SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. — The first-ever Sumter State of Education featured nine panelists from different public, private and higher educational entities around the county. Hosted by the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, the goal was to start the conversation around education and workforce development.
Lefford Fate with the city of Sumter moderated the event.
"All of these kids are all of our kids. If there’s a kid in the south side of Sumter that’s not doing well, that means Sumter’s not doing well," Fate said. "If there’s somebody that doesn’t feel like they’re empowered to go to school, no matter what their race, religion, national origin, sex, gender, no matter what that is, if they don’t think they can grow, then all of us failed."
To ensure students’ success, a panel of nine educational leaders like Sumter School District Superintendent William Wright spoke about what they’re working on.
"It’s a pleasure to see what my colleagues are doing and learn from them and also have them embrace me," Wright shared. "Some of these folks on the stage I already had relationships with and I also met some new colleagues. We’re all in this for the same thing, trying to do what’s right for advancing the future of education."
This communal aspect was key, says Shawn Ragin with Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy.
"It was much needed because our community needs to hear and see what our schools are doing," Ragin explained. "These are our children, so we all should be working together."
The panelists discussed topics from adjusting to virtual learning to diversity, equity and inclusion, which attendee Fatima David said she found most interesting.
"I think because we need to be aware that our communities are changing and we need to meet the needs of all students," David told me.
To meet that need, Fate says the first step is coming together.
"Some people don’t know the questions to ask," Fate detailed. "So today started the conversation and it’s gonna start momentum and say what questions can I ask, who can I talk to? And to understand that we have choices and education is a huge priority for our community."
A priority that’s being met through learning from each other, according to attendee and school district board member Bonnie Disney.
"I feel like now we’re right back on target with college and career and those expectations for our students," Disney said.
Having all voices represented was crucial, according to Chris Hardy with the Chamber of Commerce.
"They do not get this opportunity very often to even hear from one of them, not to mention all of them on the stage at the same time," Hardy said.
Hardy tells me this is hopefully the first of many other state of education events to come in the future.
"So this is a start to let everybody know that you are special, you are blessed, and you can survive and thrive in this community," Fate said.