3. Question: How can the two assistant superintendent's justify spending insane amounts of money on conferences to California and Florida? According to the financial records, nearly $4000 was spent at the Marriott in Anaheim, California. Was this for convention costs, room costs, or something else? And it took nearly $1000 for the 2 of them to fly out there.

    How about these? $188 at Chick-Fila? $107 at Baker's Sweets? $1,300 at POLAR BEAR CLEANERS? $530 at Outback IN SUMTER? 5 charges at $260 each for the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hilton Head? $350 at Arby's IN SUMTER? 4 charges at $245 each at the Marriott Resort in Myrtle Beach?

    As teachers, we are expected to buy everything for our students that we need. Our copies have been cut to down to nil, there are not enough printer cartridges to go around (they cost over $100 each) and we have been furloughed 4 days. If district personnel were not buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seemingly multiple people (at the cost of hundreds of dollars),then maybe we could afford printer cartridges for our children. 5 teachers could have gotten printer cartridges for the one trip to Outback for district personnel.

    It's pure insanity. Mr.Bynum needs to explain these financial records.

  4. Who ever stated that Mr. Bynum was the "ideal" candidate? Many teachers in the district hold a higher degree than Mr. Bynum does. He is running a very large district without a doctorate degree. He is also from a district that was being investigated for a huge cheating scandal. The large majority of Sumter's educators questioned how he even qualified to make it to the final three applying for the position. After numerous meet and greets, and hours of researching the candidates, the majority in the profession expressed their desires to hire the candidate from Spartanburg. He was the most educated candidate and the one that made teachers feel hopeful to work under his leadership. The teacher's desires were expressed to the school board. Not surprisingly, the board did exactly what they wanted, and not what was in the best interest of teachers and children in Sumter. As for Mr. Bynum, he was high in the ranks of the administration in Atlanta. He states that he knew nothing about the cheating scandal that was taking place all around him. If this is true, shouldn't that be just as alarming to us in Sumter? How could someone working that closely with the district be that far removed from what was taking place all around him?

  5. I am a Caucasian teacher who has served under five superintendents during my thirty plus years. My superintendents have been males, females, Caucasians, African-Americans. Under each of their administrations, I flourished as a teacher. Not so, under the current administration. For the past five months, I have been distracted by, and at times, physically ill over, the culture of fear and intimidation Mr. Bynum brought with him from Atlanta. The comments posted on this blog from teachers are true and not exaggerated. Hiring Mr. Bynum, Ms. Dixon and Ms. Norman has created a disaster. The truly frightening aspect of all of this, however, is the protection these three people are receiving from members of the Board. I now believe it is because they are African-American. One African-American Board member stated to a black teacher who was raising concerns early in the year and asking him what the Board intended to do about Mr. Bynum, "Nothing. He is black. Do you not understand what that means to us?" I now believe that the only reason Mr. Bynum was hired was because he was African-American. I now believe the reason the Board has ignored the outcry of concerns from our community and our teachers is because a majority of its members are African-American and they feel it is their racial duty to protect him and the two women he brought with him from Atlanta. I fear the African-American members of the Board may see this as an opportunity for "pay-back" for mistreatment imposed on their ancestors by white, racist southerners who are dead and long gone. It is alarming that the Board is willing to jeopardize the District's financial security and its positive reputation to protect an unqualified and destructive leadership team (and frankly, the word "leadership" cannot be applied to any of these people) for ANY reason, but especially if it is because the team is black. I am also concerned about Graham Osteen's laissez-faire attitude. The Item did not hesitate to crucify Dr. Jefferson every chance it had so I don't feel you are afraid to go after Mr. Bynum because he is black. I simply cannot figure it out, Graham. Clearly, Jade is not interested in doing the type of investigation The Item conducted on Tuomey, and that's OK, she does a wonderful job in her capacity as Education Reporter. However, we need that level of investigation. Graham, if you don't have the personal energy, time or courage to do it, please assign it to someone who does. The Item has allowed him to manipulate your reporting for six months. As the only hometown newspaper in our community, you have a moral responsibility to ask the hard questions and to follow-up with harder questions when Mr. Bynum spins his answer. You are insightful and smart and I know you have not been fooled by the affable, friendly public persona Mr. Bynum uses. Ask him a hard question and watch how quickly his defenses go up. This man knows nothing about building a team and in fact, has been trained to believe a team approach is a weak approach. The irony is that successful corporate managers learned two decades ago that employees must be part of the team for the best policy to be designed. Mr. Bynum's mentor, Eli Broad, is out of touch and dangerous, and I'm sure, delighted at the havoc he is indirectly creating in our beautiful town. I just cannot stand to think he can put Sumter as another notch in his belt.

  6. FACT: Teachers have been told not to contact the State Department of Education about anything other than re-certification without approval from the District Office.

    FACT: Principals have been instructed not to expel black males. The result is that numerous violent students who have been suspended multiple times for fighting are still at school.

    FACT: Sweet 16 evaluations contain inaccuracies, mistakes, and inconsistencies because many of the auditors know far less about teaching than the teachers they are evaluating.

    FACT: Principals do not have a direct line of communication with everyone at the District Office.

    FACT: Mr. Bynum had repeatedly denied, dismissed, or downplayed problems that hundreds of educators know are real and true.

    FACT: Teachers have been brave enough to meet with and talk to board members, so these officials elected to represent us DO know how widespread the problems are.

    FACT: Some of Sumter's best teachers are seriously considering looking for employment elsewhere or retiring early.

    These are just a few of the disturbing facts about the direction our district is heading. There are many, many more.

    Someone, please help us!

    1. What is wrong with wanting to become a better educator, i find it hard to believe, that if you are really concerned about children that you would not want to learn how you can get better.Is all of this really about not wanting Mr. Bynum to lead our new district? Why is it that we are so afraid of change. If we are as good as we say we are, then we should want everyone to stop into our classrooms and see us in action. Then perhaps they can share our greatness with others. And this in turn helps all of our children. You guys are something else.
      You ask that someone please help, well help has been sent you just don't want it.

    2. This is not about the children....never has been. SWEET 16 has nothing to do with making us better teachers. What is this all about? It's about 3 people from Atlanta who are trying to get some research under their belts, using us as guinea pigs, so that they can market SWEET 16 as a legitimate tool for teacher evaluation...or "audits". It's purely selfish motives on their part. Bynum has already said we are all already doing what SWEET 16 requires! So....what is the other motive then?! Broad Foundation graduates are getting kicked out in droves across the nation. I suspect SWEET 16 "research" is supposed to make Broad graduates look like they are doing something worthwhile, thereby lending legitimacy to the Broad Foundation itself.

      I'm all for what would make me a better teacher. What I am NOT for is a group of 3 people coming from a shady school district with a shady reputation coming to Sumter and telling me I need to be "coached up" before school even started!

    3. Last I checked we did not ask for help. We, as teachers, asked for the person that was most qualified for the job. It was a DOCTOR from Spartanburg that was into the value of the student/teacher relationship and all the facets than encompass a positive, well performing school district. So do NOT sit there and tell us we are incredible. Why don't you do some research before you paste your ignorance all over the blog.
      To the second reply - :)

    4. Anonymous who posted at 9:02 on Jan. 25, Your reply to my post implies that because teachers are displeased with Mr. Bynum's leadership we must be resistant to change and not want to be evaluated. This is simply not true. As a teacher,I actually love for people to stop into my classroom and I also try every year to become a better teacher. If you knew me and were able to talk to my students and their parents, I believe they would tell you that I genuinely care about them and my work shows it every day. I am unhappy because everything I have learned in obtaining my educational degrees and in my almost 25 years of teaching experience tells me that the direction Mr. Bynum is leading us is wrong for my students. I wish I could sign my name and talk to you in person about this without fear of losing my job.

    5. I am sincerely bothered by the fact that students are not being dismissed when they should be. How long is it going to be before these kids figure out that they will not have to face consequences for their actions? Will it take my son or daughter being attacked and police involvement before something is done?

  7. I've never ever questioned my career decision to be a teacher until this year. I've subscribed to several Job Websites and even considered applying at the new tire factory coming to Sumter. To stay in teaching, I have even driven to Richland County to see how reasonable it would be to commute there daily. It hurts to even think about it, but I don't know how much more of the high stress and sense of disrespect from the new administration I can take. We teachers are treated like nobodies who don't know how to do anything...most teachers I know actually compare it to being "punished" for something we didn't do! The 3 in charge will tell you that the "Sweet 16" is only an evaluation tool, but I was there the day they presented it to teachers, and we were told "We will coach you UP or coach you OUT!" THAT, my friend is an evaluation tool. The problem with that is that the State Dept already HAS an evaluation tool in place (ADEPT). It is not lawful to evaluate teachers with another instrument (they figured that out and are now calling it an observation tool). WE NEED YOU, parents to dig find out on your own..and to DEMAND that our school board address this. We teachers simply can't unless we just WANT to lose our jobs.

  8. Well done! We're so appreciative. Questions soon to follow.

  9. Bartholomew Scott SimonsonJanuary 25, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    I'm not going to say something here NOT as a degree-holding, certificate-carrying teacher, but as a former student of Sumter School District #17.
    I recently walked through Sumter High School along with my brother to sort of see what was going on in classes and to visit my sister for lunch in the cafeteria, and was frankly appalled at what I found. The walls that once held banners, posters, and the going-ons of classes around the school (particularly in the Foreign Language and V & P arts departments) were now completely bare. The mezzanine that once had extracurricular banners hanging from it now had new rules about the posting of such materials that were overly strict. The halls that at least one point held points of interest based on the classes going on were back to their prison-ish eggshell color. That is to say, rid of all color and life and information. That is also to say, indicative of the attitude of all teachers and students at the school. There was a feeling of hopelessness in some of the teachers and the efforts they were having to go to in class. ...Not to get students to learn, mind you, but to deal with the new demands and the new policies of an administration that clearly does not know any better. Teachers need consistent training and challenges. ADEPT certification, National Board Certification, and even high-maintenance students allow teachers to grow and learn at a pace that is necessary. To shove a new system of mandatory (albeit useless) evaluation down the throats of hardworking professionals while they are trying to educate YOUR children is liable to bring about a stress level in fear of losing their jobs and credibility previously unheard of. ...Oh, wait. They're not teaching the new board members children. Word is, more than 60% of the board's children attend private school or are no longer in grade-school education. Imagine that.
    So, how does that stress relate back to my point? Easy. When the teacher is too stressed and worried to even fake a positive emotion and challenge the students to be a better person, then the student also enters into a wholly negative state. The attitude from all students at SHS was so pessimistic and lacking in all sense of care, that I could literally feel the serotonin seeping out of my body as I became depressed just looking at the state of it. Stressed-out teachers, over-whelmed administration, pessimistic students, and what did the school have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing but a large populous of teachers looking to leave the district, and a large populous of students having the value of a good education ripped from them without knowing any better.
    I say this all as a former student. Not as a teacher, not as a relation to anybody associated with the school board, but as a student that can't even bear to say he once came from this district because of the association. And I ask everyone: Is there any sort of formal impeachment process for anyone running the district or heading it up? Not naming any names as to who, but something needs to be done about the vapid clowns running the show, and now.

    1. Thanks Bart. Get your Dad involved!!

    2. Very well said!! I am a graduate of SHS and hope I can see my sons graduate from there in the coming years. If the Board and its chosen superintendent won't listen to the teachers maybe the students can come together and express their voice!!

    3. Well written! Thank you!

  10. To clarify the Sweet 16 evluates a teacher over the course of 1 day and then based on that 1 day and 1 lesson can magically tell what kind of teacher they are?

    1. Yes. The ironic thing is that SWEET 16 violates many principals of good teaching. The original document given to us was full of grammar and spelling errors. Excellent teachers understand you have to give multiple assessments to students to ascertain their competencies and SWEET 16 gives you 1 evaluation in 1 day. Good teachers hand back graded assessments within a few days to maximize learning and retention. SWEET 16 audits took 6 weeks to give feedback. SWEET 16 violates best practices in teaching while purporting to teach us how to be better teachers; one of the many reasons the SWEET 16 is seen as totally illegitimate to REAL educators.

    2. If you are as good as you say you are then you should want to to learn from you!!!

  11. All i hear you guys talking about is teachers what about the students! What's up with that?

    1. One of the problems is that the teachers are so stressed with these Sweet 16 test that they are distracted from what they really need to be teaching. Also, my daughter commented that they had 2 different "observers" in her class watching them and evaluating. She said the first one was very nice and seemed to be paying attention. She said the other one just sat there with her head down writing the whole time. My biggest problem with all this is that my daughter was so distracted by them being in there that she was watching them instead of her teacher!

    2. The teachers are so busy jumping through hoops with this bogus SWEET 16 that they can't TEACH OUR CHILDREN! What affects our teachers affects our children!

      Check this out:

      Georgia Teachers Speak Out! "You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions."

      Remember Bynum came to Sumter from Atlanta!

    3. To the original post...with stressed teachers and teachers that are not appreciated and bullied and threatened it directly influences the students. We spend a great deal of time with the kids and they take on our emotions just as we read theirs. What happenes to the teachers indirectly happens to the students. So when you say what about the students, all you hear are the teachers.....who do you think they are going to attack first the teachers and then the teachers will have to do whatever they want and that will affect the students. Do the research about what happened to the Atlanta public school system. And as I am out there fighting for my right to teach and your child's right to learn in a positive environment why can't you support me?

    4. Saying all we're talking about is the teachers, what about the students is like complaining that doctors only care about themselves when they demand clean scalpels, sterilized medical supplies, and a quiet calm operating room. Why do the doctors want those things?! They are so selfish! What about the patients?! We want peaceful learning environments where everyone in the room gets a shot at a good education not only for ourselves but primarily for our students.

  12. Well Sumter, It is close to two weeks now since the last postings on these sites. It seems like you have given-up or given-in to the sad state of your school district. Is the future of your community from the tyranny of Bynum and his lackeys subjugated you into silence? I found his op ed in The Item last Sunday very revealing. It was one of the best defense is a good offense and an exercise in blaming the victim. The citizens, parents, teachers and children of Sumter County are the victims of Bynum's misguided approach to education and dang if he doesn't blame the people who are trying to stand up to his tyranny. Just another approach by a bully to rationalize his agenda. Keep ignoring this problem and you will deserve what comes.

  13. The citizens of Sumter need to WAKE UP. The type of corporate education reform that he stands for could very well disrupt the future economic status of Sumter. Teaching to the test to raise stats is not the answer. Students have to want to learn and when we figure out what motivates them to learn only then will they take on that responsibility for themselves. Teachers only have students so many hours in a day so why are they held responsible. Sumter has a very high crime rate. Does that mean we should fire all the existing police officers?

  14. Everybody needs to get involved.....not just the few that have been vocal. By remaining silent, you are giving the impression of being ok with how things are going in Sumter. You must speak up!

  15. Things are happening. WIS is doing a series on the district, not just a story, but a series. This letter was shared across social media and had an influence on their decision.
    This is taken from a student at Sumter High School who has posted this exact thing on the pages on WIS TV, WLTX, and The Item. Please help him and all the other teachers, parents, and students by spreading the word. Posting it onto this forum solely because the members in here seem as though they would agree.

    My name is Blake Ward and I am co-chairman of the newly founded Sumter School District Student Coalition. We are a student-led group whose main purpose is to give the most important element of education, the students, a voice in the happenings of our school district. We have tried to get in contact with the Superintendent, Mr. Bynum, several times, only to be ignored each time. Shortly after I spoke at the State Board of Education meeting in September in opposition to the teacher step increase waiver that Mr. Bynum requested, I was told by my Principal, Mr. Harris, that Mr. Bynum would be coming to speak with Lance Foxworth, the other co-chair, and I during lunch so we could personally voice our concerns. The date for him to come was Wednesday, September 26. On that Tuesday, I was told by Mr. Harris that Mr. Bynum would now be coming "one day this week." That Friday, I had yet to see or hear from Mr. Bynum and around 2 p.m., I was leaving school when I was stopped in the hallway by Mr. Harris and asked for my e-mail address and phone number. I gave the information to him after he informed me that Mr. Bynum had requested this information so he could contact me personally. Mr. Harris then told me that Mr. Bynum had also requested a list of questions that Lance and I planned to ask so he could do any “necessary research.” I politely told Mr. Harris that there would be no need for prior research because they would be simple, straight forward questions. He then insisted that I him a few of them and so I finally gave in. What I thought was going to be a ten minute conversation turned out to be a 2-and-a-half hour conversation that lasted until 4:30 that afternoon. It seemed to me that the conversation was turning into a one-sided defense of all of Mr. Bynum’s policies that were in question. Aside from the questions I asked, I was interrupted so much that I maybe got, and this is not an exaggeration, seven or eight full thoughts out of my mouth. At one point, Mr. Harris brought me to the privacy of his office where, after I asked a question about the great number of changes going on in our school district, I was told that the “whole stink” was over teachers who love to complain and that, instead of questioning everything, I should be more accepting to change and that I should humble myself in the ways of Malcom X. At that point, I was so frustrated that I politely told him I had to leave. At the end of the conversation, he told me that I would be hearing from Mr. Bynum very soon. It has been over a month since then and I have yet to hear from him. I cannot e-mail him because their system has been manipulated in a way that the only way to contact him is through a chain of command. I tried emailing him off of my school e-mail to his school e-mail and it bounced back for “security reasons.” Quite frankly, I am so frustrated with the leaders of my district constantly ignoring us. I have tried contacting the Item several times through Jade Anderson and each time, I was given a very short, uninterested answer or I was simply ignored. I am tired of being ignored. If the school district and the local press constantly ignore our group, then there is no way that our student’s voices can truly be heard. Please give us the chance to be heard. Thank You.


    Blake Ward

    Co-Chairman, Sumter School District Student Coalition